Updated: Apr 30
Part of our coping with COVID series
According to a piece in the New York Times, there’s a new thing called languishing. Except it’s not a new thing, and we’ve already written a book about it under a much more familiar name: low emotional energy.
We all know about emotional energy. When you have it, you feel UP. Engaged, encouraged, ready to go, positive, alive. Let’s not get carried away: you may not feel ecstatic or even hugely happy, but you are in a hey-let’s-go kind of place.
When you don’t have emotional energy, it’s, well, not like that. It’s not that you’re depressed. It’s just that you feel more down than up. Disengaged. If not discouraged, then certainly not encouraged. Emotionally sluggish. Grayish. Less than fully alive. Not like yourself.
In these days of the COVID regime, even if they may be the latter days of the regime, folks are feeling they’re running low on emotional energy. As they used to say, they’re feeling their get up and go got up and went.
But while emotional energy levels are lower now than they’ve been, low emotional energy is not a new issue. In fact, it’s been a very important one for a very long time. That’s because we’ve long needed to understand the emotional and psychological difference between being depressed and feeling down. When you’re depressed, you feel sad and, usually, worthless. Too often, though, when people don’t “qualify” for being depressed they’ve been made to feel they don’t have a problem.
But as anyone knows who’s been in a low emotional-energy state, feeling down is not a good place to be. And it can lead to depression.
And that’s why we wrote a book called The Emotional Energy Factor some years ago. A pioneering book, if I may say so, and a finalist for best psychology book of the year. Check it out! It’s helped a lot of people.
So imagine our surprise when the stuff we talked about in The Emotional Energy Factor was re-discovered and re-packaged as languishing. It’s described in the New York Times article as
a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
Yup, that’s a good description of low emotional energy and it’s pretty much the way we described it in The Emotion Energy Factor.
So how do I feel about all this? From a public health point of view, I feel great. What’s particularly important is the work of researchers like Corey Keyes et al. who look at languishing (in the context of its opposite flourishing) as a predictor of depression. Very useful. (Languishing and flourishing are their words for what we call low and high emotional energy.)
These results are not only important from the point of view of psychiatric epidemiology. They also make a lot of sense. If you have low emotional energy you’re at risk for depression if you’re not able to do anything about it.
That’s the key. It’s not low emotional energy itself that’s the risk factor for depression. It’s being helpless to do anything about it. If you don’t have the tools for coping with feeling “stagnant, empty, and muddling,” you’re not going to have the tools to prevent a slide into depression.
And that’s why we wrote The Emotional Energy Factor! To give you guys the tools to move out of a low emotional-energy state and into one with good emotional energy. It’s startling how do-able that is.
And we fully take into account the low-energy paradox: how do you get moving when you don’t feel like getting moving? Don’t worry! We’ve got you. It’s all in there.
As for how I feel about all of this, the other part is more narcissistic. What can I say? Since we’ve been all over this topic for a number of years, it would’ve been nice to have been acknowledged. So I feel sad that we weren’t. I don’t know: is it self-centered of me to feel that way?
It’s not really all that big of a deal for me. But it is a huge deal for people, in general, to feel that their work is acknowledged and that they’re given full credit for it. In all the consulting work we’ve done in the years since The Emotional Energy Factor came out, few things have been clearer than the energy drain in the workplace that comes from people feeling their work goes ignored. They get their paycheck, and that’s it. But most people do not feel acknowledged for making a meaningful and important contribution. And that’s pretty close to feeling you don’t exist at all. No wonder emotional energy is so often so low and people are, if you will, languishing.
But at least we have one another! And if you happen to be in a relationship and want it to be a source, not a drain, of emotional energy, check out Why Couples Fight.