Are you languishing in life? Here’s how to find your purpose again

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Like many people, my mental health took an enormous hit during the covid-19 pandemic. I felt lonely and lost, unsure of the direction of my life. Mundane tasks like making my bed became overwhelming, and I was uninterested in activities that once brought me joy. I wasn’t sad, but I wasn’t happy either. I was just… existing.

Actually, I may have been languishing, says Corey Keyes, a psychologist at Emory University in Georgia and advisor to the World Happiness Report. Keyes has dedicated his career to understanding this particular state of mind and, crucially, how to avoid it.

In his new book, Languishing: How to feel alive again in a world that wears us down, Keyes argues that while mental illness is a problem, so is the absence of mental well-being. He spoke with New Scientist about what languishing is, why it is a concern and how we can all work towards flourishing instead.

Grace Wade: What is languishing?

Corey Keyes: Languishing is the absence of well-being. It is when people feel they have nothing positive going on in their lives. No meaning. No mattering. No warm, trusting relationships. No happiness or joy. Yet it doesn’t necessarily mean negative emotions like sadness or fear. People who are languishing almost feel nothing. They describe it as being numb or dead inside. I call languishing the neglected middle child of mental health, since it falls between mental illness and mental well-being.

How is languishing different to depression?

Only one symptom overlaps between depression and languishing, and that…

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