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What is languishing?

Without a doubt, languishing is the buzzword of 2021 (with good reason). Professor Corey Keyes first coined the term in 2002, and this year, Professor Adam Grant wrote an article for the New York Times calling languishing the “dominant emotion of 2021.”


So, what exactly is languishing and how can you find out if you're languishing?

Languishing person feeling sad, empty, bored, blah or meh, like an autopilot

"It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing."

- Adam Grant -

Languishing is the absence of mental wellbeing

Languishing is the opposite of flourishing (also known as mental wellbeing). It can be described as having a lack of direction, a sense of apathy and stagnation, and a deep knowing you are not operating at your full capacity.  If you’re languishing, you may feel ‘neutral’ or ‘numb’ rather than positive or thriving, but not have any symptoms of more serious mental health conditions or diagnose.

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Your general response to ideas or plans is ‘Meh’, and while you know you ‘could’ do more, you lack the motivation and drive to do much of anything. Languishing can be described as feeling disconnected, indifferent, or 'blah'. The total resignation of anything positive, with no dire negative emotional states or responses. Just…blah.

Languishing thoughts can sound like: 'I can’t be bothered', 'I’ll do it tomorrow…maybe', or 'This wasn’t as good as I thought it would be'. Languishing behaviours can look like avoiding work you have to do in favour of distractions; having a lack of routine or positive habits; or reduced progress/activity in your day and difficulty focusing.

Is languishing a mental illness?


No, languishing is not a mental illness. This may be why it has not readily been spoken about until recently. Generally, people think of mental health as either ‘having a mental illness’ or ‘not having a mental illness’. However, in order to be mentally healthy, we need two things: the absence of mental illness AND the presence of mental wellbeing or flourishing.


However, languishing and mental illness are related: if you have one, you're also more likely to have the other. Existing in a state of languishing can potentially predispose us to mental health conditions, particularly if we experience ongoing negative life events or circumstances while we are languishing.

What to do when you're languishing


Mental illness is addressed (and sought to be eliminated) by clinical or traditional psychology, such as when you see a therapist or psychiatrist (i.e. medical doctor specialised in mental illness). The shift from languishing to flourishing is addressed by positive psychology professionals like myself and is the mission of all the work that I do.

So, if you're not sure if you are languishing,  you can start by taking this scientifically validated TEST to find out. You can also read more about what flourishing feels like (i.e. the opposite of languishing) in this ARTICLE or THIS ONE that I wrote for or browse the BLOG  for other interesting articles on the topic! Then, if you're ready to take action and make languishing a thing of the past, I recommend enrolling in the FRESH START Program or the FLOURISHING SCHOOL. If that all seems to hard and not tailored enough to you personally, reach out by booking a free call to see if coaching could be the best option for you.

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