Strolling around Manhattan during a recent New York trip, my wife and I decided to see a show. As we approached Broadway, my heart did a little samba. The rush that came over me was nothing less than exhilaration.
Last week in this blog, we identified some of our sources of strength. Things that strengthen can empower us. I think of empowerment as flowing like a deep, broad river, while I imagine exhilaration as spiking in narrow jolts of joy. In some ways, empowerment and exhilaration are opposite, yet both enrich us.
If I had to choose between exhilaration and depth, I would select the latter. But fortunately we usually can have both in our lives and thereby maintain a sense of balance. If we live only for exhilaration, we increase the probability of becoming shallow. On the other hand, if we spend too much time in the deep, we run the risk of sinking.
But what is exhilaration, and where can we find it?
People sometimes talk of experiencing an adrenaline rush. One of my colleagues, an endocrinologist, says, "Adrenaline, sure…but it’s more." She points out that there’s an intricate physiologic interplay between adrenaline, dopamine, endorphins (the brain''s own stash of opioids) and even serotonin, the hormone associated with depression. Suffice it to say that there is an internal biochemical correlation to what we all feel during exhilarating moments.
If we can identify what it is that exhilarates us, then we can add that rush to our lives when we choose, perhaps during moments of boredom, anxiety or sadness.
For me, the publishing process offers a volley of exhilarating experiences. I like coming up with an idea and crafting it into a story. I enjoy putting together sentences and obsessively choosing words that best capture the ideas I want to convey. I find successive thrills in submitting an article, having it accepted, then seeing the finished piece appear in print. A rush even comes over me even when an editor rejects my work. The initial news dismays me, but then the rejection drives me to improve the piece and to find a home for the literary child that I birthed.
For some people, exhilaration emerges from exotic travel, breathtaking views, or invigorating people. I was interested to learn that shopping exhilarates almost everyone. So if you’re not sure what exhilarates you, thinking about your favorite type of store might provide an answer. When I was young, sports equipment stores excited me. As an adolescent, when I could explore aisles filled with sneakers and baseball gloves, I was happier than Hobbes the tiger lying in a big sunny field. Having grown older, however, I find neighborhood bookstores -- at least the few such bricks and mortar structures that still exist -- to be my preferred destination when my brain threatens to become subversive unless I spend money.
Exhilaration comes with two important caveats. First, of course, exhilaration is subjective. No doubt someone has invited you to participate in some activity that they find exhilarating. You, however, may have found it unpleasant. Such was my first experience with roller coasters when, at the age of seven, a BFF convinced me to join him at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. Justice prevailed when my buddy''s shirt and pants paid a price as my under-developed gastrointestinal and vestibular systems didn''t know how to handle the lemonade and cotton candy I’d devoured just minutes before buckling in next to him.
The second exhilaration caveat: even our own sources of exhilaration can be fraught with downsides. Part of the reason may be that some of us gravitate towards things that contain an element of danger. Also, exhilaration can be intoxicating, addictive, or otherwise harmful. This is not the place for a confessional about gambling or other possible vices, but it certainly is worth learning how to properly "dose" the factors that energize us in order to avoid potential harm.
True, much of the metaphorical travel that I''ve termed "52" is about a quest for meaning. But I see no contradiction – and actually feel it is advisable – to also insert occasional jolts of exhilaration along our path.
Shalom until next Monday,