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Exuberance: The Passion for Life

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  658 Ratings  ·  74 Reviews
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 su ...more
Kindle Edition, 416 pages
Published (first published 2004)
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This book takes an in-depth look not just at happiness, but at something less rarely examined: pure joy and exuberance. The author explores historical figures and fictional characters she felt exemplified this trait, such as Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, Peter Pan, Tigger and Snoopy. She also gives examples of how various types of animals (dolphins, elephants, dogs and even rats and porcupines) also seem to exhibit forms of joy. There's less than I expected in the way of scientific exploration of ...more
Jul 05, 2007 stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
i got this book in hardback the minute it came out. it's beautiful, and it makes me happy.

the psychology of happiness is becoming on one of the newest fields of research, and i think that's awesome. for so long, the field has focused on the depressing things, the crazy things, no one has thought to look at positive emotions and why they happen. which is ironic, in a way, because you would think if you could increase positive events/emotions in say, a depressed person's life, it would help their
Dan Rivas
What I learned from this book:

Talking about exuberance really isn't that exciting.
Sherry (sethurner)
Kay Redfield Jamison has written a book that was for me a joy to read. She looks at that champagne of emotions, exuberance. Joy, curiosity, playfulness, and love are all aspects of exuberance, and Jamison looks at how it is important to, even essential in the development of animals - including humans. Then she goes on and shows how it is manifested in people like Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John Muir, PT Barnum, and Richard Feynman. She also looks at joyful exuberance in fictional charac ...more
Larry Bassett
Jan 22, 2011 Larry Bassett rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Had to struggle to get through it. Just never captured my interest. Was that because my psychiatrist recommended it to me? I guess he thought I needed more passion in my life. But this book didn't do it.
Riva Litman
Mixed feelings on this one. While Jamison's thesis is important -- that exuberance, joy and enthusiasm should be examined just as much as grief, sorrow and depression -- the book itself is a bit scattered and extremely repetitive.

Pros: she provides detailed biographical examples of the prominently exuberant (Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, Winston Churchill, FDR, James Watson, Walt Whitman, and others); she adequately addresses the detriments of exuberance gone too far (mania, war); and she touts t
Jun 06, 2011 Cindy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nicely researched survey of man's inherent desire to capture and retain exuberance. Jamison discusses the various means some of us use to preserve the often fleeting joys of exuberance experienced in our youth, and describes some particularly vibrant individuals for whom exuberance is a natural and integral component of their personalities. She highlights the productive capacity of exuberance to propel ideas forward into action, but also explores the connection between exuberance and depressio ...more
Dec 27, 2008 Lightreads rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Context and analysis on positive mood and passion. Chewy, verdant, wild and dense, like all of her books. She suffers from an extreme case of bipolar, and you can tell that many of her books are conceived and written at the height of controlled mania. It lends them a scope, a degree of lateral thinking, an inclusiveness that's pleasing and a little overwhelming. I tend to walk away from her books, including this one, with a deeper knowledge of
history, poetry, or literature. This book is particul
I have been a fan of Kay Redfield Jamison's since I read An Unquiet Mind in college, so I thought I would try out one of her more scholarly books (instead of her memoirs). I like scholarly reads, but I kind of found myself getting bored, as the Jamison just pulled more and more examples of exuberance, many of them (I thought) overlapping and redundant. The book (omitting endnotes) is about 300 pages, and I felt like it could have been considerably shorter because I felt like many of the chapters ...more
James M. Madsen, M.D.
Although more scholarly than John D. Gartner's The Hypomanic Edge (q.v.), Exuberance was actually, I thought, a duller book. Gartner captures better the joie de vivre and the outright craziness that can often characterize the person who is chronically high on life. However, Jamison is a far more careful writer, and she doesn't go out onto a limb nearly so much as does Gartner, whose main thesis is supported by dramatic anecdotes rather than by a lot of hard science.
Carolyn Christopher
Really interesting and insightful! Reading about artists, presidents, writers, poets who exuded exuberance was quite helpful in understanding this so neglected emotion. I appreciate this quality so much more and reading about the negative aspects of this aspect of personality was helpful.
Oct 30, 2012 Angela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing reminder to add play to the schedule and how much better life is for those that do.
Nov 19, 2010 Sandy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After having read Dr. Jamison's autobiographical work, "An Unquiet Mind", I was let down by this book. Her unique personal voice in An Unquiet Mind was not found in "Exuberance".There were a few gems such as quotes from Muir, but basically it was a listing of famous people in different phases of exuberance. I wish her love of her own words, her own life and illness would have come bursting through these pages as exuberantly as it did in her amazing work on her own bipolar disorder in "An Unquiet ...more
Oct 03, 2011 Tucker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fresh approach to history, tracing the life stories of luminaries based on their joy. The book feels animated by the same sense of wonder that propelled many of its subjects to creative discoveries and great accomplishments.

