Welcome to stren #48. In today’s wisdom tip, you will learn the two powerful words that when joined together turn on and sustain the energy we require to reach the goals we seek. Chronic enthusiasm is the most common, basic ingredient to success in any endeavor. Chronic means sustained, of long duration, continuing, and constant; it is derived from the Greek word khronos meaning time. Enthusiasm means excitement, rapturous interest, fondness, zeal, activity that inspires interest, and passion, as derived from the Greek word enthousiasmos meaning inspire.
In stren #41 I identified the hopeless/helpless (H/H) response as one of the most devastating behavior choices available to our will. The H/H response shuts down our energy factory, resulting in “give up” behavior, apathy, depression, and in the very extreme suicide. Chronic enthusiasm is the antidote for the H/H response! People who make their life’s experience joyous and meaningful generate chronic enthusiasm. They consistently feel good and do good as their enthusiasm provides continual rewards to sustain multiple interests.
Enthusiasm uplifts ordinary or poor performance to superior output. A successful pep talk is often the ingredient that makes the underdog a winner in a sports contest when the team with greater athletic talent falls short of enthusiasm. Dwight D. Eisenhower told us, “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” Notable leaders, be they a Churchill or a Hitler, irrespective of the merit of their passion, example superior enthusiasm that inspires others to join their cause. I recall a story of a Boy Scout troop nearing the end of their long hike – tired, demoralized, complaining, and in growing disarray. The leader cut off a branch from the nearby trees for each scout and advised them that they now had a trusty steed to ride to the finish line. Branch between their legs, with renewed spirit, they galloped to their end point without further complaint.
What subject we choose is less important than the act of passionately investing in specific enthusiasms. The topics of interest to one individual may have little or no interest for another, and the variety of enthusiasms available for our special focus is endless. For example, during my medical training, my study group was being instructed by a proctologist, a specialist in diseases of the rectum and lower intestine. He was examining a patient using a proctoscope, an instrument inserted in the anus that allows one to see the interior of the large bowel. He suddenly erupted in enthusiasm: “What a beauty; you must see this!” as he called each student to come see the treasure he discovered. The malodorous, puss-filled weeping lesion he found so exciting elicited an “Ugh” from most of us. David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University, tells us:
Bad poetry is not poetry at all except to the man who makes it. For its creator, even the feeblest verse speaks something of inspiration and of aspiration.1
1Life’s Enthusiasms, David Starr Jordan, 1906
I include among my own chief enthusiasms the search for wisdom and enlightenment and the joy of sharing this with others; love of family and humanity; acquiring skill in making music on my electric organ, even if done poorly; and appreciating nature’s creation of beautiful wood, minerals, and flowers. I am especially uplifted as I admire the creativity of contemporary glass artists who transform the ordinary substance, sand, to create objects that inspire joy and awe. I have been impressed by the wisdom of William James who described beauty as “medicine through our eyes.” I share my enthusiasms merely to point out that our enthusiasms can be selected from those having win-win outcomes. They enrich myself and the world, create harm to no one, and are available in abundance without limit. Goals that have limited quantity, most evident in physical wants that are sought with greed beyond need, such as money and power, often become a problem. Human ingenuity is capable of providing our population’s needs, but not when our way of thinking demands that we engage in harmful win/lose competition without consideration for our neighbors. The newer common sense way of thinking creates out of the box solutions using wisdom; it is our means to make our lives safe and joyous. Our mission to survive is making common sense common through collaboration and chronic enthusiasm.
It is easy to recognize individuals lacking in enthusiasm. They commonly engage in the negative mental action patterns such blaming others and/or themselves, and avoidance, which then leads to the helpless/hopeless response. They show apathy, depression, physical maladies of every kind and, in the extreme, are prone to physical aggression including suicide and homicide.
In my consultation to nursing homes, I observed a common syndrome of apathy and depression described by a colleague years ago. He called it todes erwachen, “waiting for death.” These individuals ran out of enthusiasm. On the other extreme I recall an elderly gent in a wheelchair who regularly greeted me full of enthusiasm: “Hello, doc. How are you? Anything I can do for you today?” David Starr Jordan offered this wisdom in his book, Life’s Enthusiasms: Acquire multiple interests in our youth, when we are most able, as we have greater difficulty in our last years when we must confront our demise. I recommend his advice that we enthusiastically stuff our closets with multiple interests, even those where we know we are unlikely to complete, to insure we will have an abundance of the youthful energy that makes our life’s experience joyous.
The power of chronic enthusiasm is a skill that can be easily taught and readily learned. Our society currently teaches us to enthusiastically pursue physical wealth and pamper our body. We can no longer neglect to educate ourselves in the more appropriate wisdoms that create mental wealth. They are available in unlimited abundance to sustain our vigor throughout our lifetime. In the next stren, I want to consider the means by which we assume responsibility to create enthusiasms that enable us to make our entire life’s experience joyous and meaningful.