Book Club Discussion: Enthusiasm Makes The Difference (Norman Vincent Peale)

This book club clearly attracts some pretty amazing people.

Even when vastly different opinions are shared in this group, we manage to maintain a positive spirit and warm acceptance of alternative perspectives as we discussed the book Enthusiasm Makes the Difference by Norman Vincent Peale. For that, I awoke filled with extreme gratitude this morning.

We began our discussion by observing that many similar books have been written since Peale’s writing in 1967. The Secret and The Law of Attraction, to name a couple, took a less religious stance on the same topic. We thought it was interesting that topics like this one seem to be recycled every 10 years or so. Evidently it’s a theme that captures our interest time and time again.

The book did carry some strong religious undertones which produced differing reactions from readers. Some found it difficult to read, while others felt a deep connection with the references to God. Regardless of our spiritual beliefs, though, there seemed to be value in at least some of the ideas for all of us.

One member views enthusiasm as a feeling and introduced the word “feelingization” to us. This led us to consider whether enthusiasm is a state of feeling or a state of being. We concluded that it’s probably a little of both. How is the act (our outward appearance to others) of enthusiasm different from the feeling (our inward state) of enthusiasm? We shared examples of how we sometimes “put on a happy face” even when we don’t exactly feel happy and admitted how uncomfortable this can be. That also led us to consider if enthusiasm is a choice or something that we feel uncontrollably about certain things.

At one point, an interesting thought surfaced about whether there may be varying levels of enthusiasm–a spectrum, for example. If so, is our place on that spectrum defined by our personality? Could there be an enthusiasm set point? We noted how some people seem extraordinarily enthusiastic, while others appear less so. We recognized that it’s possible that they are equally enthusiastic and simply display it differently.

Similarly, we noticed how children seem enthusiastic about everything, while adults appear to become less enthusiastic over time. Is it the “first time experience” phenomenon, or do we simply become desensitized throughout our lifetime? With so many gadgets, bells and whistles constantly shouting at us enthusiastically, perhaps we become immune to it. We talked about how sales and marketing tactics leverage enthusiasm to push products. We also agreed that we simply can’t be enthusiastic about everything; maybe we just become more discerning as adults.  Or it could be that we just choose to engage in activities that we are enthusiastic about–and we don’t have time for a lot of them in the grown up world.

Charles M. Schwab’s idea that “a man can succeed at almost anything for which he has unlimited enthusiasm,” did generate some disagreement. Some felt there is unlimited power in our self-beliefs, while others felt the idea fails to recognize certain limitations that can impede our success. For example, could a person who is confined to a wheelchair use enthusiasm to believe themselves into being an Olympic gold medalist in high jumping? Perhaps with modern technologies they could, but is that a realistic aspiration? The concern was that by cultivating enthusiasm for unrealistic goals there may be a downside, specifically related to the level of disappointment we experience if we aren’t able to achieve that goal. That’s something I personally have to give more thought to.

We discussed the value of physical activity in building enthusiasm and reducing stress, and agreed that it can be a powerful tool in re-setting our mood. There’s just something about getting a little fresh air that can give us a fresh perspective. One member read recently that “motion effects emotion” and shared how that message had really resonated with her.

The idea of maintaining “new goals, fresh objectives,” as Peale writes, moved us to a discussion on goal setting, and how to keep our goals exciting. We noted that sometimes our level of motivation for achieving goals can wane over time. One member explained that she sets goals each week as well as each day to stay aligned with her vision. This also helps her set boundaries and avoid spending time on things that are not aligned with her objectives.

Finally, we all agreed on at least two points. One, that enthusiasm is contagious. When we surround ourselves with enthusiastic people, we tend to be more enthusiastic. The opposite also seems to be true. And two, that enthusiasm is a positive emotion. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to use enthusiasm–either in thought or action–in a negative context.

My takeaway from this really just reaffirms something I learned 25 years ago: If you act enthusiastic, then you’ll be enthusiastic!