Languishing or flourishing?

There is so much that captures our attention at the moment. More news of corruption; anxieties about the Covid ‘third wave’ and alarmingly slow rates of distribution of the vaccine; hospitals without water; unemployment levels are sky-rocketing, not to mention freezing weather and load shedding! There is no doubt that as a society, we are experiencing high levels of stress. That, coupled with a sense of helplessness and anger around many of these issues, takes its toll.

Unsurprisingly, we have a plethora of mental health challenges at the moment. Many people who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 or have been very sick themselves are suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, as are the many who have lost their livelihoods.

Even those fortunate enough not to have been severely impacted are struggling. Many of us feel flat and aimless, lacking our usual levels of focus and motivation. As the pandemic drags on, researchers into mental health are starting to notice a phenomenon they are calling “languishing.”

Languishing is a space between depression and flourishing. One is not so impacted that one is depressed, but neither is one functioning with a real sense of well-being, energy, creativity and enthusiasm. One is simply going through the motions of getting through the day. There is a sense of life being lack-lustre and stagnant.

Research by Corey Keyes, who coined the term, suggests that languishing can be a precursor to significant mental health issues like depression. So it’s important to notice it and do what we can to move more towards flourishing. Sometimes just knowing there is a name for what we may have been struggling with and that others are experiencing it can be helpful.

A key that can help is something positive psychology calls “flow.” Flow is that feeling of being so deeply and whole-heartedly absorbed in an activity that one loses a sense of time. You may remember moments as a child when you were so engaged in something that you got completely lost in it. Doing something enjoyable and challenging enough to demand our full attention, or that is outside of our comfort zone, can push us out of languishing. Enough of those experiences can shift our mood altogether towards a greater sense of flourishing.

It can help to choose an activity that allows a sense of progress and some degree of control. A friend took up running as the pandemic started and has now run a half marathon. She says that it is her running that gives her a sense of flow a positive focus amid so many stresses and uncertainties.

Prayer and meditation can also draw us to be fully present in the moment. By intentionally making space for God, who desires our flourishing as individuals and as a society, God shows us where and how we can use our gifts and influence so that we and others can have life and have it to the full. We can ask, insistently, for the Holy Spirit to gift us with a renewed sense of inspiration, energy and purpose so that languishing can give way to flourishing.

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell has worked in the area of Ignatian Spirituality for 19 years and heads up the work of the Jesuit Institute School of Spirituality. Her primary focus is the training and supervision of spiritual directors and the giving of retreats. She is also a registered Psychologist and her PhD focused on the interface between Christian Spirituality and Psychology. Annemarie is an editorial advisor to “The Way” journal of Spirituality and has authored a number of articles relating to the training of Spiritual Directors in an African context. She has contributed to several books, most recently co-authoring a book of Lenten Reflections: “Long Journey to the Resurrection”. She has contributed to international conferences and consultations in Spirituality in the United Kingdom; the United States; Rome; Spain, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. @annemariepc_c
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