We’re a year into this pandemic and a lot of us, despite the promise of a vaccine enabled return to normality on the horizon, are feeling low energy, low motivation, and low happiness. Maybe that’s why Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant caused such a stir when he offered a name for this feeling in the New York Times recently.
Describing the “blah” feeling so many in his social circle were afflicted with, Grant writes, “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.”
‘A-ha!’ responded many readers, ‘that’s the perfect word for what I’ve been feeling.’ But not everyone. A few thoughtful writers and thinkers took Grant’s op-ed as an opportunity to examine their own emotional state and decide there were more accurate words to describe their feelings.
Are you languishing or dormant?
First, aside from a handful of word nerds, who cares what you call our collective doldrums? Science shows that having the exact term for your state of mind helps you come up with the best concrete strategy to cope with it, whether or not you (like me) consider arguing the nuances of language the peak of fun.
Which is why the thoughtful reactions to Grant’s post suggesting alternatives to languishing are more than just linguistic party tricks. Artist, author and blogger Austin Kleon, for instance, borrowed inspiration from his wife’s passion for gardening and declared, “I’m not languishing. I’m dormant.”
Languishing, Kleon points out, implies you’re trying to flourish and failing. Instead, he describes himself as akin to a sun-loving flower biding its time under the snow. Given conditions are terrible at the moment, he’s conserving his strength, quietly nurturing new ideas, and waiting for sunnier times to return.
“You may, indeed, be languishing, and I won’t try to take that word away from you. (I also don’t disagree with Adam Grant’s two suggestions for dealing with the feeling: “give yourself some uninterrupted time” and “focus on a small goal.”) Me, I’m dormant,” Kleon concludes.
He’s not the only one offering this alternative. Writer Katherine May’s Wintering is basically a book length meditation on the power of retreating and recharging in tough times. I found incredible solace in it when I read it a few months back during a particularly bleak surge in the virus and corresponding cold weather lockdown here.
Over on the excellent Brain Pickings blog, Maria Popova also recently explored the idea of gardening as resistance. “We long for the assurance of steady progression, yet all around us the rest of nature churns in cycles,” Popova notes. Gardening reminds of the inevitability of dark times and quietly radical optimism we show in planting (literal and mental) seeds and waiting them out.
In going dormant, in other words.
So if you saw your own recent struggles reflected in Grant’s recent piece but weren’t 100 percent sold on ‘languishing,’ these other thinkers would like to offer you other options. Maybe you’re wintering. Maybe you’re dormant. Maybe you’re unfurling as yet invisible new branches within yourself at this very moment. Choose whichever term gives you the greatest feeling of consolation and control.