Zest makes life better. Zestful people simply enjoy things more than people low in zestfulness, so when we talk about increasing our habitual level of happiness (what some call the “happiness set point”) then increasing our ability to feel zestful helps.
It is true that zestfulness is almost certainly an innate, inherited trait. But in the past few years, we have discovered that many of these traits are quite changeable. We can increase zest if we wish to.
How do we do it? What about enjoying the things around us? The skill of Savoring can increase our zest, since by paying attention to the pleasant things in our lives, we develop a greater sense of excitement about having that happen again. We enjoy and we eagerly anticipate.
Think of wine tasters. You have seen them sniffing the wine as they swirl it around in the glass, then swishing it around in their mouth. They are trying to sense every aspect of the wine. Their attention is totally focused on the moment, on how they can tune in to every molecule of taste. They are savoring the wine.
A Buddhist teacher, Thich Naht Hahn, encourages his students to concentrate fully as they chew their food, chewing slowly and thoroughly. He helps them enjoy the food more thoroughly, and says they end up eating and needing less because they extract all the goodness from the food they eat. A simple glass of milk and a piece of bread seems like a feast to Hahn, as he savors his food.
A friend of mine, Dave, saw a gray Audi A4 in front of a neighbor’s house. He said immediately, “Now they have two Audis of the same color.” When asked how he knew, he said, “The wheels of the car in their driveway are a different style; that one is a different year than the one they bought last fall.” Dave was right. They liked the first Audi so much, they bought a second one. Other than the wheels, the two cars are identical. Dave is a car connoisseur; he savors automobiles.
Psychologists studying happiness wonder if savoring is a key to raising levels of happiness and zest. I suggest that you try this experiment. Choose a simple pleasure that you might enjoy, like walking the dog, or sitting outside on a pleasant afternoon. As you experience that pleasure, focus your attention on the experience.
What are the sights? Sounds? Physical sensations? What kinds of inner feelings – gratitude, wonder, appreciation, amusement – do you notice in yourself? Spend some time at that. Now while the experience is fresh, jot down in a journal or diary what you did notice. Try to describe it in such a way so that you are almost reliving the sensations, the sights and sounds, as you write it. Notice – savor – the writing process.
How do you feel inside as you write it? Notice the feeling of your fingers on the keyboard or of the pen in your hand. What is in your heart? Are you feeling happier as you describe the savory experience? If you savor and write about one experience each day, you will soon develop a nice habit. You will find that there are many small things each day you appreciate and value. You might notice that your zest and enjoyment of life is increasing. If you do, be sure and write about it.
There is real power in the simple act of documenting and writing. It creates a virtuous cycle of noticing-writing-doing, which leads to more noticing of your own progress. The more we practice this virtuous cycle, the stronger the habit becomes.