Languishing was noted as the emotion of the year in 2021 by the New York Times. Emotions related to languishing are associated with feeling a sense of emptiness. Welcoming 2022 I felt a sense of futility. The moment the year started it was flu season coupled with the virulent Omicron virus. In the peak of the Coachella Valley hospitality season, many workplaces (including mine) experienced staffing struggle and day-to-day inability to persevere. After celebration of a New Year, I found my energy reservoir running on fumes. I felt restless and apathetic. Research shows the pandemic has taken a toll on well-being and left many people drained. The moment a low level of personal languishing set in I was turned 360 degrees in the opposite direction meeting Oliver Jack. Flourishing was found and I gained an extra spring in my step getting to know Oliver and being reminded of a few key takeaways to thrive.
Oliver Jack who is 22, recently moved to the Coachella Valley and spends half of the year in Indian Wells and the other half in Colorado. The moment I met Oliver he had a sparkle in his eye and a genuine interest in his surroundings. He has a careful consideration of those around him. Part of my work revolves around working in a fitness facility and for a week I watched this young, bright-eyed member proceed to challenge himself daily with dedication. At the same time, he had a not so serious playful spirit, and genuine interest in connecting and making others smile. My curiosity peaked as to where this joyful, free-spirited behavior originated the morning Oliver, in a happy dance, arrived at my office. This young man was making me smile and I diverted from my personal, momentary languishing to look towards the light.
In 2019 Oliver faced a traumatic event which forever change the trajectory of his life. He was hit by a drunk driver in Colorado after graduating from high school and receiving a golf scholarship to start college at the University of Colorado. This irreversibly distressing event left Oliver with a brain injury causing spasticity on his right side, a shattered right elbow, and the immediate aftermath of being in a month-long coma. Oliver had to learn everything again from eating to walking and speaking. Very little of this struggle is detectable and based on watching Oliver accomplish lunge squats the length of the fitness floor he shows no sign of stagnation. Oliver is the personification of a flourishing human. Harvard has launched a human-flourishing program and the criteria states there are practices that can raise ones flourishing factor. Savoring small things, showing gratitude, doing good deeds, looking for connection while finding purpose are ways to get there. Each one of these practices I witness in Oliver. As my connection with Oliver developed in small ways, I was struck by something Oliver told me. He said that before the accident he had his life moving fast and he acknowledges being somewhat unaware of those around him and their wants and needs. This dramatically changed and he now finds himself truly caring about others. Before Oliver was quite often focused on the future and now, he only thinks about the present. For three years his life has been all about taking small steps. It really struck me how such a deeply traumatic event imprinted a new outlook for Oliver starting with this open-heart space. Oliver stated that his fulfillment factor is more than it was before the accident. He stated, “Whatever I do now, I know it’s going to be great.”
All that’s required to shift our mental outlook is connection with another. All my languishing over a long-haul virus, momentary workplace stagnation, cancellations causing plans not to materialize, and many issues we have all experienced dissolved upon meeting Oliver. I thank Oliver for being a part of my 2022 emotional vaccine. Social connection is one of the strongest protective factors against depression. Sharing a life inspired with another can happen at the gym, in a coffee shop or in a random moment when you least expect it. Keep your eyes open and your antenna alert for a possible Oliver moment hiding around any next corner.