What makes someone attractive to others? More specifically, what is arguably the single most attractive quality in another human being?
Obviously, there is room for debate here, and different people will put forward different ideas. But if you had to identify one quality that most attracts you to another, what would it be?
The most obvious answer, and the one that our media constantly promotes, is looks: handsome men and beautiful women. It’s all physical, isn’t it? Perhaps not. Wealth is also a true magnet for some. In 18th-century England, for example, impecunious aristocrats were always on the lookout for wealthy heiresses; and black widow spiders have always been notorious for preying on wealthy men.
But then again, what about status? How many want the “prince” as much as they want the “charming”? And then, some can’t resist intelligence (the Einstein factor), or charisma (the Bill Clinton factor), or creative abilities (the Leonardo factor), and the list goes on.
The True Magnet
There is one quality, commonly overlooked, that tops all of these in its deceptive magnetism: enthusiasm! All of us love enthusiasm in others whether we are aware of it or not, and the proof of this is not in some academic study but in our everyday experience. Which classification of human beings is the most enthusiastic? Children.
Unless they have been abused or severely emotionally damaged, children are the most enthusiastic people of all, and we love them for it. We rejoice every time we see them playing in the garden, building a sand castle, or splashing the water around in total fascination. Often, we wish we could be children again and regain their innocence, their play and their complete enthusiasm for everything!
Adults too have enthusiasm and enthusiasms, and sometimes to the point of absolute geek-dom. But here’s the thing: Even when the enthusiasm is for a topic that we personally may regard as tedious or boring (say, in my case, stamp collecting or train spotting), still the enthusiast lifts up our spirits merely by dint of their enthusiasm for that activity. And oftentimes, if we listen carefully enough, despite our reluctance to do so when the enthusiast is talking about an enthusiasm we do not share, we find that there is a lot to learn that is genuinely interesting because at some level all things are connected, and so their enthusiasm can lean toward a topic more related to our own interests and concerns.
And this leads to something else: why we find enthusiasts and enthusiasm so attractive. Essentially, enthusiasts are invariably genuine and sincere (at least about the subject of their enthusiasm). There’s no faking it, and people who do fake enthusiasms get rapidly exposed because they can’t keep it up.
In saying that they are genuine and sincere, we come back to why we like children so much: They also are genuine and sincere. They have not yet learnt to wear the leaden and sometimes duplicitous masks we start assuming in our adulthood. Children are unaffected by cynicism, or by being cool or chic. They love what they love and are unabashedly enthusiastic about it.
These are powerful reasons that enthusiasm is so potent in our lives. However, there are two even more powerful aspects to this. The first is the etymological derivation of the word itself. “Enthusiasm” comes from the Greek “En-Theos,” which means “possessed or inspired,” or even more literally, “inspired by god” or “god-breathed” or “god in us.”
In other words, to be enthused is to have some divine inspiration or sanction operating in our lives; we are touching the immortal realm, the transcendent. We therefore have a power that is not normally available to human beings. It is like having a superpower.
One might be thinking here, sure, kids can easily have “superpowers.” But the thing is, being enthusiastic supplies adults too with superpower. To give one great example in the world of business alone: The Canadian-American management guru Brian Tracy observed in his book “The Psychology of Selling” (1988) that 50 percent of any sale is a “transfer of enthusiasm.” In other words, irrespective of qualifications, knowledge, skills and experience, sheer enthusiasm alone can carry you to sales success in any profession! That’s a pretty amazing statistic.
In Greek mythology, the gods often disguised themselves as mortals in order to influence events or to support their chosen favorites. Being gods, of course, they could assume a perfect disguise and be indistinguishable from the mortal whom they were impersonating. But there was always one trait of a god or goddess that revealed their true identity: their flashing eyes.
Indeed, is that not what we see with genuine enthusiasts and with children? Their eyes are alight—flashing—with their passion and enthusiasm.
Divinity, as Hamlet noted, “shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.” We think we can escape the divine in our lives, sometimes, but no matter how much we mess up there is no escape. Divinity and enthusiasm go hand in glove; they are inseparable. Just as children, full of enthusiasm, don’t seem to have much of a plan for life (rough-hew them), yet their enthusiasm—that divinity in them—carries them through!
And this leads to the second powerful reason that enthusiasm is so potent in our lives. When the gods breathe in us, when we are momentarily like the gods with our eyes flashing with our enthusiasm, then we are more nearly like them—immortal; or, more precisely, we are forever young. We are literally child-like and have all the energy and exuberance that seems inexhaustible.
Sometimes looking back on our youth, we ask with bewildered amazement, how we ever had so much energy, so much enthusiasm, so much, seemingly, endless life? When we are in the grip of that enthusiasm, we can feel the same again.
So, if you consider yourself unattractive, if you are dirt-poor, if you have no social status at all, or are not terribly intelligent, if you lack one spark of charisma, or one jot of creative talent, then were you to develop enthusiasm, perhaps you might still become a magnet for people’s attention, respect, and even love. What are you enthusiastic about? Really enthusiastic about?