How to Stop 'Languishing' in an Emotional Slump

You might be familiar with the feeling of languishing, even if you don’t know it by name. It’s not quite burnout, or depression, but a feeling of…blah.

The word came to prominence during the pandemic, and has inspired a recent book by the sociologist Corey Keyes. In Languishing, Keyes considers how so many of us came to be stuck in emotional exhaustion—as well as offering advice to get out of an emotional slump.

Keyes describes languishing as an internal alarm clock that is going off. The alarm is warning us that something has been lost or has gone missing; we are not doing the things that make our life meaningful. “Too many of us just hit the snooze button, and we don’t listen to it,” says Keyes. “Then, it becomes pathological. It becomes really destructive to our life because we do nothing about it. It’s a terrible habit. We think something else is more important than our sense of purpose, our sense of belonging, warmth and trusting relationships, when they’re not. Those things are very important to human beings.”

GQ spoke to Keyes for advice on escaping the feeling of languishing, as well as providing the tools for helping us to flourish.

See your friends offline.

The fact that we’re more connected and yet lonelier than ever is no secret. But given that social isolation and loneliness are associated with myriad health concerns, feeling disconnected is worth taking seriously.

“We need direct human contact,” says Keyes. “There’s so many things that are lost in interpretation when all we do is text or write an email. When we’re doing things remotely, we don’t get the full benefit of using all of our senses to understand and connect with each other.”

Keyes stresses that we should focus on the quality of our friendships, rather than the quantity. “You can have all kinds of social connections, even friendships, and still feel intensely isolated,” he writes. By focusing on the quality—and spending time with our friends in person—we’re more likely to derive satisfaction from these connections.

Learn something new.

Keyes writes that learning something new, of your own choosing, on your own time, for your own reasons, is a surprisingly potent antidote to languishing. While we might associate learning with school years, there are huge benefits to making sure we’re still learning as we get older.

“When we stop feeling like we’re growing, we feel stuck, stagnant and like we’re going nowhere,” says Keyes. “That feeling is a central facet of languishing.”

Keyes believes that we should be trying to learn things without it serving some external goal. “We’re always learning things, but for instrumental reasons,” he says. “So our mindset is, ‘I only learned things because they helped me in my work’ or ‘it helped me accomplish a task’.” This involves resisting productivity culture, and learning just for the sake of it. In other words, “we should learn something simply for fun,” says Keyes.

Resist comparing yourself to others

“We’ve been socialized from birth to try to feel good about ourselves and our lives by becoming better than other people,” says Keyes. “I don’t think that’s wrong in and of itself, but we prioritize that to the exclusion of trying to become a better person for other people.”

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