Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Project Eudemonia: Principle Four, Cultivate Zestful Joy.

What does it mean to culivate zestful joy? Joy or happiness or eudemonia does not fall into our laps, indeed, like anything worthwhile it must be attained, effort must be expended in the conquering of it. This is the reason why Bertrand Russell called his book on the subject, The Conquest of Happiness.

Firstly though, a definition of zest. Russell, from whom I take this word, described Zest as “the most universal and distinctive mark of happy men,”. Zest, one would think, follows naturally from my last principle, living life with purpose; if for example, one has purpose, a purpose that one finds agreeable, then it is easier to have enthusiasm for it, to engage in it with a sense of enjoyment and energy. Russell gave an analogy by what he meant by the world zest, namely by describing various types of eaters, and how they have a similarity to people who view life the same way: as someone who views meals. “There are those who begin with a sound appetite, are glad of their food, eat until they have had enough, and then stop. Those who are set down before the feast of life have similar attitudes towards the good things which it offers.” this account: the healthy eater, corresponds to the man who has zest.

Zest for life can take many forms, just like life can afford many different purposes. Zest however, cannot be generated by reflection or reason, it is an emotion, a state of being, a will. How then can it be sought and maintained? The feeling of being loved, in particular sexual love, is, as Russell notes one of the chief sources of zest. The esteem of ones friends and colleagues along with a sense of self respect in the activities that one is doing is important. Having projects, aims and values are also indispensable in cultivating Zest. A further analogy to help demonstrate, is to liken zest to a engine that gives power and hence motion to a vehicle, we are the vehicle, zest is the engine, figuring out, personally, what fuel we need is like finding our purpose, one of the tasks of life.

Joy can be seen then, as the consequence of zest. In Buddhism, it is considered one of the seven factors of enlightenment. It does not take an enlightened being however, to recognise the intrinsic and extrinsic importance of this state. Not only is our attitude to life healthier, indeed, there is plenty of good evidence to think that a happy life has adaptive functions for us: namely success and wellbeing. Joy or happiness, or indeed, eudemonia - makes us shine, we are better at forming and cementing relationships, and better at deepening the ones we have already, we are better equipped, mentally and emotionally, to deal with life’s vicissitudes. I should say that joy is not some temporary, somewhat effete or vulgar experience a “joy joy click your heals” kind of happiness, it is a strength of mind. It is almost like an attitude of unconquerable hope or optimism; and an awareness of everything (all your experience) that is placed before you, and finding peace by accepting it. Joy, then, is something that is developed and deepened throughout life. The state of ecstasy, in contrast, is a high, it is a temporary from of bliss. Joy is much more stable and steady. In a marvellous book, The Experience of Insight, Joseph Goldstein writes that joy as a state can be compared to “a person walking many days in the desert, very hot and tired, dirty and thirsty. Not too far in the distance, he sees a great lake of clear water, the joy he will feel, that’s like the enlightenment factor of rapture”. Russell concludes his chapter on zest, the key chapter, perhaps, in his book, The Conquest Of Happiness, by saying “ zest is the secret of happiness and wellbeing.”



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