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Are you one of those who believes in living life to the fullest and making the most out of every day?
If so, then you are a zestful person. Zest makes an individual loaded with positive vitality that emanates from him to others around. In it lies true happiness, satisfaction, and a deep sense of value.
Paulo Coelho said:
When you are enthusiastic about what you do, you feel positive energy.
This enthusiasm and energy is zest – it is the capacity to feel revved up and ready to go, invigorated, and brimming with force. A zestful person is likely to wake up feeling active and willing to take on the day. He will work with high spirits and will have the solidarity to confront difficulties emphatically.
Zest is an essential component of positive psychology and a standout amongst the most instrumental character qualities we have. It can be a powerful tool for self-improvement, only if we know how to use it in the right way. With strong research-oriented evidence and findings, this article centers around the territories of zest and learn some tidbits about how we can apply it in our day-to-day lives.
This article contains:
- What is Zest? (Incl. Definition)
- The Psychology of Zest
- Zest and Positive Psychology
- Is Zest a Character Trait?
- Zest in The Context of Character Strengths
- Common Characteristics of Zest
- 3 Examples of Zest in Action
- Research and Studies
- 3 Interesting Facts
- A Look at Zest and Satisfaction
- Zest and Life Satisfaction
- 5 Activities to Cultivate Zest in Life
- Zest and Work Satisfaction
- 4 Activities to Improve Zest for Work
- 5 Resources
- A Take-Home Message
What is Zest? (Incl. Definition)
In positive psychology and mental health, zest implies the virtue of living life with thrill and excitement.
Zestful people perform tasks wholeheartedly and focus more on the positive aspects of life. They are the ones who will hold tight and not give up during times of distress. It is a positive trait that also includes ingredients of empathy, compassion, enthusiasm, and ethics, which is why it is one of the most efficient personality dispositions that we possess.
The core idea of zest is ‘to live and not just exist.’ Besides enthusiasm and vigor, zest helps in:
- Making life more enjoyable and attractive.
- Making others like us for our positivity and energy.
- Rapid learning and self-development.
- Communicating more effectively with others and maintaining a healthy relationship with the self.
- Achieving our dreams and aspirations.
The Psychology of Zest
Research in some of the major areas of mental health in the past few years has established zest as a primarily important factor for life satisfaction and an overall sense of self. It is a ‘heart’ strength which, along with similar traits such as gratitude, hope, and love, predicts a person’s happiness and level of contentment from his work life and his personal life (Peterson, Park, Hall and Seligman, 2009).
Feeling lively and high-spirited everyday conditions our brain to form neural networks that make us feel joyful, which is why zestful people don’t have to put in much effort to extract positivity – they reflect it spontaneously.
And as a result, zestful people are:
- Great performers
- High achievers
- Excellent team workers
- Good life partners
- Empathetic and compassionate
- Encouraging others and themselves
- Good listeners and communicators
Hersey (1955) was among the first ones who identified the role of zest in enhancing life satisfaction and sense of commitment in us. His argument stated that this enthusiasm is more of a ‘mental state’ rather than a character trait.
Hersey’s studies mapped how feelings of zest could rise and fall, making someone feel highly motivated on some days and unproductive on the others. Although his findings found great value initially, with growing evidence showing how some people are naturally more enthusiastic than others, Hersey’s theory was overruled by the concept of zest being an elementary character strength or trait (Park, Peterson, and Seligman, 2004).
Psychological well-being is associated with all aspects of our living. A peaceful mind ensures better performance at work, happier family relationships, and improved physical health (Wright and Bonett, 2007; Wright, Bonett, and Sweeney, 1993; Wright and Cropanzano, 2000, 2004; Wright, Cropanzano, and Denney, 2002).
Zest as a character strength impacts directly on all these areas of living, and this is the reason most organizations and educational institutions today target on promoting and building a zestful attitude among its members, including students (Pennix et al., 2001).
Zest and Positive Psychology
Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, in their book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, defined people with zest as “vigorous and energetic, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, bouncy and perky, peppy and high on life.”
Their work identified 24 major character strengths and virtues, the unique combination of which determines our nature and ways of life. The character strengths Seligman and Peterson pointed out were accepted by positive psychologists all over the world and are identified as the keys to leading a happy and fulfilling life.
A study on adult US women in 2004 revealed that participants who had zestful traits were happier and showed signs of overall satisfaction in their lives, as opposed to women who showed weak signs of zest.
