- Mary Rogelstad
- December 15, 2021
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Psychologists use the word “languishing” to describe what many teens and adults alike are feeling these days. It helps define a common state of being during the pandemic – a sort of apathy, stagnation, and lack of motivation. It isn’t quite as deep as depression, but a person languishing isn’t thriving either.
Harvard University has a whole department dedicated to helping people overcome a life of languish. The Human Flourishing Program was founded in 2016 to study and promote ways that people can find meaning and purpose.
There are several steps psychologists recommend to give teens a leg up in this process. It begins with a self-evaluation.
Assess Your State of Mind
Harvard researchers have created several short flourishing questionnaires to get the ball rolling, including one designed for adolescents. The University of California, Berkeley also has a short survey.
The Harvard questions are very simple and designed to test someone’s subjective well-being with inquiries, such as:
Overall, how satisfied are you with life as a whole these days?
Unlike many online quizzes, there are no grades given at the end to tell you whether or not you are up to snuff. Harvard’s Program Director Dr. Tyler VanderWeele says the surveys give participants opportunities for reflection.
The adolescent questionnaire can open doors for parents to discuss a teen’s general mental health. Once we know where we are, then the next question may be: How do we improve?
Find Practical Activities That Allow You to Flourish
Dr. VanderWeele published a paper in the Journal of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing on activities that promote well-being. Many of the ideas have been echoed in the work of other psychologists who have found people who flourish have similar traits.
Here are some of the suggested steps:
–Savor the moment and find gratitude
These ideas can go hand-in-hand since savoring an event can definitely result in gratitude. Savoring comes when we are tasked with simply recognizing the good things around us. Taking note of these gifts is an easy way to improve overall well-being.
For gratitude, studies have found that writing down what we are thankful for can increase happiness, improve sleep, and decrease physical complaints. Students can try writing down five things they are grateful for each week or write three things that went well each day. Both of these exercises were found to have good outcomes.
These steps are easy for teens who travel internationally since they are surrounded by new people and sights that make them stand up and take note. Alumna Linnea Martin found this when she journeyed to Peru and Fiji.
“Traveling with Rustic allows you to rediscover a sort of child-like joy and relish in the simple moments of life, without even realizing the authentic and compelling growth that is taking place within you along the way,” Martin said.
–Imagine being your best self
This may be part of a self-fulfilling prophecy – that we become who we think we will be. It can be inspiring to write down our goals and list everything that we can imagine we can do. This thought process is easier when students see the wider world since it allows them to view what is possible.
To help with this process, Harvard researchers recommend that people find their strengths so they can make good use of them.
–Do good deeds and volunteer
It’s pretty well-known that giving back makes us feel good. Being instructed to carry out acts of kindness can work well for everyone involved. Students often experience this during their service trips when they see the outcome of their volunteer hours.
An alumna named Rachel saw this when she traveled with Rustic to New Orleans to help areas that had been ravaged from Hurricane Katrina and still struggled to recover.
“It was an incredible experience to directly see our impact whether it be a clean park or a house closer to being completed,” Rachel said. “This direct impact is one of the most incredible feelings in the world.”
–Foster strong relationships
Strong ties with family, friends and the community at large may be the most important factor in well-being. Sometimes teens may struggle to find this in their hometowns if they feel like they don’t fit in or there are limitations on new people they can meet. Traveling can help them connect with people who have different ideas and backgrounds.
Alumna Tal Nagar enjoyed this aspect of her travel when she went to Fiji.
“I found myself paired with a Fijian family who welcomed me with open arms into their home for the next few days. Until this weekend, I underestimated the potential of human connection even when presented with a major language barrier,” Nagar said. “There is something so special about disconnecting from your own life and fully immersing yourself into someone else’s.”
–Find purposeful work or projects
We often associate this goal with adulthood when we are looking for jobs, but teens can launch volunteer projects. They also can figure out what they want to do with their lives by exploring different opportunities. Teens often find their passion when they get out of their bubble and try their hand at different activities.
–Treat mental health challenges & practice forgiveness
Many of the suggestions above would be much harder to tackle if a young person is facing mental health challenges. Therefore, the Harvard report mentions the need to treat problems like depression and anxiety to get on the path to well-being.
Another important aspect of this journey is forgiveness. Hanging on to old problems can hinder the growth process, so learning to forgive is important.
–Try something new
Though this is not included in the Harvard paper, trying something new is frequently a suggestion by psychologists who promote well-being. New activities get our adrenaline pumping and just make life more interesting.
It also opens doors to new interests and encourages us to be brave. Alumna Annabelle Bragalone found this when she traveled with Rustic on four different trips.
“Before traveling with Rustic, I wouldn’t say I was shy, but I was definitely cautious,” Bragalone said. ”I was scared to even zipline, and then a couple years later I went skydiving! I started stepping out of my comfort zone, trying new experiences and things that I never thought I would ever try in my entire life.”
Harvard researchers are studying more on these factors, but so far, they have found that it does not take a lot to move mountains. Simple activities can make a big difference, and they can get everyone back on the road to self-fulfillment.
Planning activities that give teens hope for the future is certainly a step in the right direction. You can get started now by getting activities for 2022 on the calendar to make it the year we all flourish.