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Mood of the Year: Languishing

If you felt a chronic sense of ‘blah’ in 2021, you weren’t alone. Here’s a guide to recharging your emotional batteries and getting back on the road to thriving.

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What we save to Pocket can be a fascinating window into what’s occupying our collective attention. And in 2021, the most-saved article on Pocket gave a name to the mood that many of us were feeling but couldn’t quite identify: languishing, a pervasive ‘meh’ feeling that dulls our motivation, focus, and joy. If 2020 was a rollercoaster of intense anxiety and grief, 2021 had many of us struggling to cope with the long-haul stress and ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic. The result was a mass sensation of “stagnation and emptiness,” writes organizational psychologist Adam Grant. “It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”

We asked Grant, author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know and the host of the TED podcast WorkLife, to curate a collection of articles that inspired his research on languishing and his own methods for finding focus and flow. Read on for tips for taking proper stock of your mental well-being and how to rekindle your spark.

How to Stop Languishing and Start Finding Flow

Adam Grant

Adam Grant: “My TED talk on the science—and my personal experience—of pushing past ‘meh.’ I realized that play isn’t a reward for finishing my to-do list; it belongs on my to-do list.”

Why Time Management Is Ruining Our Lives

Oliver Burkeman
The Guardian

AG: “Journalist Oliver Burkeman offers a searing indictment of our obsession with maximizing efficiency. I came away from this article—and his follow-up book, Four Thousand Weeks—believing that instead of trying to optimize our time, we’re better off managing our attention. Prioritize the people and projects that matter to you, and it won’t matter how much time you waste.”

Invisibilia: Emotions


AG: “A riveting podcast episode on how we have more control over our emotions than we think. Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett shares provocative evidence on the value of broadening our emotional vocabularies.”

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Harper Perennial Modern Classics

AG: “The definitive book on flow, by the intellectual giant who coined the term. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi passed away this fall, and I can’t think of a better way to honor his memory than to read his classic about the importance of taking on challenges that stretch your skills.”

The Dangers of Toxic Positivity, Part 1 of 2

Brené Brown

AG: “A rich conversation between vulnerability researcher Brené Brown and emotion expert Susan David on the problems with forced enthusiasm. As Susan puts it: ‘When you tell someone to be positive, you’re saying to them, My comfort is more important than your reality.’”

I’m Not Languishing, I’m Dormant

Austin Kleon

AG: “Austin Kleon offers a compelling counterpoint that it’s difficult to flourish in difficult conditions. Some of us aren’t stagnating—we’re like plants in winter waiting for spring.“

The Psychology of Fighting Zoom Fatigue

Vignesh Ramachandran
Stanford News

AG: “New research points to four ways to overcome languishing on video calls: (a) increase mobility by giving permission to walk around, (b) reduce eye contact intensity by sitting farther away, (c) reduce self-consciousness by turning off your self-view, and (d) reduce cognitive load by holding audio-only sessions.”

We Should Allow Sad Days, Not Just Sick Days

WorkLife with Adam Grant

AG: “An NBA star who got depressed, a pair of leading psychologists, and a manager whose COVID message went viral illuminate how we can build mentally healthier workplaces. What people need most is not sympathy (I’m sorry you’re in pain) or empathy (I feel your pain), but compassion (I’ll do what I can to alleviate your pain).”

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Adam Grant

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at Wharton and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. He hosts the TED podcast WorkLife, going inside the minds of some of the world’s most interesting people to explore the science of making work not suck. You can subscribe to his free monthly newsletter Granted or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.