I get in bed and pull the covers up around me. I roll over to tell my wife good night. She’s already fast asleep and cuddling our younger dog like it’s our child. I take a moment to simply watch them sleep peacefully before turning the light out.
We invite ourselves over to our close friends’ house to grill out on a Saturday night. I prep all of the food ahead of time and my wife makes a cheese plate so we can make the most of our time with our friends instead of running around cooking. The temperature cools down from its daytime peak, we toss the food on the grill, and we sit and enjoy conversation on the patio under a beautiful clear sky.
The room is buzzing with energy. The team just found out that morning that we earned a great spot on the Inc 5000. Groups of 4-5 are spread all over the lodge in Sieverville, TN. I disengage from any single conversation, grab a cup of water, and stand by myself as I look from group to group, observing the enthusiasm and laughter.
I call these moments of joy.
What are you optimizing for in your life right now?
Moments of joy is my answer to a powerful question author James Clear asks: What are you optimizing for in your life right now?
When I repeated the question to the crew who follows me on Twitter, here’s what others shared they are optimizing for right now:
- Zero stress and less urgency
- Love and happiness
- Focus at home
- 1.5x my life expectancy
Every one of these is aspirational. They are the kind of thing you’d want to optimize your life for.
What are you optimizing for?
Why I’m optimizing for moments of joy (and how I reached that conclusion)
My temptation when I was asked this question was to answer with something like love, belonging, or happiness.
As I sat considering the question, I realized that the actual experience of love or belonging or happiness is always momentary. It is never constant. Each one ebbs and flows on any given day, week, or year.
Do I want to experience love? Yes. I am married. I have two dogs. We are choosing to have children. I want deep and meaningful love whenever I can experience it.
Do I want to experience belonging? Yes. I travel all over the country in pursuit of a sense of belonging. My wife and I invest heavily in friendships in our home city of Portland.
What is happiness? How do I know I have it? Will I appreciate it as it’s happening? I don’t know the answers to these things, and so it feels foolish to say that I might even consider changing my daily decisions to optimize for this.
When I think about my life, I think about moments. Memories are effectively moments I’ve happened to store in my brain for easy access.
When I actively recall memories from my life, they come flooding back:
- Learning to make meat balls (with eggs!) with my nanny in Ft. Lauderdale, FL
- My dad hitting me sky-high fly balls with a tennis racket at my elementary school playing field and giving me $5 for every one of them I could catch
- Sitting with my wife (before we really knew each other) in a nook on the top floor of a north Georgia mountain cabin as we were paired to listen to each other’s stories on our orientation leader team retreat at the University of Georgia
- The moment I received an email telling me I had been picked to intern for an author I admired so much and thinking “this is going to change my life”
And countless others. All we really have are moments. We string moments together in our minds to form the story we tell ourselves about the life we have lived. Through pattern recognition and ego, we develop a sense of identity based on what those moments represent to us.
In between the moments are all of the other things we do to create more moments. We work to make money. We exercise, sleep, eat, and meditate to feel well. We read, write, and go to counseling to take care of our minds. Many times these things don’t stick out as moments in and of themselves. They are simply what we do as habits.
Most of our time does not consist of our moments.
If most of our time does not consist of our moments, then what is that time for? Why do we do those other things?
In this, I find my answer to the original question. I do the other things to experience joy.
I want to be well so that I can do things like take a hike with my wife, go skiing with friends, or play a game of pick up basketball any time I want.
I want to work so that I can make money so that I can buy great food and cook it for others, travel the world with my family, or gather in person with friends for adventures.
It turns out there’s a beautiful intersection between making money and feeling a sense of meaning in the way I make money. I’ve not only found a way to make money to create moments of joy, but I’ve also managed to create moments of joy in the work itself.
The in-between is there so I can be ready to experience the moments when they come.
You Have to Know What is Enough
Knowing what I’m optimizing for means I also have to know what is enough. Yes, I could work more hours every week and potentially make more money. Yes, I could workout twice a day and potentially look more fit.
The justification would be simple. Money allows me to pay for access to more moments of joy. Being fit might make other people like me more. The slippery slope of justifying my actions begins.
When I lose the balance of enough vs “more” is when my intentions and actions no longer align. If my intention is to optimize for moments of joy, but my actions actually leave no time or space for that to be possibility, then I am simply lying to myself.
Enough is what allows us to get what we actually want. How much do I need to work out to do the things that bring me joy? How much money do I really need in order to have wonderful experiences with people I love?
Just enough to experience moments of joy on a regular basis. I can calibrate accordingly.
Even With Enough, Joy Requires Presence
None of this matters if I let the moments fly by without noticing or appreciating them. If I don’t stop to really see the adorableness of my wife and dog cuddled on our bed, then it isn’t a moment of joy. It is simply an experience spent in passing to the next moment.
Taking the time to notice that I am experiencing what I am optimizing for is everything. The more I do this, the more I realize I already have everything I want and need.
Right now, I am optimizing for moments of joy. What about you?