A similar study in 2007, conducted on over 10,000 American and Swiss adults showed that people derived happiness in life by three ways – seeking pleasure, engagement, and meaning. And zest is strongly associated with each of the three methods of extracting happiness. The results of the study strongly indicated that no matter what way we choose for deriving joy in life, there has to be a component of zest in it.
The study further revealed that zestful people are less neurotic, and had better coping mechanisms than others. They are more likely to overcome failures and adversities with more efficacy than people who are less zestful by nature.
The challenge with zest is the way we measure or quantify it. How do we know how much energy one person has against the other? Or how much enthusiasm do they feel at a given moment?
Like many different constructs of positive psychology, accurately estimating the amount of zest in a person was a challenging task for researchers in the field. While there were scales that could measure the requisites and the results of zest (for example happiness, satisfaction, creativity, motivation, etc.), there wasn’t any single scale that could objectively identify how much enthusiasm a person had.
Owing to this limitation of operationalizing zest, most of the measures that positive psychologists use today are based on the character strength scales or self-report measures where participants record subjective feelings of enthusiasm and satisfaction.
The specific tests give accurate estimations in some cases, but there is also the chance of data misrepresentation, which further questions the validity and reliability of these resources. Accounting for these problems, a prime focus of contemporary positive psychology is to develop objective and more reliable resources for measuring zest in individuals.
Is Zest a Character Trait?
Zest is a dynamic and positive strength according to the character strength review by Seligman and Peterson. Categorized as a part of the signature strength ‘courage’, zest brings with it the opportunity to:
- Experience a state of flow at work.
- Utilize our skills and abilities to the fullest.
- Develop secure and long-lasting interpersonal connections – both personally and professionally.
- Align our values and belief systems to our actions, so that we derive maximum pleasure and satisfaction from anything we do.
The sources of happiness may differ from person to person – what makes you happy may not evoke the same emotions in another person. And such individual difference is beyond our control. But people with zestful traits can derive pleasure and fulfillment more often than others – maybe for different reasons, but with the same effect.
Zest in The Context of Character Strengths
Character strengths are positive attributes that come to us naturally, for example, positive emotions like love, hope, and empathy. We don’t have to impose these feelings on us, they are an integral part of us, and a component of our core identity.
The VIA character survey, based on the 24 character strengths of Seligman and Peterson is a popular and highly used scale for discovering the character strengths we have and what they mean. The signature character strengths in the survey include zest as an essential one, which, when it co-exists with other positive forces can make a significant difference in our lives.
Here is a brief account of all the 24 character strengths we have and their six broad categories.
Category 1 – Wisdom
Category 2 – Courage
Category 3 – Humanity
Category 4 – Justice
Category 5 – Temperance
Category 6 – Transcendence
You can also take the VIA Character Strength Survey.
Common Characteristics of Zest
Zest comes with a lot of additional benefits. Besides making people high on life-energy, it makes a significant impact on the ways we perceive failures, face adversities, and bounce back on the right track.
Extensive research and studies on positive psychology have revealed the following common characteristics zestful people have in common:
1. Zest brings happiness at work
Zestful people are all the way more satisfied with their jobs and are less prone to burnouts and stress attacks. A study on zest in the adult working population in 2009 revealed that employees who showed traits of zest were more thriving and dynamic professionals. Regardless of the talent or intellectual abilities, they were more likable, took fewer sick leaves, and were considered as ‘assets’ of the organizations.
2. Zest implies better relationships
With zest comes the power of managing relationship conflicts with more efficacy and the ability to understand the other person’s perspective. Zestful people show noticeable traits of empathy, positive self-expression, and effective communication. They are most successful in raising happier families and build secure connections at work.
3. Zest increases endurance and adaptability
Studies have found that jobs like teaching and nursing, where professionals cannot afford to lose their patience or kindness, a zestful attitude ensures better productivity. A 2009 review on character strengths indicated that teachers who had zest could accomplish their daily tasks with more energy and humor, as opposed to less zestful teachers who became impatient and irritable after the first few hours at work.
3 Examples of Zest in Action
Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher, said: “What hunger is about food, zest is about life.” The best example of zest would be someone who lives with an awakened sense of reality – someone who uses all his thoughts to feel every moment of his life, and appreciate each experience that he unleashes ‘today.’
