"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Driving ourselves out of a languishing rut

By on May 23, 2021 in Columnist with 0 Comments

If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal. 

— Paulo Coelho, 

Brazilian writer

By June Darling

In the driveway sits a 2016 Dynamax Isata 24-foot Diesel class C motorhome. 

We did not know we were looking for it exactly, but something similar, someday. Then, suddenly, there it was, right down the street, offering itself for sale. 

This RV would allow us to drive out of our rut. In our dream we would add a couple of Rad power electric bikes and escape our languishing state. 

Languishing is the emotional place organizational psychologist like Dr. Adam Grant says most of us are in 2021 after collectively mostly moving on from grieving, despair, depression and hopelessness. 

Many have been vaccinated and feel safer, but flourishing seems out of sight. 

Flourishing, according to one of the world’s experts on the subject, Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, is when we feel that we are doing well in the five broad areas of life: happiness and life satisfaction; health, both physical and mental; meaning and purpose; character and virtue; and close social relationships (in the past much emphasis has been put on money and material stability, but currently these are considered means to rather than indicators of flourishing). 

Even mentioning thriving seemed ridiculously audacious last year, but now we can at least imagine it — see it off in the horizon. But right now… as a group, we are pretty much stuck in this blah, languishing place.

Imagine the life: On the road to new places, stargazing and striking up deep conversations, enjoying good cheer over glasses of wine around the fire with fellow adventurers.

At first, I thought June could be the month we escape. 

For sure we can be out walking — improving our physical and mental health, building our social relationships as we chat with others in their gardens. We can pick up litter, check in on folks, which adds to our sense of meaning and purpose, character and virtue. It is a good, perfectly solid start for digging our way out.

For some reason, which now occasionally mystifies me, an RV and Rad bikes seemed like more attractive strategies to my husband John and me. 

Maybe we were imagining ourselves in places like Zion National Park, biking to archaeological sites, canyoneering, stargazing and striking up deep conversations, enjoying good cheer over glasses of wine around the fire with fellow adventurers.

A vision is a good thing to have. And it could happen. We have finally learned how to make the hot water work. We have stayed overnight at Lincoln Rock. We were able to hook up sewer and water with a little help from a young couple camping near us. 

We somewhat enjoyed a day trip to Confluence with the grandkids, figured out how to fire up the propane stove. 

Of course, a new reality has its own learning curve.

I would just like to say for the record that there appears to be a steep learning curve to RV living. 

Maybe we have some time. Someone recently told us that their 92-year-old grandfather drives his motorhome each year to Yuma. As I previously, mentioned, a vision is good, but for now we will stay focused on little wins.

We are still looking online at the pictures and information about Rad power bikes. Something about them scares me. My daughter-in-law sent us pictures of our 11-year-old granddaughter riding to school on her new Rad bike. I am using it to help me screw up my courage.

What I am learning so far is that languishing can be harder to get out of than I initially considered. 

It can take courage. It can also take focus, which is hard to come by when you are languishing. 

So back to the idea of little goals, little wins, little celebrations to build what psychologists call agency. We often use the word confidence in somewhat the same way — it is believing that we can achieve desired outcomes. Confidence is built in those little wins.

Psychologists, like Dr. Martin Seligman, have, after 50 years of research on agency, conclude that hopelessness is a human default way of feeling and thinking. 

We must prod ourselves to try things, master new things, to become more hopeful. 

It may be unrealistic to expect ourselves to wake up feeling full of optimism and confidence when we are attempting something totally new and operating far outside of our comfort zone. If we know that those scared feelings, even those hopeless feelings are normal, it may help us keep going as we pull ourselves out of our ruts.

A certain amount of routine can be helpful, stabilizing and effective in keeping us on track especially during chaotic times. But too much routine can develop into a rut. We can feel stuck, like nothing much we do will matter. 

The good weather and good news around vaccines and vaccinations can give us a bit of uplift, but it may take more than that to head toward flourishing. 

Maybe you do not need a new motorhome or electric bike, but we all may need ADVENTURES — new learning, unfamiliar people, different conversations, growth and challenging activities… AND a bit of courage, focus, realism, small goals and little wins to successfully move away from languishing toward flourishing.

How might you take the month of June to try new adventures and move toward The Good Life?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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