April 20, 2021 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021. (SLNYT)
posted by treepour (25 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
excellent article.
in related news, my favorite line from the january man is spoken by alan rickman: "just languish there darling".
now i know what that means! thanks!!
posted by rude.boy at 11:58 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]

I lost my job in December, and my search for one is exceedingly excruciating. I feel like someone removed all of my skin, and punched me in the chest....but I'm still feeling better than I was when I was "working" remotely with a bunch of people who acted like COVID didn't exist and wanted to plan in person events and conduct business as usual. That made me languish so hard.
posted by lextex at 12:02 PM on April 20 [23 favorites]

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

At first this made me feel defensive because I was like uhhhhhh some of us who have felt like this every day of our lives could have informed you "depressed or thriving?" is not a valid framework for modeling the human experience. Like why is this being treated as a revelation, that everyone who isn't depressed might also not be thriving either, why does it take everyone experiencing the same thing at the same time for it to be noticed & named?? Why have I been on my own with this for so long?

And then i thought, eh, how else do you expect it to happen? It's better for people to read this now than not at all, I guess. Even though with the lack of commuting & travel I've been healthier, more rested, more at peace than ever. For the first time I'm actually not languishing at the first & only period where it could be understood.
posted by bleep at 12:05 PM on April 20 [14 favorites]

"Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit."

The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock, 1915. So, basically that except instead of the going out to hotels and restaurants we're wearing masks and standing two meters apart.
posted by mhoye at 12:06 PM on April 20 [7 favorites] might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

2021? I've felt like this for the last 30 years or so.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:17 PM on April 20 [21 favorites]

It's better for people to read this now than not at all, I guess

I have often thought it is ironic that in an unjust and unequal world, the burden of repair and health largely falls on the already traumatized rather than those who can carry on oblivious to it, etc.
posted by polymodus at 12:24 PM on April 20 [23 favorites]

This was great, and thanks for posting it.

I was reading a lot of the desert fathers in the last year and spent a long time meditating on acedia, which is similar, though not quite the same thing. It was badly translated along the way as sloth, and so came to generally mean laziness. The original understanding has been recovered, since acedia can also manifest as a sort of busyness about inconsequential things. Usually affecting the monks in the mid-day heat - they were the desert fathers, after all - acedia came to be called the "noonday devil."

Interestingly enough, the prescribed remedy for the monks was similar to the 'flow' advice mentioned in the article.
posted by jquinby at 12:52 PM on April 20 [8 favorites]

Anyone have a link that doesn't require an NYT subscription?
posted by tzikeh at 1:18 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]

I have been really trying to pause and inject some warmth into every interaction I have with strangers this last year. I think it goes viral if you do it right.

I just spent 45 minutes talking to the woman who cleans the showers at the truck stop. She obviously hadn't had a good talk in a while. I know a lot of things I didn't and so does she. That's how you fight this. Time and care.

Private browsing in Firefox got me right in to the article.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:22 PM on April 20 [14 favorites]

This x1000. I’ve spent so much time all alone with my....plants.
posted by nevercalm at 1:51 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]

So what if we're all languishing? It's been a massively shitty year for everyone.

While coping mechanisms are appreciated, I think it's a little disingenuous to frame the solution in terms of One Weird Trick That Will Make Everything Better. It's a friggin' pandemic. I think we're allowed to lack purpose and be a little less productive.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:51 PM on April 20 [10 favorites]

This article hit me hard when I read it yesterday - it is exactly how I've been feeling. My family is healthy and safe and I'm still gainfully employed, so I have nothing to complain about. And yet - I feel so tired. And isolated. I want to reach out to my friends, but inertia grabs me and pulls me back down. I can't face yet. another. zoom. call; I can barely deal with them for work. I'm not exactly depressed, and I'm not exactly burned out. But I am not exactly doing that great, either.
posted by widdershins at 1:56 PM on April 20 [26 favorites]

C'est moi, c'est moi, 'tis I
posted by potrzebie at 1:56 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]

Gah, "flow." No such thing for some of us neurodivergent folk out here. Yes, I've tried meditation. Sorry but it just irritates me whenever that word comes up.

Good news: I haven't had to achieve a flow state to escape a more or less permanent state of acedia. What helped the most was not having to sit in an office fulltime anymore. That stopped well before the pandemic hit. I hope I never have to do that again.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 1:58 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]

widdershins, you and me both. As privileged as could be, pretty introverted so in theory at least getting to work from home should be a real treat, granted I have a lot of underlying health/psych problems but even so. Languishing so hard. Near-terminal state of languish and everything has turned so brownish-gray that I'm not really sure how to constructively come out of it, once I and all the people I care about are all antibodied-up. It's hard to even feel excited about such a time.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 2:11 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]

tzikeh: "Anyone have a link that doesn't require an NYT subscription?"

