"Moments bring great joy. My friend Margie writes poems describing walking her daughter's dog, baking a chocolate pie or flirting with her husband at a traffic light. She is gifted at being present for what most of us would see as ordinary minutes. Margie jokes she has so much fun that she should be charged an excess tax.
"Another man I know, who makes his rather meager living guiding canoe trips, says often, 'It's all about joy.' Indeed, he has the skills to live his life as a process in which every minute counts. Oliver Sacks wrote of a woman who after her brain surgery was greatly changed. She became continually positive and upbeat. The woman called herself a 'joyologist.' I want to be a joyologist myself.
"My friend Jan and I challenge each other in happiness contests. We tend to do this on dull gray days in February or on mornings when we have tedious work ahead. Late in the day, we'll e-mail each other our entries. It isn't that we do anything special, but rather that we appreciate what happens. Our lists are simple: I made some delicious turkey noodle soup. I bought hyacinths at the grocery store. I walked in the snow at sunset or read a good book by the fire. I had a phone call with my daughter and listened to geese flying overhead. When we have these contests, we create our own good days.
"Jim's bandmate Reynold once created a moment for a club filled with friends. The Fabtones were onstage at the Zoo Bar performing a rollicking version of the Sam and Dave soul song 'Soothe Me.' Reynold, who drums and sings, said during a pause in the song, 'I can sense there is a lot of tension in this room. It's Friday night. We've all had long weeks. Now is the time to kick back. We need to soothe each other.' Then he instructed the audience to turn to their neighbor, any neighbor, and give them a neck rub while the band rocked into another verse and chorus of 'Soothe Me.' The crowd did as they were told and, believe me, Reynold created a moment.
"When we radiate joy, we attract it. On my best days, when I am out running errands, I try to really look into the faces of the people I encounter. That involves making eye contact and, in my heart, wishing them well. I'll try to beam happiness their way. When I am capable of this, people often respond by beaming back. Their facial muscles will soften and their voices will be lighter and warmer. This meeting can be a matter of milliseconds, but it turns an interaction into a moment.
"Of course, I don't walk around joy-filled every day. I am still impatient and easily rattled by stress. I have days when I am lost in a fog of self-pity or soul-draining misery. Many mornings I still wake up in a sour mood, and I can ruminate over a casual remark to the point of absurdity. Even now, my fallback expression is a deep and furrowed frown. I continue to hold my rank as the worst Buddhist in the world. But I am more capable of inviting joy into my life.
"We all underestimate our need for joy. If we are not careful, we live as if our schedules are our lives. We cross one thing after another off the list. At the end of the day, we have completed our chores, but we haven't necessarily been present for our own experiences."