Why the Fleeting Things in Our Lives Give Us So Much Joy

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Why the Fleeting Things in Our Lives Give Us So Much Joy | Wit & Delight
Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash

I love May and June. Happiness comes in short sparks, due to the discovery of a new flower or a remembered smell, oftentimes shaking up a gut-something from the past. Rhododendrons are the first flower I notice in Minnesota. By the time I’m ready to crawl inside of its thorny heart, its bombastic existence is long gone. Mid-May is for the lilacs. I count down their appearance every year because their lush bodies only bob for a week before the sun browns them. The first week in June is for the peonies. Their erect little bulbs burst as quickly as their heavy heads dip to the ground floor, destroyed by one hot June day.

Nature reminds us the things that make us happiest are oftentimes fleeting. We have to catch them, take the time for them, and soak inside of them before they’re gone.

Nature reminds us the things that make us happiest are oftentimes fleeting. We have to catch them, take the time for them, and soak inside of them before they’re gone.

These are the short-lived moments in our lives that give us energy. They surprise us as equally as we look forward to them. Here are some of my personal favorites: springtime, new love, a frosty glass of rosé, a live concert (oftentimes, a very specific song), letters in the mail, a longing touch, a clever phrase in a book, or the smell of ribs toasted with cherrywood or fresh bread swirling around outside of a restaurant. Every single moment is a quick lit match of real, genuine goodness. They’re not impactful; they don’t hold a lot of expectations. But, we desperately look for them. We keep them close.

Why do we love these fleeting moments so much? Why do we need them? Curious by this, I did some deep-cut soul searching. Our world is so full of complicated ideals and conventions, so I wondered if fleeting moments had a source of trickery or artifice to heal us—even if just momentarily. Certainly, my quarantine brain was onto something. A type of happiness that’s not the core of us, but the buffering tool for our harsh parts.

Expectedly, these quick-lived emotions have a name. They’re defined as sources of hedonistic happiness (the first dimension of happiness). According to an article in Psychology Today, this is when a certain event triggers a burst of pleasure (i.e. maximum amount of positive emotions, minimum amount of negative emotions). Pretty simple stuff, right? Well, what I find most interesting about this emotion is that it doesn’t get very deep. It’s carefree. Deepness is when eudaimonic happiness comes in. Eudaimonic happiness is the kind of emotion that makes us think: Who am I? Why am I here? It’s tougher to define and filled with questions and doubts—the marathon not the sprint.

Hedonistic happiness doesn’t offer those heavy hitter questions. As one can imagine, a quick blip of joy doesn’t define us or need to define us. Dreamy lilacs and perky peonies keep us moving so we can do the tough work. Our values aren’t pressured to be defined by them. Our hearts aren’t pressured to sacrifice anything that could eventually hurt us. These hedonistic, pressureless pulses give us a momentary cure.

A quick blip of joy doesn’t define us or need to define us. Dreamy lilacs and perky peonies keep us moving so we can do the tough work. . . . These hedonistic, pressureless pulses give us a momentary cure.

This is why we crave them. Our presence is made up of momentary things, although we may not be entirely defined by them. It’s not a bad thing to love flashes of moments deeply, instead of big things that define who we are, like eternal love, family, friends, and food. Memories that vanish quickly remind us that time is structured that way, minute by minute. They remind us that we’ll miss so much if we don’t take a pause with the volatile things we love. They remind us that we’re human and different and beautiful because we are different. Where I find momentary joy, you may not.

It feels particularly important to know all cultures have these parts of joy. We often choose to ignore them; to seek out that complicated eudaimonic search (i.e. trauma and history). But I think it’s important for us to take note of the hedonistic stuff, too, and study what other people love in fleeting moments. So we can see others in their flashing joy. So they’re not defined by what hurts them.

That’s why we record these moments in art and poetry. We search for them. We actively seek them out for pleasure. I’ve noticed them more than ever lately because we’re offsetting the meaning of life, eudaimonic happiness, with something a little lighter so we can make change happen. We are purposeful in our search for the meaning of life in others. Which, begins fleetingly. And never, really, ends.

What are your sources of fleeting joy? Share in the comments!

BY Brittany Chaffee - June 22, 2020

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Leave a Reply

what a nice article…when you’ve had lots of loss, these small joys are sometimes all that’s left…

Mara

This is so beautifully written, Brittany! You perfectly defined the feeling I get when I actually stop and smell the flowers.

Jenny

One of my favourite fleeting things is summer fireflies, the fact that I can only see them during a set point during the year makes every experience feel more magical.

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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.

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