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Are You Feeling Blah?

Here's an exercise that will help you flourish.

Key points

  • In the wake of the COVID pandemic, many people are languishing rather than thriving.
  • Mother Teresa and Christopher Reeve provide examples of how a sense of purpose contributes to a life well-lived.
  • Pursuing meaningful activities and prioritizing compassion and gratitude can help individuals flourish.

The symptoms are lack of concentration, dull motivation, inability to feel excitement, a sense of being joyless, and feeling aimless. New York Times reporter Adam Grant recently described what many have been experiencing as the pandemic ebbs. The diagnosis: We are languishing.

There appears to be a growing consensus that the pandemic has taken a toll on the ability to thrive. It has challenged our sense of purpose. The cost of the COVID-19 is that many of us are no longer flourishing.

What does it mean to flourish?

To flourish is to truly thrive—not just to get along, not just to survive, not even just to be happy. To thrive means to feel a connection with your life in a way that leads to physical, social, and spiritual rewards. To flourish is to grow without boundaries, to be unstoppable in your power, to soar to heights that resonate deep within you. When you flourish, your inner light is brighter; you radiate happiness.

Studies show that people who describe themselves as flourishing have clear life goals. They experience greater intimacy and have highly satisfactory relationships. They also enjoy a potpourri of health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, fewer daily health limitations, and less chronic disease. Importantly, those who flourish accept that no one is immune from hardship, and they excel at meeting the adversity in life with a clear eye and great strength. They are focused and have a sense of purpose.

One example of radiant flourishing is the saint of Calcutta, Mother Teresa, who was exposed to more despair than many of us can even imagine. She spent her life in the most destitute slums in the world, yet every image of her exudes beatific smiles—and her smiles are reflected in the faces of the poor and mostly forgotten children and adults she served throughout her life. Mother Teresa understood the ultimate reward in life is to help others to flourish, and by doing this, you lay the foundation for personal psychological growth.

Another remarkable individual who learned to flourish despite the most catastrophic circumstances was the actor Christopher Reeve. In 1995, Reeve had a horseback riding accident and suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic whose every breath was dependent on a respirator. In the aftermath of the tragedy that altered every aspect of his life, he was determined to help others. For the rest of his life, he used his name, celebrity, and voice to advocate for others.

Did he flourish in this altered state? Yes. He said, “I’m not living the life I thought I would lead, but it does have meaning, purpose. There is love… there is joy… there is laughter.”

What Mother Teresa and Christopher Reeve shared is the understanding that, as Ralph Waldo Emerson so well said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Being useful is the antidote to languishing. Finding your purpose is a pathway to flourishing.

Image by Gina Vild
Source: Image by Gina Vild

How do you find your path to flourishing?

The breadcrumbs that will lead you there are self-awareness, service, and kindness. There are actions you can take that will lead you to a life of purpose and joy. Here is some practical advice:

1. Practice random acts of kindness.

Incorporate kindness into every day. Practice small acts that put joy into the world. Write the name of your restaurant server and the words “thank you” on the check. Let someone go ahead of you in a grocery line. Donate to a charity that supports children or rescues animals.

2. Always try to respond with compassion.

Remember, everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Consider this when someone cuts you off in traffic or is unnecessarily abrupt.

3. Forgive even the unforgivable.

Shift your focus from blame to understanding, and, importantly, try not to judge or change the people around you. Rather, be like water: Flow around the stones, bend with the wind, and roll with the punches.

4. Keep a gratitude practice.

Acknowledge the goodness in your life each day—ideally in writing—even if you are in a difficult patch of your life. You will find that when you routinely express gratitude, the world will begin to mirror your positivity and bring you greater pleasure.

5. Know your life’s purpose.

Mother Teresa and Christopher Reeve each had a glorious purpose. Your purpose doesn’t have to be as bold, but you do need to identify it. Do you know your purpose? If you do, write it down and consider three actions you can take to fulfill it in the coming months.

If you don’t know your purpose, here is an exercise to help you find it.

For 30 consecutive days, jot down on note cards three or four things that you did that day. Give each activity a rating from 1 to 10—with 10 reflecting what gave you joy and with 1 reflecting actions that don’t make you happy.

At the end of the month, identify all the activities that you rated 7 and above. Those activities that scored highest—especially one, two, and three—give your life meaning. These activities are the breadcrumbs to a life filled with purpose.

A conscious life purpose will infuse you with a passion that will make each day more vibrant. To know your purpose and to act on it will be life-changing. Here we share ours. We hope you find yours and that it will lead you to flourish throughout all of your life.


To fulfill my Dharma to teach medicine, leadership, and happiness, and to do this grounded in humility and with an ardent desire to learn every single day. To treasure with gratitude my family, friends, my colleagues, and my students, who inspire me in countless ways, and, in some small measure, to inspire everyone that I encounter during this amazing life journey.


To pay attention to this precious world in which we live for such a brief time, to use the light that is our life to radiate kindness, to learn and to use that knowledge to illuminate the darkness, to appreciate, to forgive, and to be grateful. To serve others, to connect with others, to love and bolster my friends and family, and to enjoy as many moments as I can on this beautiful planet.

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “The most important day of your life is the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Here’s hoping you find your “why” and that it leads to a life of joy and purpose.