Here you go.
posted by chavenet at 2:19 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]

Link thanks to the Wayback Machine.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:19 PM on April 20 [5 favorites]

Interesting article, thanks for posting.

I hadn't thought of gaming and netflix binges as shortcuts to flow state before. I went through a heavy gaming binge a few weeks ago but more recently I've been in such a deep languish I can't even muster the enthusiasm for that.
posted by roolya_boolya at 2:35 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]

Thanks, chavenet!
posted by tzikeh at 4:40 PM on April 20

Thanks for the non-paywalled links, chavnet and MonkeyToes. If and when I post a SLNYT thing again, I'll make a point to figure out how to do that.
posted by treepour at 5:00 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]

Abandoned by spouse and family immediately before the beginning of the pandemic, languishing is the background of "life" now.

The color behind these eyes is that of the sky during the worst of the fires. It's best not to go out and look at it
posted by Rev. Irreverent Revenant at 9:09 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]

Last summer, the journalist Daphne K. Lee tweeted about a Chinese expression that translates to “revenge bedtime procrastination.” She described it as staying up late at night to reclaim the freedom we’ve missed during the day.

I've been feeling a lot like this. Like it's the last week before summer vacation ends and I spent the entire summer doing nothing and now I need to DO ALL THE THINGS only I'm wracked by indecisiveness because I'm not able to do all the things and even if I could, where would I start?

I remember languishing after graduating college right when the Great Recession occurred. I'd wake up in the morning with the vague goal of starting a blog or going over my resume and I'd sit down at the computer and hours would magically fly by until it was time for bed and somehow I hadn't accomplished a single thing.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:23 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]

It’s always great when you run across a new word that seems to accurately describe your experience, when there wasn’t a word for it a moment before—it’s validating and useful, and I know a lot of people in different circles who are having that reaction to “languish” from this piece. It doesn’t particularly speak to me, I think because I’ve suffered from depression in the past and I’m able/unafraid to call my experience now a sort of depression, even though its causes are so different. But it’s been eye-opening and useful to people I know & care about, and I’m glad about that.

That said: the argument here is not that far from that of a Harvard Business Review article that’s getting beaten up (appropriately, IMO) a couple doors down on the blue: Your Burnout Is Unique. Your Recovery Will Be Too. That article focuses on the workplace and this one is a bit more about home life and internal landscape, but the advice/treatment is similar: both put the responsibility for feeling better squarely on the shoulders of the people who are struggling right now, rather than pointing out what an organization or system might do. In the HBR piece (as pointed out in that thread), preventing burnout is the employer’s responsibility but once their resources are depleted, employees are the ones who need to address their fatigue through self-care, compassion for others, etc. In this NYT piece, there’s a fair amount about “flow” and how that can help people get out of a rut—but all the suggestions for achieving flow are individual (play a word game! don’t check your email so often, but *do* immerse yourself in work!), not organizational. The implication in both is that we’ll be happier when we’re more productive, a notion well worth side-eying when proposed by management consultant types.

I don’t disagree with any individual step proposed in either one, really, and I am always in favor of new ways to discuss one’s battered mental landscape, as I think we don’t do that enough. I find it striking, though, that the HBR article is taking a drubbing for its blind spots and the way it sides with management rather than employees, while this NYT piece by a Wharton professor isn’t getting criticism like that at all.
posted by miles per flower at 8:01 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]

I don’t disagree with any individual step proposed in either one, really, and I am always in favor of new ways to discuss one’s battered mental landscape, as I think we don’t do that enough. I find it striking, though, that the HBR article is taking a drubbing for its blind spots and the way it sides with management rather than employees, while this NYT piece by a Wharton professor isn’t getting criticism like that at all.

I mean...that's probably because it hardly actually talks about work at all, except to say that it's more effective for management to protect employees' time than to merely "encourage" employees to protect their own. This isn't about professional burnout, or the agonies of pandemic parenting, or the many many acute crises precipitated by the pandemic, all of which are NOT an individual's job to solve and none of which are actually solved by anything less than the end of the pandemic and capitalism as we know it.

This is in fact a very individual problem; just one that a LOT of individuals happen to be encountering right now: too many hours in the day, too hard to fill them, easy to slide into nothingness. "Happier when more productive for your profit-generating employer" is not what it's getting at. "Happier when you are giving two fucks about anything" is. Maybe you set yourself up to start giving two fucks about your job. Or about your Red Dead Redemption game. Or that fuckin' chess and haircuts show, whatever. The point is to be conscious about engaging with stuff because right now engagement isn't coming naturally.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:17 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]

(But I'm always happy to bag on rich people suddenly learning that sometimes shit sucks, which apparently they've never had to learn before.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:18 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]

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