As a young adult navigating the inevitable ups and downs of post-college life, I’ve been thinking lately about the elusive elixir we call happiness. Despite the images we post on Instagram to showcase our glamorous lives, we millennials and Gen Zs are susceptible to periods of depression that can be described as “losing our zest for life.”
The word “zest” reminds me of fresh citrus flavor, bright color, and piquancy. I’d use it to describe those dishes on MasterChef with a sprig of parsley to finish on top of a salmon filet and carrot ginger purée. On days when I’ve lost all motivation, I feel like I’m missing a crucial finishing ingredient.
Many of my readings about happiness suggest that we become stronger when we accept and overcome the inevitable challenges of life instead of glossing over them with positivity. The more we expect to be happy and successful all the time, the unhappier we are when things go wrong out of our control. It’s exhausting to be like Alec Baldwin’s zany character in Friends, who praised everything from a “well-lit hallway” to brake lights “aglow with the light of a million fairies.” Not every moment has to be the zenith of our lives.
The challenge is figuring out how to add an appropriate amount of zest in our lives without being overzealous. One tactic I hear about often is mindfulness, which reflects the zeitgeist of a frazzled society looking to slow down the frenetic pace of life. Another is hard work to achieve concrete and meaningful goals. For me, it means calming my anxious thoughts and focusing on writing instead of scrolling mindlessly through Reddit.
We can take a cue from dogs, who are the experts on how to live life to the fullest. They rest peacefully by curling up into little balls on the couch. They make the most of their time awake, wagging their tails and doing zoomies and tippytaps around the house, so overcome with the joy of life. They add zest to people’s lives through unconditional love and undivided attention to eating, sleeping, and playing fetch.
Of course, we have more responsibilities than dogs. We can’t avoid the stress of commutes and chores, but we can take steps to add a foundation of healthy routines and zap bad habits that zap the life out of us. I work in focused chunks of time instead of zigzagging between activities every second. I feel like a zombie whenever I hit the snooze button in the morning, so now I get up at the alarm and do yoga.
I’m also building up a handy store of delightful activities to sprinkle over my day like spices. Finding dogs to pet. Reading Harry Potter for the zillionth time. Learning a new hip-hop dance. Surrounding myself with possessions that I love à la The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Making lists of things I’m grateful for every day, like dogs and Harry Potter.
Self-care isn’t all fun and games. It takes work to choose healthy hobbies and habits, avoid indulging in distractions, and undo the guilt I feel about being an imperfect human being. But it’s worth putting in effort to add excitement and optimism in my life. Ironically, persuading myself to be more zen makes me feel like I’m living in the fast lane, in the zone. And that sounds like a delicious life.
This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write an article for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.