“If gratitude is for the past, hope is for the future, zest, therefore, is for the present.” (Park, Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
I love this quote for the fullness of its perspective … and at the same time it also leaves me wanting to attach an addendum. It is absolutely true that zest is related to the present AND it is equally true that being present is related to fueling authentic zest.
This may seem inconsequential wordplay, but it’s not. Zest is engaging whole-heartedly with excitement and energy in life, and we benefit greatly when we experience or cultivate zest. The character strength of zest has been correlated to school achievement (Wagner & Ruch, 2015) effective teaching (Park & Peterson, 2009) positive affect (Martinez-Marti & Ruch, 2014) work satisfaction, and general life satisfaction (Peterson, et. al. 2009).
However, in our turbulent, non-stop, and demanding world where 80% of leaders recently surveyed by the Center for Creative Leadership reported that work, rather than being a place where they experienced zest, is a primary source of stress in their lives and that two-thirds of the respondents believe their stress level is higher today than it was five years ago.
Zest is clearly under threat.
This is where cultivating the skill of being present is useful. It is simple – but it may not be easy. Being present means focusing on one thing and only that one thing, not letting our minds distract or dilute our attention and energy away from the person, the project, or the possibility right in front of us. In her book, Presence, Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy states that presence “allows you to unlock yourself – your abilities, your creativity, your courage and even your generosity. It doesn’t give you skills or talents you don’t have; it helps you share the ones you do have.”
This experience of unleashing all that we have to offer – by noticing distraction and redirecting our attention to the present moment – leads to zest and the potential for both achievement and satisfaction through peak experiences. Without zest, we experience only a fraction of what we enjoy with whole-hearted engagement.
There are numerous freely available and useful resources online for helping to develop presence (sometimes referred to as mindfulness) that leads to zest. Check out our desktop tool for 5-minute weekly reminders and activities to develop self-awareness and other essential competencies.