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  • Writer's pictureReflective Resources

Z is for Zest or finding your inner sparkle

Zest is defined as having a feeling of enjoyment and enthusiasm for life; living life with a sense of excitement, anticipation, and energy and is thought to be a positive trait

In the early 2000s Scientists discovered that there was a common language of 24 character strengths that make up what’s best about our personality. Everyone possesses all 24 character strengths but in different degrees, so each person has a truly unique character strengths profile.

Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson divided each character strength under six categories of general human virtue, which are universal across cultures and nations as follows:

Wisdom -Creativity Curiosity, Judgement, Love of Learning, Perspective

Courage - Bravery, Honesty, Perseverance, Zest

Humanity - Kindness, Love, Social Intelligence

Justice -Fairness, Leadership, Teamwork

Temperance - Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence, Self-Regulation

Transcendence - Appreciation of beauty and excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humour, Spirituality

This blog post focuses on zest one of the four strengths that combine to make up the virtue of courage, as defined by this system

When we look at the people around us , although zestful children and young people are common I find it hard to draw to mind the same quantities of adults with the same spontaneous love of life. For a lot of people, as they age and are burdened by increasing responsibilities, their inner sparkle ( zest ) seems to diminish. It is hard to remember sometimes that our natural state of curiosity, energy and sense of feeling alive is still there and can still flourish when it is buried under layers of busyness, stress, monotony etc

Why should we seek to increase zest in our lives?

If we want to feel fully alive and flourish we need to live in the present. Studies suggest that zest is highly correlated with life satisfaction because it is associated with living in the ‘here and now’.

What stops us ?

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” John Lennon

How we can increase our zest for life through the 7 S’s?

Self-care is key

If we are too busy, don’t get enough sleep, have a poor diet and are not getting the vitamins we need, etc then we are going to feel drained and lacking in the energy we need.

Simplify our lives

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak” Hans Hofman

For me simplicity is the idea of paring away the non essential, the things that stop us focusing time and energy on reaching and enjoying that which is truly important and has true value. This is also why one can see people in ‘developing countries’, who despite their apparent relatively impoverished circumstances, can still exhibit an innate sense of joy and gratitude at the small things in life that is rare Western society.

Slow down

“For fast-acting relief from stress, try slowing down." Lily Tomlin

People have been complaining about the pace of ‘modern life’ for ever, but recent technology has really accelerated the problem. The modern emphasis on speed affects our nutrition, health, sleep, work and relationships. If we want to rediscover our innate zest for life not an artificially fast-paced life-style then we need to relearn how to relate to time so we don’t become its servant and watch our life disappears before our eyes

When we slow down, we give ourselves the time needed to appreciate the simple pleasures of life and it improves our quality of life both for ourselves and our relationships with others. Also when we concentrate our focus on one thing at a time rather than dash through a lot of things we can actually increase our productivity.

Stop doing; just ‘be’, breathe and observe

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

We miss so much that is going on around us because we aren’t really paying attention to the here and now but are rather lost in our thoughts of the past or the future rather than being truly present. When we catch ourselves on auto-pilot, it is a useful exercise to stop, focus on our breathing, then our wider environment. Regularly practising breathing and mindfulness exercises can help us to re-centre faster.

Surprise yourself!

​ “The best things in life are on the other side of fear.”   Will Smith

It is all too easy to get into a rut and do the same old, same old; taking the path of least resistance but if we want to feel alive then it is important to step outside our comfort zone and try different things otherwise our world will get smaller and smaller until it eventually closes in.

Embracing change can be as simple as just taking a different way home, or trying something new to eat or do etc but then building upon this and having the confidence for more adventurous activities. It is about fostering a growth mindset, embracing opportunities and pursuing a desire for lifelong learning which has benefits for your brain. We need to take action and try new things to develop a growth mindset. Our brain's structure and capacity are not fixed and every experience is able to change our brain’s structure. Through our daily experiences we create new connections between our 86 billion brain cells (neurons). These neurons process and transmit information through electrical and chemical signals. Different pathways are created as we learn something new or by practice and increase the information we have available to face new things.

Spend time doing things that you enjoy

Some people have a tendency for immediate gratification, others find it more difficult promising themselves that they will do things they enjoy ‘once they have done x,y or z’ ; life is about finding the balance. I recently heard the phrase ‘we need to get serious about prioritising our priorities’ and this really struck home. There are always a myriad of things that we can do etc but the wisdom comes in knowing what our priorities are and then intentionally creating opportunities for more of the things that uplift us and bring us joy.

Serve Others

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” 

Mahatma Gandhi

When we make time for others or look for opportunities to do e.g. Random Acts of Kindness it not only allows us to make meaningful connections but reminds us that

“No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” John Donne.

This thought has always fascinated me; the idea that everything and everyone is interconnected, interdependent and interrelated. This is why the phrase 'no man is an island' expressing the idea that human beings don’t flourish when isolated from others and need to be part of a community in order to thrive makes so much sense.

Our zest for life can be rediscovered and enhanced through self care, caring for others and through retaining our ‘childlike’ curiosity and openness to new things.

Finally a thought about how to develop zest in the workplace. Psychologists have learned about two main ways of promoting zest within workers. In "Zest and work".  In the Journal of Organizational Behaviour (Peterson, C.; Park, N.; Hall, N.; Seligman, M. E. P. (2009) it reports that: physical fitness and health set the tone for zest and it can be sustained through hope and optimism.

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