Book Summary & Highlights: Exuberance: The Passion For Life By Kay Redfield Jamison

Book Summary & Highlights: Exuberance: The Passion For Life By Kay Redfield Jamison



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With the same grace and breadth of learning she brought to her studies of the mind’s pathologies, Kay Redfield Jamison examines one of its most exalted states: exuberance. This “abounding, ebullient, effervescent emotion” manifests itself everywhere from child’s play to scientific breakthrough and is crucially important to learning, risk-taking, social cohesiveness, and survival itself. Exuberance: The Passion for Life introduces us to such notably irrepressible types as Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, and Richard Feynman, as well as Peter Pan, dancing porcupines, and Charles Schulz’s Snoopy. It explores whether exuberance can be inherited, parses its neurochemical grammar, and documents the methods people have used to stimulate it. The resulting book is an irresistible fusion of science and soul.

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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.” Like many essential human traits, exuberance is teeming in some and not to be caught sight of in others. For a few, exuberance is in the blood, an irrepressible life force. It may ebb and flow, but the underlying capacity for joy is as much a part of the person as having green eyes or a long waist. For them, as the psalm promises, a full joy cometh in the morning. Not so for most others. Exuberance is a more occasional thing, something to be experienced only at splendid moments of love or attainment, or known in youth but lost with time. The nonexuberant lack fizz and risibility: they need to be lifted up on the enthusiasm of others; roused by dance or drug; impelled by music. They do not kindle of their own accord. Variation in temperament is necessary. Exuberance, indiscriminately apportioned, is anarchical. If all were effervescent, the world would be an exhausting and chaotic place, driven to incoherence by competing enthusiasms or becalmed by indifference to the day-to-day requirements of life. Our species, like most, is well served by a diversity of temperaments, a variety of energies and moods. Exuberance is a fermenting, pushing-upward-and-forward force, but sometimes fixity is critical to survival. The joyous, and the not so, need one another in order to survive. I believe that exuberance is incomparably more important than we acknowledge. If, as it has been claimed, enthusiasm finds the opportunities and energy makes the most of them, a mood of mind that yokes the two is formidable indeed. Exuberant people take in the world and act upon it differently than those who are less lively and less energetically engaged. They hold their ideas with passion and delight, and they act upon them with dispatch. Their love of life and of adventure is palpable. Exuberance is a peculiarly pleasurable state, and in that pleasure is power.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have … known neither victory nor defeat.”

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“We have given sorrow many words, but a passion for life few.”
“Prolonged cocaine use, which diminishes dopamine functioning, gives support to the general rule that external sources of exuberance are ultimately overruled by the brain's inclination to seek out equilibrium.”
“Americans really believe that the past is past," he writes. "They do not care to know that the past soaks the present like the light of a distant star. Things that are over do not end. They come inside us, and seek sanctuary in subjectivity. And there they live on, in the consciousness of individuals and communities." The forward thrust of exuberance, like closure, risks leaving behind an essential past.”
“There is, in Peanuts, an underlying and profound sadness which reflects not only Schulz's own struggles with depression but his sensitivity to the quiet terrors of human loneliness. "The most terrifying loneliness is not experienced by everyone and can be understood by only a few," Schulz said. "I compare the panic in this kind of loneliness to the dog we see running frantically down the road pursuing the family car. He is not really being left behind, for the family knows it is to return, but for that moment in his limited understanding, he is being left alone forever, and he has to run and run to survive." It is this heart-stopping poignancy which gives indisputable credibility to Schulz's work. The great artists, wrote the poet Edward Thomas, have seen what they have imagined. Surely this is true of Schulz.”
“In a state of exuberance, judgment is put on hold-but is not turned off completely. In hypomania judgment is napping, but still wakes up periodically to check things out. In mania, judgment is out like a light.”
“People who aren't as exuberant as you are get really irritated with you.”
