Monday, 9 July 2012

Zest and Happiness - an REBT perspective

What is zest and how do you get it? Bertrand Russell used the term in his book the Conquest of Happiness to describe the qualities of optimism and enthusiasm for life. He scoffed at the idea that we should aspire to be happy and successful all the time as an impossible ideal! The expectation that we could achieve such a state of being was an affliction in itself, an unrealistic goal indeed, causing anxiety and depression. So zest is a quality essential to the enjoyment of life, an energy precipitated by what? The literature talks about the role of our genetic predisposition towards having a particular personality type and the importance of our early learning, our socialisation. It is not clear which plays the bigger role in determining our philosophy on life but I think that our early experience goes a long way to formulating the ideas and beliefs that govern how we go about things. I subscribe to the constructivist view that each of us seeks meaning from the world around us and in making sense of what we experience we build our own personal philosophies about ourselves, others and life. If our mentors and role models present behaviours and attitudes that are healthy and rational then we're more likely to construct meanings that are helpful to us. According to Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy unconditional self acceptance (USA) is a core philosophical belief that protects us from extreme unhealthy emotions like depression and anxiety. Why? Because we have constructed the healthy view that our worth cannot be lessened by others' view of us or whether we achieve our goals or not. Could this firmly held belief allow us to engage with life more enthusiastically? When the burden of fear of failure and the disapproval of others is lifted can we be more zestful? Maybe the life enhancing quality of zest cannot entirely be attributed to Unconditional Self Acceptance but I would suggest it would be an important component of it. Educators and counsellors in schools would do well to teach students this very important personal capacity so that they can engage with life zestfully!


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