This Relatable Feeling Of Emptiness Portrayed In “My Liberation Notes”

My Liberation Notes (2022) is drawing much attention from viewers for its relatable message of finding meaning in life and freedom from the mundane. It beautifully utters the unspoken words of humanity about yearning for wholeness through the stories of three siblings and Mr. Gu, the stranger.

Here are three (3) insights about the dominant emotion portrayed in the drama:

1. It is called “languishing”.

The drama expressed the feeling of emptiness and desire for liberation in several lines:

  • “I’m not unhappy but I’m not happy either.”
  • “I don’t know where I’m trapped but I feel trapped.”
  • “It feels like I’m stuck but I don’t know how to get out.”
  • “Why am I feeling sad? Why am I sad?”
  • “I feel cramped and stifled. I want to break free.”
  • “I don’t know where I’m stuck but I want to break free.”
  • “I’m exhausted. I don’t know when it all started to go wrong, but I’m exhausted.”
  • “So why do I keep looking at my watch? I think I feel a complusion to live a productive day, but there’s not much to show for it. I’m just constantly looking at my watch and being chased by time.”

Psychologist Adam Grant calls this kind of emotion as languishing, “It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless.”

Languishing was first coined by the American Psychologist, Corey Keyes, in 2002, as he was doing research about the topic to distinguish the group of people whose mental well-being are clinically described as neither good nor bad. However, it became popular in May 2021 when the American Psychologist Adam Grant described languishing in the New York Times article as the “dominant emotion of 2021” related to COVID-19 pandemic.

American Psychologists Corey Keyes, Adam Grant, and the American Psychological Association (APA) all define languishing as the absence of well-being or low mental health. “You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity,” states Adam Grant.

Other psychologists simply define languishing as: living but not flourishing, that feeling of “fine, but not good”, surviving but not thriving. It’s “a life of quiet despair”, according to Corey Keyes.

2. It is a common and valid feeling.

According to researchers and psychologists, languishing varies from person to person. There are a variety of manifestations and symptoms are not clinically significant enough. Most importantly, it is a common and valid feeling.

Combining all signs provided by psychologists, the following emotions and states of mind indicate that an individual may be in a state of languishing:

You feel socially withdrawn. Languishers tend to withdraw from social contact. Some psychologists suggest, though, that feelings of detachment related to languishing may not mean experiencing negative emotions toward others. You just struggle to form and maintain positive relationships, whether at work or in your personal life.

You have low motivation and decreased productivity. Research says that languishers have enough energy to complete their tasks, but find little enjoyment, excitement, and urgency in doing so. You have difficulty focusing, concentrating and you find yourself feeling unmotivated on certain tasks and days. Some meet deadlines but creativity is not the same. Others may have decreased interest or engagement in hobbies.

You feel apathy toward life. There’s a sense of reduced meaning, purpose or belonging in life for languishers. You tend to be uninterested about anything. Instead of actively engaging in life, you scroll endlessly on social media, stare aimlessly at the computer, laptop, window, ceiling, or television. You struggle to feel optimistic about the future, feeling as if there is nothing to look forward to. “You may not see the point of things or anticipate any forward direction or fulfillment in your life. You’re not necessarily feeling hopeless—just a bit ‘blah’,” states Adam Grant.

You experience hollow and negative emotions. According to Corey Keyes, languishers experience “a sense of emptiness, describing life as ‘hollow,’ ’empty,’ ‘a shell,’ and ‘a void.'” It feels as if you’re just going through the motions. Other psychologists remark that languishers express fewer positive emotions and more negative emotions. “What’s wrong with me? Why do i feel this way?” You find yourself in a moment of confusion, unable to describe what you feel. “When normally an outward going personality you retreat inward. [You’re] less humorous, more negative or apathetic about everyday matters. Basically a change in your normal behaviour,” according to Psychologist Cary Cooper.

3. Worship is the antidote to languishing.

“Worship me,” Mi Jeong in the drama asked a stranger to make her feel whole and worthy of love by worshipping her. She completely expressed what profound emptiness and yearning means that humanity could never verbalize most of the time.

This emotion is fully relatable because we go or have gone through life quietly feeling this kind of void and desperately craving for it to be filled and satisfied. And this kind of struggle for sense of worth is a universal reality, although it varies from person to person. But the dominant desire is the same, we all want to move from emptiness to wholeness, from languishing to flourishing.

However, the truth is that our need for wholeness or worship is not met entirely in this broken world. But did you know what is one thing that people who are flourishing nurture the most? People who experience wholeness feel connected to something bigger than themselves. It is faith in God. It is intimacy with God. They worship the Higher Being, that is God.

God’s Word says in Jeremiah 31:25,

  • “For I [fully] satisfy the weary soul, and I replenish every languishing and sorrowful person.” (AMP)
  • “For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” (ESV)
  • “For I give plenty of water to the weary ones, and [a]refresh everyone who languishes.” (NASB)

This is the Heavenly Father’s heart to anyone who is in a state of languishing. He wants to replenish and refresh languishers with His living water. He wants to move them from a state of languishing to a state of flourishing, from emptiness to wholeness.

His love is what frees us. To worship the Higher Being is what liberates us from the mundane.

And when you worship Him, everything else follows. You can cope with the normal stresses of life. You meet people who add meaning to your life. You thrive instead of just survive. You remain steadfast. “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I have no fear.” (Psalm 23)

Copyright 2022. Myra Bansale for KORB Blog.

Myra Bansale studied photography and human behavior. She writes articles for KORB such as insights on mental health from Korean TV series and has contributed a research article on cancel culture. She also loves to travel, hike, and take photographs.