“Exuberance, Cheng makes clear, is an indispensable part of his scientific life. "It keeps me alive. I like to have fun, I don't like boredom. Exuberance is necessary, you have to have enthusiasm. Any kind of work involves a lot of tedium, menial tasks, boring tasks. Exuberance allows you to see beyond, to see the goal. You need that kind of emotional makeup to push through the work, to pursue really difficult things. Exuberance stops you from getting discouraged, or not starting in the first place. Science is working out ideas. The majority of ideas don't work out, there are a lot of dead ends. You need to have an exuberant makeup to prevent getting discouraged. Exuberance reduces stress levels." Exuberance also allows you to handle rejection, Cheng points out. "For example, if you put in a big proposal to NASA and it gets rejected, you need resiliency to pick yourself up after that. I have a natural tendency toward exuberance, I am naturally inclined to plunge into things. But rough times always come." Work, he emphasizes, is inherently stressful. "Stepping back, relaxing, enjoying, not getting all wound up or spinning your wheels, this keeps you from wearing yourself out.”
“I have suffered from exuberance, from being scattered, a lack of focus," he says. Conflicting enthusiasms caused him to switch scientific fields several times, from high-energy astrophysics to space physics, to particles and fields, and finally to planetary science.”
“The combination of curiosity and joy so characteristic of scientific work calls to mind the galumphing quality of exuberant play: watching, chasing, an idea first up one path and then down another, tussling with competitors, and flat-out exhilaration in the chase. Creative science and play are fun; they promise the unexpected.”
“(Vincent van Gogh, for one, wrote that his exuberant mood propelled not just his art but his speech: "There are moments," he said, "when I am twisted by enthusiasm or madness or prophecy, like a Greek oracle on the tripod. And then I have great readiness of speech.")”
“Creative and manic thinking are both distinguished by fluidity and by the capacity to combine ideas in ways that form new and original connections. Thinking in both tends to be divergent in nature, less goal-bound, and more likely to wander about or leap off in a variety of directions. Diffuse, diverse, and leapfrogging ideas were first noted thousands of years ago as one of the hallmarks of manic thought. More recently, the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler observed: "The thinking of the manic is flighty. He jumps by by-pahts from one subject to another....With this the ideas run along very easily....Because of the more rapid flow of ideas, and especially because of the falling off of inhibitions, artistic activities are facilitated even though something worthwhile is produced only in very mild cases and when the patient is otherwise talented in this direction." The expansiveness of thought so characteristic of mania can open up a wider range of cognitive options and broaden the field of observation.”
“Both individuals who are manic and those who are writers, when evaluated with neuropsychological tests, tend to combine ideas or images in a way that "blurs, broadens, or shifts conceptual boundaries," a type of thinking known as conceptual overinclusiveness. They vary in this from normal subjects and from patients with schizophrenia. Researchers at the University of Iowa, for example, have shown that "both writers and manics tend to sort in large groups, change dimensions while in the process of sorting, arbitrarily change starting points, or use vague distantly related concepts as categorizing principles." The writers are better able than the manics to maintain control over their patterns of thinking, however, and to use "controlled flights of fancy" rather than the more bizarre sorting systems used by the patients.”
“The man's true life, for which he consents to live," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, "lies altogether in the field of fancy. The clergyman, in his spare hours, may be winning battles, the farmer sailing ships, the banker reaping triumph in the arts: all leading another life, plying another trade from what they chose....For no man lives in the external truth, among salts and acids, but in the warm, phantasmagoric chamber of his brain, with the painted windows and storied walls." Snoopy, dining by candlelight on the top of his doghouse, with his stained-glass window and Van Gogh below, would agree.”
“One joy, the Chinese believe, scatters a hundred griefs...”
“Discovery, however divine or intoxicating, is just one aspect of scientific exuberance, however. Science is also driven by curiosity and an enthusiastic restlessness, hastened forward by a drive to explore, a desire to put together the pieces of some pattern of nature. The diversity of scientific inquiry is spectacular, and it is often the most exuberant scientists, the ones who possess the greatest capacity to be easily excited, who pursue their enthusiasms and curiosities over a far-flung range of topics.”
