The word "enthusiasm" is derived from the roots en — in or within — and theos — God. It means having God within or being one with God. It is one of the 37 key practices, common in all the world's religions, included in our Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy.

We all know people who have the gift of enthusiasm. They have a positive effect on those around them; they cheer us up; they exude energy. English director Mike Leigh's movie Happy-Go-Lucky is about an enthusiastic person. Thirty-year-old Poppy (Sally Hawkins) puts on a happy face each day and meets new challenges with fresh determination and vitality. Her patience as a teacher pays off with a troubled boy who is a bully; she listens to him intently. She demonstrates the ability to be truly present with a homeless man she encounters who struggles to express himself. But her biggest challenge comes in her dealings with an angry and controlling driving instructor who treats her shabbily. At one point, her flatmate says to her: "You can't make everybody happy" and Poppy replies, "No harm in trying."

Enthusiastic people light up our lives with their delight in ordinary things. And we need them around us! Life has a way of wearing us down and burning us out. In a culture enslaved to whatever is new and different, it is easy to fall into the traps of boredom and cynicism. Enthusiastic people have found ways to sidestep these traps and to maintain their high spirits. In her book Exuberance: The Passion for Life, Kay Redfield Jamison offers profiles of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir as two robust men whose passion for the glories of the natural world touched and influenced millions. This buoyant quality enables people to do great things. That is why Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "Every great and commanding moment in the annals of the world is the triumph of some enthusiasm."

Jamison sees play as a characteristic of exuberant people and salutes such fictional characters as Toad in The Wind and the Willows, Tigger in The House at Pooh Corner, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, and Snoopy in the cartoons of Charles Schultz. They tutor us in the art of bouncy animality, letting ourselves go, experiencing enchanted escapades, and celebrating all the marvels of life.

There is also a playful dimension to the spirituality of saints and bodhisattvas who carry the special energy of God and convey it to others through their example, teachings, and miracles. We have covered many of these holy people in the Living Spiritual Teachers Project, the Remembering Spiritual Masters Project, and the Naming the Days sections of this website. Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth century mystic, counseled her spiritual directees to be "juicy people," filled with wonder, delight, and optimism.

To experience the benefits of enthusiasm, all we need do is welcome and put ourselves in contact with juicy people — living and dead. Walt Whitman said about his first reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "I was simmering and he brought me to a boil." We can seek out teachers, artists, parents, elders, or business associates and ask for their guidance, support, and inspiration. Marsha Sinetar calls such mentors "artists of encouragement." And the late spiritual writer John O'Donohue stated, "One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement."

A student once asked Soen Roshi, a Japanese Zen master, "How can I encourage myself?" His answer: "Encourage others." So share your passions with others, and they will grow. Send thank you notes to people whose commitments you admire. Give positive reviews to books you've read and movies you've seen. And heed this wonderful advice from Swami Chidvilasananda:

"Do not judge whether what you are doing is impressive or mediocre, spiritual or mundane. Just do it with enthusiasm. Just give yourself to whatever you do with this full knowledge: 'God is within me. All actions that I perform are an offering to God.' "