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Book Review | Languishing: How to Feel Alive Again in a World That Wears Us Down by Corey Keyes

From the publisher: Languishing—the state of mental weariness that erodes our self-esteem, motivation, and sense of meaning—can be easy to brush off as the new normal, especially since indifference is one of its symptoms. Languishing is a must-read for anyone tempted to downplay feelings of demotivation and emptiness as they struggle to haul themselves through the day, and for those eager to build a higher tolerance for adversity and the pressures of modern life.

I don’t read a lot of self-help books, but like a lot of people post-pandemic, I find that I am struggling to stay engaged and find energy and meaning. Languishing wants to take its readers from languishing to flourishing. Author Keyes hit home with me right from this passage in the Introduction: “The simple question ‘How are you?’ can feel like an unwelcome pop quiz, leaving you casting about for a socially acceptable response, not quite knowing the answer yourself.” Keyes includes a list of 12 symptoms of languishing, and all 12 of them rang true.

That said, I don’t feel like this book presented me with a clear path to change. I agreed with a lot of what I was reading (much of which I’ve read elsewhere but not all in one place), but I don’t feel inspired to run out and act on the Action Plans. I guess that’s the real challenge though, if you aren’t feeling inspired, to find inspiration and change.

Some of the sad but true areas the author covers are an epidemic of loneliness, the need for a certain amount of adversity to find a high life satisfaction, the necessity of finding purpose in life, and the joy of play. The chapter on play especially resonated with me. He writes about how many people these days are so obsessed with documenting whatever they are doing that they forgot to live in the moment. A lesson for everyone: “Don’t let your smartphone and your obsession with social media remove all the joy from your joy, okay?” (chapter 9)

This book is part memoir and part self-help. The author lived through an abusive childhood and continues to struggle with his own mental health. This helped me feel that this person at least understands what he is writing about. I also agree with him that we need to spend more time, money and effort on mental health, not just mental illness.

This is a gently encouraging book that I continue to think about. If you are feeling worn down and are struggling to find meaning, you may find Languishing worth a read. I read an advance reader copy of Languishing. It is scheduled to be published on February 20, and Galesburg Public Library will own it.

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