Finding a place on the exuberance scale


We all live somewhere between depression and exuberance. Just under exuberance is happiness, then a bit lower is satisfaction, then we get to “just treading water” - kind of waiting for something to happen. Under that, there is dissatisfaction, then unhappiness, and finally, depression. So our scale (which I just made up) goes from one: depression to seven: exuberance.

Where do you place yourself in the morning as you wake up? Do you jump out of bed and look forward to your day, or do you groan and pull the covers up tighter? Where are you on the scale after breakfast, mid-day, evening? Do you see yourself going up on the scale as the day goes by or going down?

Of course it depends a lot on the activities of the day. Some days are just more fun and others are necessary drudgery. But studies have shown that we have a pretty consistent happiness gauge, and some of us manage to be in the same spot on the scale no matter what goes on in our day or in our lives. In other words, we are born with a happiness thermostat: An emotional profile that changes little whether we are winning the state lottery or losing a spouse. After the initial euphoria of winning or the grieving of losing, most people return to their original emotional state.

Seldom do we, as adults, become exuberant. We did as children. I remember how much I looked forward to going for an ice cream at the corner drug store or how wonderful it was to go to a Saturday matinee with my friends. Children are exuberant; they jump up and down and clap their hands. Puppies and kittens can also be exuberant. When I tell my dog Molly that we’re going for a walk, she starts running around and jumping, hardly able to contain her excitement. Molly is exuberant.

Do we become jaded, so that the ice cream is on the radar only as extra calories and the afternoon movie interferes with the work to be done? What still excites us?

I look forward to a lot of things and can muster a lot of happiness for seeing my kids and grandkids, going to a really good movie or play, or going out with friends. But mostly I sit on the scale between happiness and satisfaction, often dipping into the “treading water” level and once in a while into dissatisfaction. All this is normal, and I should be thrilled that this is where I situate myself.

But I miss exuberance. I miss passion.

Exuberance is a more energetic, creative, excited version of happiness. There is a feeling that everything is possible, there is joy in the moment. The usual hang-ups have disappeared; one is confident in one’s capacities and abilities; you can take risks in a safe environment and feel rewarded.

If not exuberance, how about happiness? This is easier to achieve on a regular basis. Stop and consider the last time you felt exuberant or happy about anything. What was it, and how did it come about? Can you repeat this experience? Can you factor it in to your daily life, or at least on weekends?

So I tried to do this exercise myself and came up with the feelings I get when I have written a good article, that one might do it for satisfaction. I got a phone call that a friend is quite ill, and I was unhappy; if it were a family member I would have been depressed. But both of these feelings are temporary until some other event replaces them. The prospect of a walk on the beach would make me happy, yet while walking there, seeing a glorious sunset, I could become exuberant. Music also affects moods; it raises levels of the brain chemical dopamine, which can induce euphoria.

So listen to music, walk on the beach, go out with friends, see a good movie, read a book, dance, play, have fun, and be exuberant.