It is raining. It’s cold. Even today the sky has the unmistakable greenish-white hue of a spoiled mozzarella. By mid-afternoon, that is practically immediately, it will be dark. And the only thing I really want to do now is crawl under a duvet with a stash of mystery books and only re-emerge after solving every puzzle and finding all the killers.
Who knows, maybe after Easter. Or at least the day after tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I play on the computer.
“The leaching (languishing) is the dominant emotion of 2021, ”psychologist Adam Grant wrote in the New York Times on April 19 this year. He mentions friends who complain of having difficulty concentrating, colleagues who cannot get excited even in the face of the prospects opened by the vaccine, the family member who stays late at night watching for the umpteenth time a film he knows by heart. In his article, Grant points out that it’s not a matter of exhaustion (burnout), because people still have energy. And it’s not depression, because they don’t feel desperate. In short, it is not a question of a true psychic discomfort but, rather, of a – very widespread – sense of stagnation and fatigue. It is, neither more nor less, the absence of well-being: like looking at one’s life through a fogged windshield. A condition that refers to that great indistinct plane that is placed just halfway between the peaks of enthusiasm and focus and the chasms of malaise.
Grant makes two suggestions to counteracting wilting. The first concerns the [provare a immergersi nel flusso](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology) ([flow](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology/)), that is, in that special condition of total and concentrated attention that was theorized by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and which is typical of creative work. The second concerns choosing, in order to concentrate and abandon to the flow, challenging but not impossible activities (therefore: neither boring because they are too easy, nor frustrating because they are too demanding).
In the following months the article was widely taken up and quoted, even here in Italy. But perhaps Grant’s well-meaning suggestions are not enough to counter the pervasiveness of languor.
The New York Times returns to the theme in October, with a video that begins by recalling the renunciation of gymnast Simone Biles to compete during the Olympics. And that immediately afterwards questions the assumption “whoever wins does not give up and whoever gives up does not win”, deeply rooted in a country that, like the United States, maximizes perseverance. The go all out. And that has long promoted the imperative to be “winning” at all costs.
Sometimes, however, the bravest thing you can do is exactly this: stop, give up. And, above all, stop with the things that in theory we should love, but which (by now, secretly) are unbearable.
And the great resignation, the great renunciation: the one that in the United States is involving jobs and weddings, social networks and urban housing. People simply rethink their careers, their working conditions, their emotional situation, their long-term goals. And they pull the oars in the boat, with the intention of going in search of different and better balances.
The New York Times video deserves to be seen not only for the excellent images, graphics and editing, the fine synthesis, but also because it suggests that the phenomenon of great resignation arises from the collective and (thanks to the pandemic) rather sudden overcoming of two bias (that is, of two cognitive fallacies), which usually confuse our decisions in a very insidious way.
Healthy choices and sacrifices
The first is the bias sunk costs (sunk cost bias): the idea that, since a cost has already been incurred (not necessarily in money, but also in time, in attention, in emotions) to obtain something, that something must be preserved even if it is no longer good, or if it is not more satisfactory, precisely because the previous cost cannot be recovered.
For example: I could choose to go to a show that doesn’t interest me just because I have already paid for the ticket. However, by doing so, I still do not recover the cost of the ticket, and in addition I waste my time badly.
Instead, it would be much better, and healthier, to resist bias, do not regret the ticket and allow yourself the great relief of doing anything else.
The second is the bias, symmetrical, of the opportunity cost (opportunity cost bias). The poor perception of the fact that any choice made (for example, going to the office) always and in any case also implies a cost, corresponding to the value (or benefit) that could be achieved by making an alternative choice (for example, taking a walk ).
Therefore, if choosing something always coincides with giving up something else, abandoning that something can coincide with obtaining something else, which could also have a greater value for us, especially if we consider that our time is also a scarce resource.
Just to give an example: the following image shows the average life span of a human being. There aren’t that many, are they? This is why the time variable should be carefully considered in all the choices that are made.
Basically: The New York Times argues (and how can you blame him?) That the choice to persevere must be made only with regard to the things that really matter.
That is, it must not be an automatism dependent on social approval, or on habit, or on the fear of facing the uncertainty and dose of risk that are fatally connected with change.
Meanwhile, the sky has turned mousy gray, then lead gray, and then lampblack. If my moods have improved – slightly – it is only because, fumbling between screen and keyboard, I had the good fortune to come across a couple of interesting ideas, which perhaps I even managed to tell.
Now, perhaps, I will entertain myself for a while with the idea that telling may be one of the not many things that really matter.
And that, in spite of languishing, must be preserved.
Or maybe I’ll go beach on a sofa watching a series, from now and again and again, until tomorrow morning.