I’ve taken the VIA Survey annually over the past three years, and the character strength of zest has fallen to the bottom each time. In 2014, zest was ranked at #20; in 2015 it fell to #24; and most recently, in 2016, zest remained ranked at the bottom—24 out of 24. It’s not that I don’t have any zest at all—everyone has all 24 character strengths in varying degrees—it’s just that my lesser strengths don’t occur quite as naturally to me as my top or middle strengths. Lesser strengths require more energy and effort to utilize. I rank high in love of learning, so I’ve been pondering my zest quotient, especially this month, as we at Mayerson Academy highlight this particular character strength.

The VIA Institute on Character says this about zest:

If Zest is your top strength, you approach all experiences with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.

Zest falls under the virtue category of Courage. Courage describes strengths that deal with overcoming fear. These strengths can manifest themselves inwardly or outwardly as they are composed of cognitions, emotions, motivations and decisions.

Zest is a dynamic strength that is directly related to physical and psychological wellness. This strength has the strongest ties to overall life satisfaction and a life of engagement.

Reading VIA’s descriptions and doing a fair amount of introspection, I realize that I have more zest than my rankings infer; I just don’t exhibit it with lots of vim and vigor. I’ve long held the philosophy that life is truly one big adventure—full of ups and downs. Learning to navigate those hills and valleys—either successfully or in epic failure style—is all part of the grand adventure. I also don’t wish to operate from a place of fear—fear is crippling and life is short. I have a high ranking of appreciation of beauty and excellence (which sometimes comes across as perfectionism)—I like to create beautiful things and desire the best possible outcome. And, once I decide to do something, I tend to go “all in.” So, with all that self-analyzing and commonalities with its definitions, why is it that I rank so low with zest?

I’ve concluded (for the moment) that its low rank has a whole lot to do with my upbringing. It is only as an adult that I’ve begun to explore my “voice” in the world, which has been patiently elicited by mentors and positive relationships. Also, I often under-emote and tend to be more stoic. So, it’s not that I don’t have zest; rather, zest repressed.

My colleague Jillian Darwish recently wrote about the connection between zest and being present in the moment. She says, “Zest is engaging whole-heartedly with excitement and energy in life, and we benefit greatly when we experience or cultivate zest.” Hmmm. With excitement. That seems key to me. So, how does one cultivate zest? Something else to ponder.

For me, the following principles make life more “zesty”; therefore, more worth living and fun to celebrate. They are the things that energize me.

Being Present: I receive more and can give more when I fully focus my attention on the moment unfolding before me and on the people in front of me during those moments. 

Considering each day as a gift: I feel an underlying baseline of zest when I express gratitude for my life, including both the challenges and blessings that make up the complete package.

Increasing joy: I notice that my zest rises when I am regularly exposed to humor, beauty, and creativity. It is up to me to intentionally weave these things into my life.

Going on real adventures: Though life may be one great big adventure, I honestly feel most alive when I am doing something that has an element of danger attached to it. Looking back, some of my favorite all-time adventures are the ones that were downright harrowing at the time—like when I was hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains and nearly fell hundreds of feet; like when my uncle and I survived a squall in a tiny boat with a finicky motor; or, like the time I kayaked solo in Canada.

As I continue to evolve and this adventure called life plays out, I wonder where zest will rank next year, and beyond.