There are moments that transcend time and space—moments when we feel entirely alive. At the entrance of these delightful awakenings, we suddenly find ourselves caught up by the beauty and wonder of existence. Wordsworth called these moments “spots of time.”
Everyone has these occasions of flashing clarity. With each spark of awe, the atoms of our bodies seem infinitely suspended and absorbed. For this duration, time is lost, we are lost—and yet, strangely, we find ourselves. “At such moments,” wrote William James, “there is a voice inside which speaks and says: ‘This is the real me!’”
Sometimes these flashes surprise us, at other times we seek them out. For some, these moments happen rarely, some on a regular basis, and some so often that they live in the light. When these moments are experienced, we desire them over and over again. However, it’s not precisely the experience we long for, it’s the happiness found in the experience. Once happiness is tasted, it must be tasted yet again.
Life has many moments, every day. In fact, life is the totality of moments. If we miss these brief spots of time, then eventually we lose all of time.
My son and I have shared in many of these moments together. One experience in particular, fittingly illustrates the idea of this post.
He once played the computer game The Sims, a computer game that simulates everyday life. The object is to succeed in life and become virtually happy.
After he started playing, I sat down to watch. In a short period of time, he made significant progress. He was newly married, working as a police officer, and living in an apartment. I asked him how life was going. He told me things were going great, that he planned to start a family, desired many kids, and would like to own a beach house. It was nice, but somewhat strange, discussing such adult plans with my eleven-year-old son.
A few days later, when I saw him on the computer, I pulled up a chair and watched. The quick pace continued; the screen showed that he had two small kids; he looked slightly older and was living in a much larger home. I was now a happy grandfather!
I asked for an update. He told me about the kids, their names and ages, that his wife was pregnant with another, and that she turned out to be, as he put it, “a real hot-head.” Surprised, I laughed. We laughed together.
It was ironic because there couldn’t be anyone more patient and calm than my son to be married to someone constantly on edge. Yet, in spite of their differences, he explained, “Things were going great, the family was happy, and I had even purchased a beach house.”
I said, “Wow! That was a quick purchase!”
He clarified, “I have been working a lot of extra hours and received a promotion. With all the money saved, I bought a new house.” Then he paused and grinned, “My character is very tired.”
I questioned, “How do you know he’s tired? Is he sleeping a lot?”
“Yes, he was so tired that one day, while waiting in line at the supermarket, he fell to the ground and passed out from exhaustion.”
Overcome with amusement, I told him: “It’s not a good idea to work so hard that you can’t grocery shop without fainting.”
“You are right,” he agreed, “I’ll cut back on hours because the beach house is finally ours.”
The next day I dropped in again. To my astonishment, there were six kids! I asked him how things were going. The conversation quickly turned.
He explained that things were getting tough. His teenage son dressed weird (I chuckled) and was failing in school (I did not chuckle). His wife wanted a nanny they couldn’t afford, so he started working more hours, which took him away from his family. She was leaving the kids during the day to meet with friends, shop, and go to the spa, spending little time at home. He and his wife were fighting and the kids were out of control.
Seeing the sudden change and gravity of the situation, as only a good father would do, I offered advice. I talked about what he might do to manage his time and relationships; I did my best to express helpful wisdom. He carefully listened, and promised to make some changes.
Some time passed before I inquired about his family situation again. When I did, he responded confidently, quickly, and with a solution. He said, “I quit my job.”
“Quit your job! Why did you quit your job?”
He answered, “I thought it was the best way to fix my family. I thought I would quit working, stay at home with my wife, and we would try to put our family back together again.”
Admiring his innocent intention to save his family, I posed one last question: “What will you do for income?”
“I didn’t think about that,” he said, thinking.
Later that same day, curious to hear the outcome, I asked for an update. He said, “Well, Dad, I just couldn’t get it to work out, so I pushed the reset button, and started a new life.”
Taken aback, I exclaimed: “There shouldn’t be a reset button! Life has no reset buttons!” We began to laugh uncontrollably, astonished by the moment’s quick turn.
It felt good; we shared in the goodness of life. As Wordsworth says of it: “The goodness of deep enthusiastic joy.”
There was nothing in the world I would have exchanged for the enrapture we stumbled upon together. There was no “sublimer joy” in the wonder we felt. Stunned by the game’s unintended lesson, there was a shared ecstatic feeling of liveliness, followed by a very serious lesson: Life has no reset button…or does it?
**Based upon Chapter 3 of the book: Opening Happiness