The author of the bestselling An Unquiet Mind-and internationally renowned authority on mood disorders-now gives us something wonderfully different: an exploration of exuberance and how it fuels our most important creative and scientific achievements.
If exuberance is "the passion for life," then Jamison's enthusiasm and sense of wonder about the subject proves as fine an example as any examined in her newest work. Expert in the arena of mood and temperament, Jamison (An Unquiet Mind; Night Falls Fast; Touched with Fire) detours from her usual analysis of mood disorders in favor of the livelier side of personality. She examines the contagious nature of exuberance, which she defines as "a psychological state characterized by high mood and high energy," offering diverse examples that range from John Muir and FDR to Mary Poppins and Peter Pan. Having in mind the simply put idea that "those who are exuberant act," the author details the energetic efforts of scientists, naturalists, politicians and even her meteorologist father. The dual nature of humanity is a common theme, as Jamison distinguishes between introversion and extroversion, nature and nurture, and healthy emotion and pathology. Such analysis is at times thorough to the point of redundancy, and even the most interested reader may find parts of the book exhausting to navigate. But Jamison makes up for it with her contagious enthusiasm for the subject-a mood that will make readers feel, well, exuberant. Perhaps Snoopy explains it best when, as exemplified in a comic strip here, he leaps for joy, waxing philosophically: "To those of us with real understanding, dancing is the only pure art form.... To live is to dance, to dance is to live." 100,000 first printing; 13-city author tour; simultaneous audiobook. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 27, 2004
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Excerpt from Exuberance by Kay Redfield Jamison
It is a curious request to make of God. Shield your joyous ones, asks the Anglican prayer: Shield your joyous ones. God more usually is asked to watch over those who are ill or in despair, as indeed the rest of the prayer makes clear. "Watch now those who weep this day," it goes. "Rest your weary ones; soothe your suffering ones." The joyous tend to be left to their own devices, the exuberant even more so.
Perhaps this is just as well. Those inclined toward exuberance have enjoyed the benign neglect of my field. Psychologists, for reasons of clinical necessity or vagaries of temperament, have chosen to dissect and catalogue the morbid emotions-depression, anger, anxiety-and to leave largely unexamined the more vital, positive ones. Not unlike God, if only in this one regard, my colleagues and I have tended more to those in the darkness than to those in the light. We have given sorrow many words, but a passion for life few.
Yet it is the infectious energies of exuberance that proclaim and disperse much of what is marvelous in life. Exuberance carries us places we would not otherwise go-across the savannah, to the moon, into the imagination-and if we ourselves are not so exuberant we will, caught up in the contagious joy of those who are,
be inclined collectively to go yonder. By its pleasures, exuberance lures us from our common places and quieter moods; and-after the victory, the harvest, the discovery of a new idea or an unfamiliar place-it gives ascendant reason to venture forth all over again. Delight is its own reward, adventure its own pleasure.
Exuberance is an abounding, ebullient, effervescent emotion. It is kinetic and unrestrained, joyful, irrepressible. It is not happiness, although they share a border. It is instead, at its core, a more restless, billowing state. Certainly it is no lulling sense of contentment: exuberance leaps, bubbles, and overflows, propels its energy through troop and tribe. It spreads upward and outward, like pollen toted by dancing bees, and in this carrying ideas are moved and actions taken. Yet exuberance and joy are fragile matter. Bubbles burst; a wince of disapproval can cut dead a whistle or abort a cartwheel. The exuberant move above the horizon, exposed and vulnerable.
Exuberance keeps occasional company with grief, though grief may command the greater mention. Blake's belief that "Under every grief & pine/Runs a joy with silken twine" is a received theme in folklore. Our greatest joys and sorrows ripen on the same vine, says the American proverb. Danger and delight grow on one stalk, maintains the English one. Intense emotions inhabit a correspondent territory: joy may be our wings and sorrow our spurs, but the boundaries between the moods are open. Wings and high moods are shivery things; the joyous do indeed need shielding.
Exuberance is a vital emotion; it demands not only defense but exposure, for despair far more than joy has found sympathy with poets and scholars. Joy lacks the gravitas that suffering so effortlessly commands. Joy without reflection is evanescent; without counterweight, it has no weight at all. Or so one would think.
Yet joy is essential to our existence. Exuberance, joy's more energetic relation, occupies an ancient region of our mammalian selves, and one to which we owe in no small measure our survival and triumphs. It is a material part of our pursuits-love, games, hunting and war, exploration-and it is a vibrant force to signal victory, proclaim a time to quicken, to draw together, to exult, to celebrate. Exuberance is ancient, material, and profound. "The Greeks understood the mysterious power of the hidden side of things," wrote Louis Pasteur. "They bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language-the word 'enthusiasm'-en theos-a god within. The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who bears a god within, and who obeys it."