Aha! That’s the word for it — languishing. This feeling of emptiness and a listless lack of drive and purpose. No fulfillment or pride of achievement. Day turns into night and night turns into day, your Circadian rhythm has lost step to intermittent insomnia. Maybe you get too much of the blue light from gadgets and the computer going online 24/7 for work and for play. Netflix bingeing too. And look what food bingeing has done to the Greek-god body — now looking like a goddam Gr—k!
“Psychologists find that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them,” Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton said in The New York Times (the April 19 article has gone viral). “In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless,” Grant says.
“Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness,” he warns.
It was sociologist Corey Keyes of Emory University in Georgia, USA who first focused on the middle mental syndrome in 2002 and named it “languishing.” It was developed further by other researchers in relation to productivity studies for business and operations. (Interestingly, in economic and business lingo “languishing” has long been used descriptively, as in “languishing in debt” or “languishing GNP,” etc., meaning staying in the doldrums, can’t quite get up.) In this protracted COVID-19 pandemic, collective “languishing” forced by the plunge of economic productivity and opportunities to the dark pit of uncertainty can cause traumatic damage to the moral and social fiber of the people.
Two more years of languishing (for a total of three years from the start of the pandemic lockdowns in March 2020) might already make a habit of laziness and indifference among the people, who would have surrendered to and would no longer be exasperated with restricted activity. But two more years of languishing in mental and emotional limbo is even optimistic. Most epidemiologists project five to seven years of proper clinical trials for the vaccines to be confirmed and released as true and effective protection against the virus. But wait, there’s more — the virus keeps mutating, and vaccines have to be constantly upgraded to address the rapidly emerging new variants of the virus. Health officials carefully remind all that what is being administered as vaccines coming in small shipments from abroad are dispensed on “emergency use authorization” (EUA). Why even worry about the medium- and long-term side effects of whatever vaccine may randomly have been jabbed into you? Just languish.
The “jab” has thus exacerbated the languishing. “What the heck” and “Whatever” are the shrug of the shoulders for come-what-may, in the uncertain promise of the only option — the vaccine. Fr. Johnny Go, S.J., is concerned about this protracted “languishing.” On a Zoom webinar last week for Assumption College parents and alumni, he cautioned that this new-named social/psychological/mental/emotional/behavioral malady is akin to “Acedia” — mental/spiritual sloth or apathy — one of the Seven Deadly Sins (also known as the Capital Vices, or Cardinal Sins) that can give rise to other immoralities in Christian catechesis.
Fr. Johnny distinguished between productivity, an obsession in today’s competitive race for more wealth, and plain activity, which limits expectations of maximized returns from such efforts. And yet activity can have a purpose beyond the material goals of productivity. Set doable personal goals like, maybe, learning something new (studying), volunteering for service to others, and strengthening relationships — especially with family. Focus on personal spiritual development — what really matters in life? Lower your expectations about quantifiable material productivity in this languid time of the pandemic. Remember the languishing in the 14 years of Martial Law, when many businesses were closed or taken over, even schools were closed in the beginning, media and information were controlled, and movement restricted — pretty much like what is happening now in the restrictions of the pandemic.
Yes, we remember the languishing in Martial Law, from 1972 to 1986, until the groundswell that was the 1986 People Power EDSA Revolution roused people from the lethargy, and fresh hopes burst with color as on a morning sunrise. Memories of the exuberance after languishing so long can suggest the realistic objectives of meaningful activity to keep both the spirit and body healthy while believing and trusting in a coming release from suppression and controls.
It seems a weird coincidence, perhaps a painful joke, that in the languishing under the dominating COVID-19, the people must be jolted from lethargy: national elections will be held in May 2022. National elections were likewise held in Martial Law in February 1986 (just before EDSA I), when the languishing people were roused from torpid sleepiness to confirm and reaffirm the dictator Marcos as continuing Dictator. But the EDSA Revolution happened instead. Marcos was ousted. The Filipino spirit fought and slew the devil of mental and spiritual sloth.
We must remember the valuable lessons learned from the EDSA experience. “What the heck” and “Whatever” with a shrug of the shoulders for come-what-may are suicidal tendencies when our future as a people collectively, and the opportunities for a better life individually, are challenged. There is something in our democracy now that does not seem quite right. Those of the older generations who experienced EDSA I must remember “Never again” emblazoned in our minds and hearts. No acedia or mental and spiritual sloth on principles and moral/spiritual values of Right and Wrong; Good or Bad; Just or Unjust; Love and Hate.
The coming elections will be a test (again) of how the Filipino spirit shall fight and slay the devil of mental and spiritual sloth.
Languishing has allowed much “Me-time” or time to be alone and be introspective on how we have lived our lives towards the best we can be before we meet our Creator and face judgment. Yes, so many close friends and relatives have died of COVID-19, or a pre-existing co-morbidity that was perhaps hastened by extreme anxiety from COVID. Too close to home. Deaths have riveted consciousness to one’s own mortality. The pandemic has helped heal souls even before bodies have been healed by mutable vaccines.
“We have no control of the virus,” Fr. Johnny said. “But we have control of ourselves.”
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.