Self-Improvement: Two Keys to Enthusiasm – Earl Nightingale
Reading Bernard Levin’s excellent piece, “In Praise of Exuberance,” I became concerned anew, as he has, about the general disappearance of exuberance and enthusiasm in the modem world.
It reminded me again of the powerful cartoon I saw some years back by the European artist, Fernando Krahn. In the first panel, he shows a group of small schoolchildren entering a street-level subway station. As the children head down to the subway, they’re the picture of exuberant joy. They’re laughing, playing and tossing hats in the air, as children do. But in the next panel, we see a group of middle-aged adults coming out of a subway station.
They wear the facial expression of zombies. Their faces display dullness, tedium and a complete lack of interest or enthusiasm.
There is no caption on the drawing, nor is one needed. The question screams out, “What happened to these people in the years since childhood that has removed every vestige of their zest for life?” In a world filled with wonder and the opportunity for growth and exploration of options, these adults, so representative of big-city crowds—and small-town people, too—have apparently lost every vestige of interest. They are in neutral—in a kind of modem limbo we might characterize as “survival.” What happened?
Is it a matter of responsibility? A factor of competition for survival? There’s no easy answer, that’s for sure. To tell someone he or she should be more enthusiastic is meaningless unless at the same time stimulating triggers of enthusiasm are brought into the picture.
The saddest days of our lives are those days in which we can find nothing to be enthusiastic about. I think you can say that a person’s enthusiasm is in direct proportion to the importance of what it is he’s looking forward to.
Thus, there are all sorts of degrees of enthusiasm. People tend to be mildly enthusiastic on Friday simply because it’s the last day of the week and they’ve got a free weekend coming up. People tend to be more enthusiastic about going home after work at night than they are about leaving for work in the morning. But the most fortunate people on earth are those who live most of their lives in a state of energizing enthusiasm.
And do you know what the key to enthusiasm is? Well, there are two keys, really. One comes from learning. The other comes from accomplishment.
Learning new things tends to keep our enthusiasm high. Perhaps this explains the natural enthusiasm of the children depicted in Krahn’s cartoon.
They’re naturally enthusiastic, and they’re naturally happy. The reason adults tend to lose a lot of their enthusiasm for living is that they usually stop learning.
As soon as school’s over, they take the position, consciously or unconsciously, that they know enough. Any learning they do from that point on, they do passively through the natural passage of time and experience. Or, again, passively through the media, newspapers, radio and television. If new learning comes to them, it does so largely through no efforts or at least minimal efforts on their part.
Learning little that is new or interesting, their lives become repetitious and settle down into well-worn grooves. They see the same people and go through the same motions every day, and gradually or quickly, all or most of their enthusiasm fades from their lives.
The second key usually ties in with the first, the second key being accomplishment. It’s really hard to accomplish something new without first learning something new, even if the accomplishment is limited to improving one’s golf game or making furniture in the basement. But we’re enthusiastic when we’re working on a project we want to complete or master. The key word there is want. It has to be something we want very much to do, as opposed to those duties and projects we must do whether we like them or not.
Did you ever get a good look at a dog’s face when he’s chasing a rabbit? It’s the happiest, most alert expression you’ll ever see in your life. He’s got something wonderfully worthwhile to do. And he’s having the time of his life trying to do it.
You’d hardly know it was the same dog you saw snoozing and twitching on the back porch before the rabbit came into the picture; he couldn’t even keep his eyes open then. It’s the same with people. The rabbit may be different for each of us, but it’s our job to flush it out.
Perhaps the difference is a matter of positioning. Enthusiastic people seem to be on top of life—in control of things—and have a multitude of interests.
They are people who tend to be committed to something in which they find enjoyment and challenge and the satisfaction of achievement.
If you sit in a café and watch the passing crowd outside, you will see this clear-eyed oasis from time to time. There’s a quickness to the step and a brightness in the eyes. If this man or woman were present in that crowd of adults Fernando Krahn depicted, he or she would be instantly recognizable.
There’s energy in such a person—direction, intentionality and delight.
As for the rest—the dull-eyes, the slack-faced plodders, the survivors, we might say—they seem to be in a defensive mode vis-à-vis this business of living. They react to events; they don’t cause them. They’re like the fighter who has given up any hope of winning and who simply concentrates on defending himself from more serious injury.
The enthusiastic people are on top of life—regardless of their status; the others are on the bottom. And perhaps those on the bottom don’t know about getting on top.
The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek word “entheos” which means the God within. And the happiest, most interesting people are those who have found the secret of maintaining their enthusiasm, that God within.
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Also published on Medium.