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Reclaiming Your Zest For Life Using Positive Psychology

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor

Have you been feeling like you are in a bit of a rut lately? Are you making it through each day just to get to the next? It can feel like something is missing when you feel like you are just going through the motions, even when life is “good.” That missing element might just be your zest for life.

What does zest for life mean? My favorite definition is: a keen enjoyment: relish, gusto has a zest for living. Everyone wants to relish life and live with gusto, right? If you aren’t there yet, you can reclaim, rediscover, or heck even discover for the first time, your zest for life by practicing positive psychology.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou

Life isn’t always easy, and depending on what you’re going through, it might be a challenge to think of finding the zest in life. Especially if making it through the day is the best you can do right now. Having a professional to talk to that can walk you through practices around positive psychology might be helpful.

Therapists are a great tool in and of themselves to reclaim your zest for life. I was working a job I didn’t enjoy, living life in the way I thought I was supposed to when I realized just how deep the rut had become. My therapist, a daily walk around the lake, and these positive psychology tips changed my life in less than a year. They can work for you too.

What is positive psychology?

This is not some new or trendy concept. Abraham Maslow used the term “positive psychology” as early as the 1950s. Martin Seligman, who is often referred to as the father of positive psychology, promoted the idea in 1998 when he was the president of the American Psychological Association.

Positive psychology underscores the importance of finding meaning. It is not about chasing a fleeting moment of happiness but searching for a deeper satisfaction with life. The zest for life that fills you with purpose, encourages you to reach a flow state, and fills you with positive emotions.

Positive psychology focuses on different character strengths and behaviors that help individuals build a life that serves them. These traits help them go from surviving to thriving in life, which could also be defined as having a zest for life! Psychologists and other proponents of the theory have attempted to identify key character strengths and virtues that are essential to positive psychology. 

Character Strengths and Virtues is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the role that character plays in how we build a good life. The book by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, “classifies twenty-four specific strengths under six broad virtues that consistently emerge across history and culture: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Each strength is thoroughly examined in its own chapter, with special attention to its meaning, explanation, measurement, causes, correlates, consequences, and development across the lifespan, as well as to strategies for its deliberate cultivation.”

According to Psychology Today, “Identifying one’s character strengths (such as courage, humanity, or justice) is considered an important step on the road to the good and meaningful life envisioned by positive psychologists.” This free test will help you identify your character strengths, including zest!

“The aim of Positive Psychology is to catalyze a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life.” — Martin Seligman

What makes a life zesty?

Having a zest for life doesn’t mean that you are always running around with boundless amounts of energy. It doesn’t mean that you are always happy either! We are human, and it would be weird if you pushed away negative emotions (and unhealthy too, as the full spectrum of emotions is important).

While it relates to energy, it isn’t about the amount. It is about what sparks your soul and recharges you. What are you doing when you feel most alive? What makes you feel like you are full of energy? These are the things that bring you zest. Zest and hope are the two character traits most connected to the happiness we feel in life.

You can build zest, just like you can other character traits, by doing a few simple things each day. Focus on the good things in your life. Humans naturally talk about and direct our energies on the bad things that are happening to us, but in order to build zest, try to shift your focus.

When something good happens to you, make sure to tell your support system about it. You can also keep a gratitude journal and write things in it every day. Sharing positive life events boosts both energy and zest.

Another thing you can do to help build zest in your life is to connect with nature during the day. There is just something about the sunshine, fresh air, and wilderness that makes every day better. If you are by the water (I’m jealous!) that is a great option for connecting with nature too.

According to Richard Ryan, lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, “Nature is fuel for the soul. Often when we feel depleted, we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.”

“In times of unrest and in an unstable economy, it is very easy to let your attitude slip and begin feeling sorry for yourself. This is precisely when you want to practice healthy attitudinal rules to stay alert, alive, and enthusiastic. Don’t ever lose the zest for life, and life won’t lose its zest for you. Say something positive to every person you meet today.” — Bob Proctor

What are the Benefits of using positive psychology to increase zest?

There have been multiple studies that show practices associated with positive psychology can increase both our social and emotional well-being. Positive psychology will help you develop the character strengths that are linked to overall happiness. Cultivating positive emotions like awe, inspiration, and joy will increase your overall happiness. These positive emotions are often more beneficial than moments of “happiness” we experience throughout the day.

Experiencing a sense of meaning and purpose in life also helps us build a “good life.” Older people who feel like their lives have been worthwhile in some broadway often experience better mental and physical health. How do you figure out what a “good life” looks like? Well, you can start with Martin Seligman’s proposed ‘building blocks of well-being’, called the PERMA model.

  • Positive emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

“Once you start making the effort to ‘wake yourself up’—that is, be more mindful in your activities—you suddenly start appreciating life.” — Robert Biswas-Diener

When I think about the things that make me feel a zest for life, it’s like I can just go right down that list. Doing any activity that makes a fond memory. Taking a walk and looking at an awe-inspiring view of the mountains always makes me feel good. Working on projects that challenge me and finding fresh ways to develop my skills, not only makes me better but keeps me engaged.

Spending quality time nurturing the relationships with my spouse, kids, siblings, and friends keeps me feeling connected. Writing pieces that can help others get through whatever challenge they are facing gives my life meaning and helps me to make peace with my past. Accomplishment is my drug of choice, so whenever I achieve a new milestone in my life or career, it really brings about the zest!

Give these positive psychology tips a try to see if you can reclaim your zest for life! It may take a while, but in the meantime, it won’t hurt anything! You will build your character strengths, stay grateful, and put yourself on a path of finding alternative ways to bring meaning to your life. There is no better way to leave the rut behind and live a life that makes you feel energized and happy. I want to know what brings zest to your life, so leave a comment below.

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