What is Languishing? Identifying and Overcoming that ‘Meh’ Feeling

What is Languishing?

Psychologists often recommend putting a name to your emotions to begin effectively managing them. A 2021 New York Times article by Adam Grant identified the ‘blah’ feeling prevalent during the pandemic 1. Grant recognized this experience to be languishing, a term coined by psychologist and sociologist Cory L. M. Keyes 1. Keyes described mental health as a continuum in a 2002 edition of the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour 2. On one end of the continuum, individuals may be flourishing; they are experiencing an abundance of positive emotion and have high levels of well-being both psychologically and socially 2. Parallel to this, individuals may be languishing, which is characterized by an absence of mental well-being, including a feeling of “emptiness and stagnation” 2.

While languishing may sound similar to major depressive disorder, the two are different. As previously mentioned, languishing is a lack of mental well-being 2, while mental illness is a diagnosed condition that affects a person’s thinking, mood, or behaviour in the long term 3. Mental well-being is determined by several factors relating to an individual’s satisfaction with their social life and personal relationships and their general outlook on the perceived direction their life is headed.

A person experiencing languishing may feel like they are ‘not themselves’, are unmotivated, have trouble focusing, and lack excitement and delight in their relationships and social life 1. At the same time, an individual who is solely languishing does not exhibit symptoms of mental illness, such as persistent feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness 1. Parallel to this, a person diagnosed with mental illness can also experience periods of social or mental well-being 3. While languishing and major depressive disorder are not the same, a study administered by Keyes, Dhingra, and Simoes found that languishing was a predicting factor for future mental illness 4. With this notion in mind, it is critical to identify symptoms of languishing in yourself and take action to improve your mental well-being.

What are the Symptoms of Languishing?

Languishing can interfere with all aspects of an individual’s life. While we have already identified some indicators of languishing, some additional symptoms include:

In personal relationships:

  • Not feeling as ‘present’ in interactions with others
  • Finding yourself making excuses to avoid social situations due to a general lack of motivation
  • Losing a sense of delight or excitement from personal relationships
  • Inability to describe how you are feeling to others

In the workplace:

  • Lack of excitement about upcoming projects that you would have previously looked forward to
  • Feeling disconnected from co-workers
  • Feeling cynical about management, co-workers, or your career in general
  • Lack of motivation to complete tasks and maintain focus
  • Feeling bored with work that you were previously passionate about

Strategies to Overcome Languishing

If any of the symptoms listed above have resonated with you, you may be languishing. Individuals can overcome this mental state by using several coping mechanisms and strategies. Here are some tips that you can incorporate into your lifestyle:

Try a new workspace

Sometimes working at the same desk every day can contribute to your sense that each day blends into the next. If you work remotely, try moving your setup to a different house area. In the office, inquire if it is possible to work in another location for a while. In both instances, it is ideal to work near natural light sources because exposure to sunlight has been shown to increase positive moods and energy levels 5. Switching your workspace can offer a ‘clean slate’, and break through the feelings of stagnation that come with languishing.

Lean into what feels good

If you find an activity that excludes risky behaviours and brings you joy, be sure to make time for that activity in your schedule. Regularly participating in those activities you enjoy, particularly ones tied to social and physical health, can be seriously effective at boosting your mental well-being.

Get enough exercise

Exercise has numerous benefits, including maintaining metabolic health, increasing strength in muscles and bones, reducing the risk of developing various cardiovascular diseases, and boosting mood 6. Not only this, but exercise can be a social activity that makes you feel more connected to those around you. Going for a walk with a friend or trying out a drop-in recreational activity or sport can be a great way to get some face time (not behind a screen) and pull yourself out of your mental rut.

Keep in touch with loved ones

This may seem obvious, but sometimes it is easy to forget how critical it is to maintain contact with loved ones. When you withdraw from social contact, you can potentially be increasing your risk of developing a depressive disorder. Social relationships, and the happiness we derive from them, are essential to mental well-being. Not only this but talking to a friend or family member about how you are feeling may be enough for you to realize what changes you need to make to inch closer to a flourishing state.

Speak to a Therapist

If you have tried any combination of the tips listed above without seeing any improvement, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional. Contrary to some beliefs, psychologist services are not solely reserved for those with diagnosed mental disorders or illnesses. Those who are languishing can benefit from connecting with a therapist because they will gain personalized coping mechanisms and strategies to improve mental well-being. Further, tackling languishing early with a professional by your side will help minimize the risks of developing a more serious mental disorder. Insight Psychological is here to help you at any stage of your mental health journey. Our professionals are dedicated to assisting you to make the changes you need to flourish.

If you are ready to get started today, please contact us!




  1. Grant, A. (2021, December 3). There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html
  2. Corey L. M. Keyes. (2002). The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(2), 207–222. https://doi.org/10.2307/3090197
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, June 28). About Mental Health. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm
  4. Keyes, C. L., Dhingra, S. S., & Simoes, E. J. (2010). Change in level of positive mental health as a predictor of future risk of mental illness. American journal of public health100(12), 2366–2371. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2010.192245
  5. Court, A. (2010). The effects of exposure to natural light in the workplace on the health and productivity of office workers: a systematic review protocol. JBI Library of Systematic Reviews, 8(16), 1-19. doi: 10.11124/jbisrir-2010-574
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 1). Benefits of Physical Activity. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm