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 Omicron virus. In the peak of our Desert’s hospitality season, many workplaces (including mine) experienced staffing challenges and day-to-day inability to persevere.
After the New Year celebration, 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 has left many people drained. The moment a low level of personal languishing set in, I was turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction when I met Oliver Jack. Flourishing was found and I gained an extra spring in my step as I got to know Oliver and was reminded of a few key takeaways to thrive.
Oliver, who is 22 years old, 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 him, I recognized a sparkle in his eye and genuine interest in his surroundings; he has a careful consideration of those around him. Part of my work revolves around the fitness facility in which Oliver trained, and for a week, I watched this young, bright-eyed man proceed to challenge himself daily with dedication. At the same time, he had a not-so-serious playful spirit and genuine interest in making others smile. My curiosity at the source of this free-spirited behavior originated the morning Oliver, in a happy dance, arrived at my office door. This young man was making me smile and I was diverted from my personal, momentary languishing to the bright light at my door.
He proceeded to tell me that in 2019, he faced a traumatic event which forever changed the trajectory of his life. After graduating from high school and receiving a golf scholarship to the University of Colorado, he was hit by a drunk driver. 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 relearn everything from eating to walking and speaking. Very little of this struggle is detectable and watching him accomplish lunge squats the length of the fitness floor 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 one’s flourishing factor including savoring small things, showing gratitude, doing good deeds and looking for connection while finding purpose. Each one of these practices I witness in Oliver. As my connection with him developed in small ways, I was struck by something Oliver told me. He said that before the accident, his life was moving fast, and he has acknowledged that he was less aware 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. He noted that his fulfillment factor is more than it was before the accident stating, “Whatever I do now, I know it’s going to be great.”
It really struck me how such a deeply traumatic event imprinted a new outlook for Oliver starting with this open-heart space. 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 this amazing human.
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.
Jennifer Di Francesco is a wellness explorer and desert adventurist and can be reached at www.coachellabellaboho.com.