Scientist Daniel Kahneman said that we experience about 20,000 moments each day, and when we live with zest, we get the gift of experiencing each of the moments right when they occur, rather than having a vague after-image of it.
There is a component of mindful awareness in zest, and here are some common examples of zest that we can count for:
- Have you seen a disabled person at work? Japanese research on zest at work revealed that when a person with a disability works for an organization, he works with twice more effort and zest than any average employee of the firm. The fact that they are challenged makes them more determined to put in the effort to give the same output as others they work with. Their desire, coupled with seamless hard work make achievements and appraisals much more rewarding for them. Their work is a validation of their continued efforts, which is the reason the pleasure they derive from working is way higher than others unlike them.
- We all know about the epitomes of kindness like Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa, and the struggles they had to encounter throughout their journey. The zest and determination to not give up serving the needy ones despite all challenges and adversities was the driving force behind their success. Their achievement was in terms of welfare and the benefits of the people, a large part of which can be attributed to their undefeatable vigor and positive spirits.
- Recent studies on workers of internet sites showed that employees who had a zestful and positive orientation towards their work could break free from the monotony and mental stress associated with spending long hours on the web. The amount of pleasure they derive from work is directly proportional to the amount of output they provide to the organizations.
Research and Studies
A study conducted on the strategies used in an undergraduate nursing training program revealed that when teachers, administrators, and resource persons implemented group activities, the team performed better and with more zest.
The interventions of the study were deployed at four different levels – the individual level (microsystem), the group level (mesosystem), the program level (exosystem), and the institutional or organizational level (macrosystem).
In all the four systems, characteristics of zest played a crucial role in determining performance and intrinsic motivation, and researchers indicated it to be fundamental for becoming a successful nurse. Here you can learn more about this research.
One study on the combination of four positive character traits – gratitude, optimism, zest, and persistence in Australian school students found that co-existence of the four qualities guaranteed prosocial behavior and subjective feelings of happiness and well-being among children.
With interventions based on Seligman’s 24 character strengths, this primary school research stated gratitude, zest, and perseverance to be as important as the love of learning in students.
3 Interesting Facts
Norman Vincent Peale said:
If you have zest and enthusiasm, you attract zest and enthusiasm. Life does give back in kind.
Zest, like most character strengths of Seligman and Peterson, is entirely subjective and varies from person to person. Here are some interesting facts about zest that positive psychology and mental health research have revealed:
- Regular engagement in physical exercise and an active lifestyle increases energy and zest. People who work on cultivating and maintaining their vitality invest in activities like ice-skating, hiking, cycling, and swimming – exercises that involve a lot of physical strength and vigor.
- In one of his works on life satisfaction, motivational speaker and famous author Mike Robbins stated that besides being a separate character strength, transcendence is also a vital component of zest.
- Studies have shown that acting ‘as if’ helps people develop zest in their dispositions. Psychologists call this a ‘faith-based’ approach where intentionally behaving in a certain way conditions us to internalize the virtues and exhibit them naturally after that. Many interventions on zest promote exercises of role-playing to give participants an idea of what being zestful would feel like, thereby motivating them to embody the positivity in the future.
A Look at Zest and Satisfaction
Zest is another word for interest, enthusiasm, and positivity. It allows us to focus on learning new skills and implementing them in our lives.
Curiosity makes us strive for knowledge and keep going until we are quenched. Satisfaction follows. Leveraging our minds to extend our abilities to ensure success and the amount of self-satisfaction and happiness it brings is irreplaceable.
At the heart of any success or achievement lie a comprehensive roadmap and the motivation to go beyond our comfort zone. Studies on character strengths and their role in mental health have revealed that it is our signature strengths that help us make this progress.
If we do something out of compulsion or just for the sake of doing it, the result, no matter how favorable it may be, won’t mean that much to us. On the contrary, if we approach a task with extreme optimism and zeal, and eventually succeed in it, the amount of satisfaction we achieve would be immeasurable.
Zest and Life Satisfaction
Life satisfaction is a positive evaluation of the conditions of your life, a judgment that at least on balance, it measures up favorably against your standards or expectations.
Neugarten et al. (1961) defined life satisfaction as ‘successful aging.’ To him and many psychologists, life satisfaction is an overall evaluation of all the positive and negative feelings that a person has experienced in his lifetime. It is an individual’s cognitive judgment about his own life (Diener, Emmons, and Larsen, 1985).