“the exuberant are easily engaged. And exuberance is, in its very effusiveness, liable to misconstruction and suspicion, often misinterpreted as sexual interest when none is intended, or as implying a more sustained emotional commitment than is warranted by the high spirits that, however persuasive, may prove to be transient or directed in any number of places.”
“Cocaine, hashish, opium, Ecstacy: all seduce with the promise of rapture or exuberance-and then they collect.”
“An exuberant temperature by no means leads inevitably, or even usually, to shallowness, but the potential is there. Subtleties and sustained thought can be lost in a swirl of vivacious moods and energies, just as monomaniacal enthusiasm can limit awareness of and sensitivity to the perspective, needs, and contributions of other people.”
“The exuberant brain is a hopping, electric place, a breeding ground for both invention and rashness. It is by nature impatient, certain, and high on itself; inclined to action rather than reflection; overpromising; and susceptible to dangerous rushes of adrenaline. The exuberant mind is also disinclined to detail, error prone, and vulnerable to seduction. All people, said Walter Bagehot, are most credulous when they are most happy; for someone who is exuberant, self-deception is just the next mountain over from credulousness. All seems possible, much seems essential, and unwarranted optimism feels fully warranted. Self-deception can then move, by conscious intent or not, into the deception of others. ("It is unfortunate, considering that enthusiasm moves the world," said the Earl of Balfour, "that so few enthusiasts can be trusted to speak the truth.")”
“Recklessness springs naturally from overoptimism. Left to its own highly persuasive devices, exultant mood will nearly always trump rational thought. It is in the amalgam of fever and reason that genius lies. Passions are like fire and water, observed the journalist Sir Roger L'estrange more than three hundred years ago: they are good servants but poor masters. Passion kept on a loose bit serves its master far better than if it is left unbridled. Brakes are necessary; the exuberant mind must preserve the capacity to take a dispassionate measure of itself and the object of its zeal. When it does not, the consequences can be devastating.”
“It is well that war is so terrible: we should grow too fond of it.”
“Exuberance draws people together and primes them to act boldly; it warrants that the immediate world is safe for exploration and enjoyment and creates a vivifying climate in which a group can rekindle its collective mental and physical energies if depleted by setback, stress, or aggression. It answers despair with hope: "How I long for a little ordinary human enthusiasm," wrote John Osborne in Look Back in Anger. "Just enthusiasm-that's all. I want to hear a warm, thrilling voice cry out Hallelujah! Hallelujah! I'm alive." By capturing many in its far-flung web, exuberance overrides the inhibition that blocks action or innovation; like other positive emotions, it also enhances learning and fosters communal generosity. Infectious joy pumps life into social bonds and creates new ones through collective celebration and lively exchange. Shared joys rather than shared sufferings make a friend, Nietzsche believed, and there is much truth in this. High spirits beget high spirits; the memory of delight is laid down, the expectation of joy seeded.”
“Why did Hipparchus look upward and name the stars while tens of thousands of others slept? What compelled Archimedes to calculate the mathematical properties of spirals and spheres, or Gauss to approach infinity and presume to grapple with it? They had imaginative and audacious minds, certainly. But they also had passion and energy; they took joy in discovering something new. Nature rewards the enthusiastic and curious with excitement in the chase and the thrill of discovery, rewards the intellectually playful with the exuberant pleasures of play. Exuberance in science drives exploration and sustains the quest; it brings its own Champagne to the discovery.”
“Brian imaging studies conducted while a person is listening to music show that there are increases in cerebral blood flow in the same reward areas of the brain that are active when food, sex, or highly addictive drugs are involved. (Music may also, like other inducers of positive mood, decrease activity in those regions of the brain associated with negative emotions, such as anxiety or revulsion.)”
The merrier the heart, alleged Burton, the longer the life. Modern science tends to support his contention: positive emotions such as joy act as breathers from stress and in doing so they help to restore physical and psychological health after draining or stressful times.”