How to Stop Boring and Start Thriving

Sociologist Dr. Corey Keys discusses his passion for mental health and explains the steps we can take to stop feeling down and start thriving instead.

Dr. Corey Keyes is a sociologist and professor at Emory University in Georgia. His pioneering work on mental health—specifically, mental health rather than mental illness—has had wide-ranging policy implications, including consulting for government agencies in Canada, Northern Ireland, and Australia.
Dr. Keys explains the concepts of „deterioration” and „growth,” the steps we can take to thrive, and his passion for researching and promoting mental health. He covers these ideas and more in his new book, Exhaustion: How to Feel Alive Again in a World That Beats Us Down It will be released on Thursday, February 22, 2024.
It's been described as feeling „blah” or „meh,” and when those terms are used, I don't think they do it justice. A couple of rainy days and a lack of sun are what many people mistake for feeling „blah.” It's a normal reaction to situations – regardless of whether life around you is good or not, fatigue is a constant state.

Burnout is a constant state that includes feelings of lack of purpose or belonging in society (Credit: Nathan Cowley (Bexcels))

My 14-item scale measures the presence of flourishing. Procrastination requires a score of at least seventh of the 14 items, where you rarely, if ever, feel things associated with prosperity. Thus, a hypothetical person who is fatigued may experience the following:

  • They don't feel like they belong to a community
  • They don't feel like they are contributing much to the world
  • They dislike themselves or most parts of their personality
  • They do not have loving or trusting relationships
  • They don't feel challenged to become a better person or to grow
  • They may say that they rarely, if ever, feel confident expressing their own ideas or opinions
  • They may say that their lives have no meaning, direction, or purpose
What's really interesting is that people who are withering don't feel those good things, but they don't necessarily feel any negative emotions—they're stuck in the middle. The important thing about being bored is that you lack good things like purpose and belonging in your life. What I like to think about burnout is that you've either lost, or never had, many of the good things that make your life meaningful.

„Working is like being in a fog: you can't see all the good things in your life”

I described it to people as a mist; Suddenly, before you know it, a fog descends and you're engulfed in it, and you didn't see it coming. And then someone says, „Look at that, there,” and you say, „I can't see that.” You can't see all the good things in your life and you become emotionally drained. It's such a haunting feeling that you need to point it out in yourself and realize that you're living a life where you belong.
I've identified five activities that I talk about in my book that are essential for being prosperous, or (for those who are down or depressed) moving toward prosperity—I call them the Five Vitamins.
The first activity seems pretty easy, but resourceful people learn something new on a more regular basis. There is a lot of fatigue among teenagers and university students, because they learn something every day, but they have to: we have designed it as a job. When that's the mindset, you're blocking the joy and meaning of learning something new and developing yourself, which should be the most meaningful thing.
The second function is to create loving and trusting relationships, develop a sense of belonging that thrives on, and create (or recreate) a community that allows you to indulge in these five vitamins. Fatigue increases in later life: it is highest in adolescence, then it decreases until the age of 70, when suddenly it „booms”. Loneliness is a big epidemic at the moment, and it's part of burnout, but it's also one of the 11 problems caused by burnout.

„Fatigue increases in adolescence and later life”

I call the third act „increase” because it is a whole set of spiritual and religious activities. If you are not spiritually or religiously inclined, there are many philosophies that do and can do what religion has done for you in guiding you as to what is the right way to be a person in this world. Things like meditation and focusing on gratitude can help manage your stress, but you need to take action to give your life purpose and thrive.