Jamison points out the etymological difference between "enthusiasm" and "exuberance"--one is a divine inspiration found inside, the other is a fertile overflow that is transmitted to others. She quotes Winston Churchill as having said, "We are all worms. But I do believe th
May 10, 2011 Ashley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The pages of this book manage to encapsulate the effervescence of a particular mood state: exuberance. Only someone as ebullient as those portrayed in her haphazard vignettes could describe them with such vigor and beauty. As harped on throughout its pages, exuberance is extremely contagious. However, in my opinion, the limiting factor to this is the reader’s current mood/state of mind. One day Jamison’s excitement will transmit like electricity, and another day shrink your ego with the stark co ...more
Nov 01, 2015 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
"On the eve of his expedition to search for the source of the Nile, Richard Burton wrote in his journal of escaping world-weariness, the apathy of the known: "Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares, and the slavery of Home, man feels once more happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood. Excitement l ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

In three controversial if well-received books, Jamison previously examined manic depression, bipolar personality disorder, suicide, and their relation to creativity. Exuberance, which explores the biological and evolutionary roots of happiness, switches gears. Jamison approaches her subject by offering up diverse case studies, from animals to the accomplishments of writers, politicians, and scientists. While entertaining and informative (few scientists study happiness), her unflagging exuberance

Sep 17, 2008 Jessi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
Do you ever wonder why some people seem "happier" than others? Some people are psychologically more inclined to be happy, to find excitement and joy in the small details of life, to see the world through bright "rose colored glasses", and this book explores these personality traits in detail. The author is a prominent psychologist, and draws on her valuable experience...In this country anti-depressants are among the most common drugs and rising. What if we were able to pick out the psychological ...more
Jena Ball
Sep 23, 2013 Jena Ball rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm sure everyone knows someone like this - brilliant, high energy, compelling, and productive until a bout of depression hits. Kay Jamison, who hid her own issues for years behind a brilliant career, calls this exalted state "Exuberance." Knowing someone who struggles with "exuberance" makes this a hard as well as fascinating read. The ability to understand and articulate how the cycle works doesn't change the fact that it still happens, that there is a physiological side that won't be denied. ...more
Dec 01, 2009 Doug rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book, against the odds. Some in-depth discussion of the correlation (causation?) between exuberance, mania, and creativity. Interesting treatment of scientific genius and passion for discovery, adventure, and the mysterious. Great section on teaching, how the best teachers are exuberant and committed to their subject matter. Neat data on brain activity and creativity. A bit of a dark ending, wherein manic-depression is detailed, but brought to the fore in a yin-yang kind of argument ...more
Janice  Durante
If, like me, you're weary of the never-ending depressing news these days, you might find respite, even delight in this wide-ranging account of people who lived authentic lives. People like John Muir, Wilson Bentley, Robert Louis Stevenson ... people whose lives were informed by passion, energy, and, at times, wisdom. While I found myself skimming some chapters, I was often surprised by joy, especially with the many wonderful quotes.
Feb 06, 2008 Karson rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I decided to buy this book when i picked it up in a bookstore, opened it up and read the quote "playing is serious business." I thought to myself, hm, this could be my type of book. She usually writes about depression and that sort of thing, but this time she decided to write about the other side of the coin and it was pretty fun. She focuses on zestful, playful and passionate people throughout history and tries to find what makes them tick.
Jan Kristal
Jamison has written several books on bipolar disorder but in this book she focuses on Exhuberance: "an abounding ebullient effervescent's more energetic realtion." She examines this trait in different species, in children's play, and in well known people such as Teddy Roosevelt, Churchill, and Charles Schultz's Snoopy. She also examines the difference between exhuberance and mania. A fascinating book.
May 09, 2012 Kristen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Because of her own history and struggles, I love everything this author has to say about states of mental health and illness. It's difficult to find a nonfiction writer who writes as beautifully as she does. I love the opening lines of the book:

"It is a curious request to make of God. 'Shield your joyous ones', asks the Anglican prayer: 'Shield your joyous ones'. God is more usually asked to watch over those who are ill or in despair."
Apr 18, 2007 Ganesh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who find life drab and dull
Did you know that porcupines love to dance? That Theodore Roosevelt let kids run around wild in the White House? That Winston Churchill compared himself to a glow worm?

Unfortunately, Kay Redfield Jamison's examples of human exuberance are almost all white men; nevertheless, this is an incredibly enjoyable read. It made me happy to be alive.
Aug 31, 2007 Kyle marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Kay Redfield Jamison is a delightful kook. Can we start calling her KayJay? I suspect from skimming that this book is uncharacteristically frivolous, but I'm dying to check out a tract on exuberance from a woman who defended non-medicated bipolars by saying that being manic was like "ice skating on the rings of Saturn," and why would you give up that?
Feb 14, 2007 Zach rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: happiness
Well written and frequently uplifting but not as broad a study as the title promises. It's more the story of the role of exuberance in a number of scientific discoveries, and in the lives of particular scientists. Jamison also puts more emphasis than seems to be warranted on mental illness, particularly the mania of manic depression (Jamison's personal affliction and professional interest).
Boring! I listened to 2.5 chapters and couldn't find a point for all the discussion. Chapter 3 seems to focus solely on animal exuberance and I'm afraid I just lost interest at that point. You'd think that a book on exuberance would be...well...exuberant. But it just seemed to be going no where in as boring as possible a manner.
Feb 20, 2010 Joan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: therapy
Kay Jamison is a psychiatrist who has published a great deal , much of it on manic depression or bipolar disorder, which she struggles with herself. She is a wonderful advocate for mental illness. This book tells of the upside, the creativity and contributions of the controlled manic, or hypothymic.
Chris Friend
Oct 13, 2008 Chris Friend rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chris by: Chad
This book reminded me of why I don't like nonfiction texts: It was a whole lotta rambling about a whole lotta stuff I wasn't particularly interested in. Sure, I learned some things; sure, I have a better understanding of the idea of exuberance and how it changes people and history, but I didn't really see it as something that was particularly good at carrying me along.
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Kay Redfield Jamison (born June 22, 1946) is an American clinical psychologist and writer who is one of the foremost experts on bipolar disorder. She is Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and is an Honorary Professor of English at the University of St Andrews.
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“We have given sorrow many words, but a passion for life few.” 4 likes
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