With antecedents in areas of work, family, friends, and community, life satisfaction allows us to judge the quality of our living so far. The more we evaluate experiences to be positive, the higher life satisfaction is (Veenhoven, 1993).
Positive psychology believes that the zest of one of those character strengths that contribute the most to deriving satisfaction from our lives. The other factors that contribute to life satisfaction include – curiosity, gratitude, optimism, and love.
Zest, which is the enthusiasm or the flaming feeling within us, makes us approach life with high spirits in the first place, and later evaluate our experience with positivity.
Zestful people look back at failures as stepping stones and not shortcomings or weaknesses. To them, failures are learning lessons rather than personal flaws or defects, and every single experience they had in life, no matter how good or bad, is equally enlightening.
The role of zest in enhancing life satisfaction can be quantified using scales like the Life Satisfaction Inventory or other satisfaction surveys.
The Life Satisfaction Inventory (LSI) is a self-report questionnaire with 20 items that provide an accurate measure of the quality of life (QoL) of the respondent. The test includes steps for zest, grit, intrinsic motivation, and self-concept. Many studies on LSI firmly pointed out that participants who had a high score in the zest scale had higher life satisfaction and reported subjective feelings of positivity from the quality of life they could maintain.
5 Activities to Cultivate Zest in Life
Zest is a trait that we can learn and acquire. There is a multitude of tactics and exercises to promote enthusiasm and build it inside people who are lacking. Educational, organizational, and life coaching sectors across the globe today are taking the step forward to train and engage their members into individual and group activities that build zest, and here are some famous individual and group interventions for cultivating the vigor inside you.
1. Get-To-Know Game
This is a group exercise where participants form pairs and talk to each other about themselves. The goal is to gather as much knowledge as they can about their partners and then take turns to report what they learned to the other group members.
2. The String of Values Exercise
A core value like (eg., environmental awareness, work ethics, or morals) is selected in this game, and the participants are asked to discuss their beliefs and experience about it. The administrator keeps rolling a ball from one person to another in the group, making sure everyone gets a fair chance of sharing their thoughts on the core value and also learn from what others have to say about it.
3. Activist Business Card Activity
This intervention combines action with goal-setting and planning. It is a great way to give participants an idea of how working with zest feels like and motivates them to work in similar ways in real life.
The steps include asking each pair to ask questions to each other about their goals, the causes they support, the value they give to community works, etc.. After gathering sufficient knowledge, the different partner designs a business card for his duo with all the relevant information that he has collected.
4. Sound mapping exercise
In this exercise, the participants are allowed to lie down on the ground (or on their mats) with their eyes closed. The facilitator plays soft yoga music or a small guided meditation script allowing the participants to relax and become aware of the moment.
After playing the yoga music for a few minutes, the administrator asks the participants to lie down in absolute silence and try to listen to the sounds they can hear around them. Following this, the participants take turns to describe their sensory experiences and how they felt the environment around them in those few quiet moments.
5. Situation report
A popular technique for promoting zest in organizational set-ups, this exercise calls for participants to form groups where they talk and discuss each others’ achievements, failures, work ethics, and goal-setting strategies.
The open discussion allows the group members to know each other, understand where they might be going wrong, and develop effective strategies to achieve their professional targets. At the end of each session, participants prepare a detailed report on what they have learned in the course and how they can use these lessons to reach their goals.
Zest and Work Satisfaction
The right combination of character strengths is all we need to make the most of our goals, plans, and ambitions. And when it comes to professional commitments, zest and a positive mindset can be the game-changer. Many studies in positive psychology have indicated that zest is a direct contributor to team performance and work responsibility. Responsibilities of a decision-maker and leader ideally correlate with zest, hope, bravery, perseverance, and leadership.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that the urge to learn new things and apply them to the workplace is a great stress-buster, and people who did something active (such as engaging themselves in learning) were twice happier and satisfied with their jobs than people who participated in passive activities.
This trait, which scientists closely related to zest, guaranteed a better work-life balance and increased productivity at work.
Besides increasing productivity, zest enhances work satisfaction by:
- Helping employees engage in meaningful learning activities.
- Letting them enter a flow state where they can maximize their abilities and their time.
- Managing toxic stress and burnout that can impact health and reduce performance.
- Choosing the right leadership and management strategies.
