Increase Your Happiness: Add Some Zest to Your Life

Zest for life

No matter how badly the day was going, the energy in the room picked up whenever Jack walked through the door. Jack was a big and boisterous man, whose face easily broke into a smile.  “How’s it going, Jack?” someone would ask him.  And, without fail, Jack would boom out, “Beautiful!” Jack’s zest for life made us all smile.  Zest is like that; it’s highly contagious.

Positive psychologists say that zest is one of the five character strengths that contribute most to a sense of life-satisfaction.  (The other four are curiosity, gratitude, optimism, and the ability to love and be loved.)  If you’re looking for a way to increase your happiness, add some zest to your life.

Zest is defined as “a sense of expectation, intuition, hope, energy and excitement.”     The dictionary says that it’s gusto, liveliness or energy, the animating spirit.  Whooo-Hooooo!  Who couldn’t go for more of that!

In the strengths classification system developed by positive psychology founders Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, zest is equated with enthusiasm and falls under the virtue of transcendence.  People who possess zest/enthusiasm in a high degree, they say, “approach everything with excitement and see life as an adventure.”

The Benefits of Zest

In a wonderful post on enthusiasm, blogger and real-estate investor Matt Theriault (“The Do-Over Guy”) lists the benefits of zest :

  • It makes life more fun.  “It’s like an inner light,” Theriaul says, “an inner energy, and it really makes life easier.”
  • It’s attractive to people.  “Enthusiasm is probably one of the most attractive qualities any person can have.”
  • It makes you want to do things, and then you get better results and fulfill more of the potential of any situation or experience.
  • It makes for powerful communication.  It makes your message stronger.
  • It gets things done.  “Enthusiasm is the switch.”

Getting Your Zest On by “Acting As If”

Motivational speaker and author Mike Robbins gets to heart of the “transcendence” aspect of zest in a piece he wrote about “acting as if”for the Huffington Post a year ago a couple of years ago:

“Acting as if” is about believing in things that don’t currently exist and that there may not be much evidence for. This is about living a “faith-based” life, not an “evidence-based life.” The term “faith-based” often gets used in a political, social, or moral context when talking about initiatives or organizations that are connected with the church or some specific organized religion. However, being a faith-based person, while it can and often does encompass our religious beliefs and our spiritual practices, is even broader than this.

When we choose to live with a strong faith in things not seen, not proven, and not guaranteed – we tap into the power of the possible and we supersede the literal and predicable.

Wayne Dyer wrote a great book a number of years ago called You’ll See it When You Believe it. So many of us, myself included, live important aspects of our lives with the silent mantra of “I’ll believe it when I see it” and in doing so we hold ourselves back, limit what’s possible, and negate the power of our mind, imagination, and intention to allow and create things, situations, experiences, and outcomes that are new, unpredictable, and even miraculous.

If you can adopt that kind of faith-based attitude toward life, your zest is sure to increase.

But “acting as if” is more than attitude.  The key word in the phrase is “acting,” and it’s your physical behaviors—actions—that signal your zest both to others and to yourself.

Like any of the character strengths, you can build zest by practicing it.  In fact, it’s one of the easiest strengths to build using the “act as if” method.

Watch this trailer for a short documentary about Kathy Delaney-Smith, who embodies the “act is if” method and used it to coach her Harvard women’s basketball team  to championship status with it.  She used it, too, to overcome cancer.  That’s the kind of power it has.


Fake It Until you Become It

“Fake it ‘til you make it,” Delaney-Smith said.   “Fake it until you become it,” says social psychologist Amy Cuddy .

In her TED talk, “How Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” she shares research that shows how our body positions alter the chemistry that  produces our mental attitudes.  Then our attitudes shape the behaviors that produce our lives’ outcomes.

By adopting what Cuddy calls a “power pose” for as little as two minutes you generate an aura of “presence.”  And presence, she says, is “passionate, enthusiastic, captivating, comfortable, authentic, and confident.”   In other words, presence is zest embodied.

“Acting as if” by practicing the power poses that Cuddy demonstrates not only impacts how others see us, but changes how we see ourselves.

I challenge you to give it a try for a week.  Increase your happiness; add some zest to your life.  Think about the way that zestfulness looks, and moves, and thinks and speaks. Watch kids on a playground if you need a clue.  Then act as if you’re brimming with enthusiasm, too, with the faith that life is an adventure.   Because it is.

If you liked this article, pass it on.  Let’s spread some zest around!


Photo by marcos bh at stock.xchng