- Allowing themselves time to pause, relax, and appreciate themselves and others they are working with.
Low zest for work invites low productivity and greater dissatisfaction. In a study conducted on job satisfaction of middle-aged women employees, it was found that zestful women not only did better at work but also felt more energized and positive at the end of each day. Less enthusiastic women looked too worn-out and stressed by the end of the working hours.
4 Activities to Improve Zest for Work
Optimism, fitness, low levels of stress, and high self-confidence – who doesn’t want these? Developing and maintaining a zestful attitude is the standard answer to getting all these. We already discussed that zest could be learned and built in life.
So here are some simple and effective strategies that you could apply at work for becoming more active and self-content as a professional.
1. Mindful relaxation
Allow some time to breathe and relax during long working hours. Mindfulness has the potential to instantly refresh you by bringing your attention back to the present moment and become grounded. Set aside 10 minutes where you can sit upright, take a few deep breaths, reflect on your thoughts, and let all the worries float away.
Resuming work after such power exercises increase our mental capacity to find the most effective ways to work and minimize any stress associated with it.
2. Celebrate the little achievements
It is a great idea to give yourself a little pat on the back for any accomplishments you made today. Appreciations are great ways to revive the energy to continue the hard work with the same conviction and spirit.
Feel the excitement, share happiness, and use the power to plan your future goals and strategies to achieve them.
3. Plan ahead
Your zest should show up in all spheres of your work – from planning to execution and evaluation. An effective goal-planning strategy includes:
- Writing down the goals (short-term and long-term) and prioritizing them according to your current position.
- Using SMART goals, i.e., goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
- Internalize the goals into your system such that it becomes a part of who you are.
- Take the step forward to initiate actions.
4. The ‘Imagine yourself’ exercise
Choose a time in the future, say five years, and imagine yourself working then. How do you see yourself? What do you want yourself to have achieved by then?
Think of all the possibilities and picture yourself successful. Then ask yourself what will lead you to that position and how you can ensure you achieve it. This is an excellent way of boosting yourself and getting rid of any negativity that might be stopping you from getting there.
1. Strength-Based Resilience Approach
A positive psychology organization in Canada devised this exercise-based manual that contains valuable snippets on the core character strengths with simple self-report questionnaires on evaluating them.
Professors Afroze Anjum and Tayab Rashid have put together their years of research into this resource, which is valuable for users of all ages. You can download and take the exercises.
2. VIA Character Manual
The VIA character manual is by far the most used and popular assets on character strengths. It discusses the 24 character strengths in detail and has objective measures to assess each of them. Learn more about the VIA strengths.
3. Zest for life guided meditation
A brief meditation script published by an organization called the Guiding Echoes, this video script can be a great start to cultivating zest in your life. It is perfect for youngsters or adults, and you can learn more about it here:
4. Character Strengths Inventory (CSI)
Based on Seligman and Peterson’s works, the CSI is an objective self-evaluation tool where your responses allow you to understand your core strengths and how to explore ways to use them.
The test is short and easily accessible.
5. Character Strengths Manual
This is a compilation of exercises, resources, and activities based on the 24 character strengths we have discussed so far.
With delightful illustrations such as the wheel of character strengths, this manual is excellent for educational purposes as well as professional areas. You can know more about it here.
A Take Home Message
How has zest rewarded you in life so far?
The real zest for life lies in doing the right things. The goal of having zest is not just being successful, but rather to maximize our abilities and strengths, and never give up hope.
Thoughts become things. If we can see it in our minds, we can hold it in our hands.
With zest, we get the vision of our ideal selves and get the power to work for the life we have always wanted to live. And as some say, “Without zest what is life? We can either live with zest or choose to vegetate.”
- Park, N., Peterson, C., and Seligman, (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-619.
- Peterson, C., Park, N., Hall, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2009). Zest and work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 161-172.
- Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (2007). The Value of Wisdom and Courage. Positive psychology: the scientific and practical explorations of human strengths (p. 241). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications.
- Zest and work - https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/61871/584_ftp.pdf
- Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, MC., Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, NY: Simon and Schuster.
- Strengths of character, orientations to happiness, and life satisfaction - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/50913961_Strengths_of_character_orientations_to_happiness_and_life_satisfaction
- Niemiec, R., (2009) VIA Intensive: Strengths: Character Strengths and Virtues in Practice. Cincinnati: VIA Institute on Character.