Posted on August 3, 2021
In this blog post, I will attempt to define a mental structure for having the happiest life possible through the maximization of the appreciation of “wonderful moments”. I call this framework “momentry” (pronounced moh-men-tree if you’re curious).
Summary: Appreciating Every Moment in Three Steps
Point 1: Increase the frequency of wonderful moments by putting yourself in the right scenarios.
Point 2: Lower the bar of what you consider to be a wonderful moment.
Point 3: Feel the positive effects from wonderful moments for as long as possible.
Summary: Have as many wonderful moments as possible by really trying to. Then channel the effects of those wonderful moments into subsequent moments to help make those moments more wonderful.
Momentry Origin Story
I was longboarding the lake loop in Neenah and had arrived at a railroad crossing towards the end of my ride. Crossing a railroad on a longboard is bumpy and unpleasant, so I dismounted to walk across. A guy who was pretty obviously learning how to rollerblade rolled down the hill from the opposite direction at a decent speed. I waited for him to cross, not wanting to get in the way, and watched him “roller-stumble” across the tracks. Ultimately, he kept his trajectory and didn’t crash. As he went past me, I saw that he had a wide smile on his face. I said “Nice crossing!” and he replied with something like “Thanks, I know right?”, then continued on his way. As I walked back towards my home, I reflected on the event. It was a totally random, relatively simple, entirely wonderful moment with a stranger; my day was effectively brightened. “What if every moment was that enjoyable?” I asked myself. What would it be like if every moment of your life was happy and wonderful and memorable? How could I engineer my life so that as many moments as possible were as impactful as that one? And thus resulted the momentry hypothesis:
We will need to do some mental engineering. Our goal will be to create a mental framework for approaching, experiencing, and reflecting upon specific moments to maximize their impact on our overall happiness.
The Three Points of Momentry
How do humans experience a moment? In this question, the English language provides us with some beneficial ambiguity – how do humans experience a moment (as in how it occurs to them physically and mentally) AND how do humans experience a moment (as in how do they get themselves into the situation). We will first focus on the second how: how can we get ourselves into a high number of wonderful moments (and thus be happier more often)? Then, we will consider the first how before tying it all together.
Point 1: Increase the frequency of wonderful moments by putting yourself in the right scenarios.
If I had stayed inside instead of longboarding around the lake loop, I never would have seen that dude cross the tracks. That wonderful moment never would’ve pushed itself onto me. Instead, I would’ve just been inside. I’m not suggesting that wonderful moments can’t happen while you’re alone inside – my point is that external stimulation can be incredibly helpful in derailing your normal trains of thought and raising momentarily serendipitous potential.
Without putting yourself into environments where you’re more likely to stumble into wonderful moments, you’re starving yourself of this potential. As Naval says, you can get lucky by hoping that luck finds you, or you can hustle until you stumble into it. The idea behind Point 1 is that we work as hard as we can to hustle ourselves into these high-impact scenarios. To do that, we can either go hard, or we can go nuclear.
(i) Go hard by doing research, then forcing yourself into what you find.
- Identify the places in which you feel the most comfortable and happy. These offer a good spatial basis for experiencing more wonderful moments.
- Identify the right people to be with. The presence of negative (or toxic) interpersonal energy makes it nearly impossible for me to experience wonderful moments. If I’m with the right people, though, they occur frequently.
- Identify the optimal activities to do while you’re in different scenarios. When you’re in your favorite place with your favorite people, this won’t matter as much – the best activity might come naturally. If you’re in a less-than-perfect scenario, though, choosing specific activities that generate wonderful moments becomes more important.
- Experiment with different people, places, and things. If you think you might have some sort of serendipitous moment while you’re at the mall, go to the mall! Think it might be on the streets at midnight? See what happens. Follow your gut, gauge the results, and have all the wonderful moments along the way.
(ii) Go nuclear by structuring your entire living situation and lifestyle around Point 1.
- If you only spend time doing the things that you want to do in your favorite places, then you should never really be unhappy, right? Going nuclear includes moving yourself and your entire life to the physical space where you think you can have the best moments.
- Persuade your best friends to move into the apartment next to yours, or move yourself to live closer to your favorite people. Sounds wonderful!
- Fed up with your 9 to 5? Say farewell to “normal society” and find an organic farm to work on. People tell me those places are full of wonderful moments.
- Have an adventure! Plenty of wonderful things happen during adventures, but adventures don’t just have themselves.
- This is the “nuclear option” for Point 1 because is physically and mentally unachievable for most people due to locational, familial, social, and personal obligations. However, if you have the chance to move your life to a wonderful place simply for the moments it will produce, I would ideologically support you along the way.
- A slightly less intense version of going nuclear would be to structure your current personal physical space to optimize for generating wonderful moments. If you can exist in a wonderful place for many hours of the day, the wonderful moments should come more frequently.
The bar doesn’t have to be as high as “restructuring your whole life”, either. Simply going outside and existing there can increase the frequency of events that happen to you, and if we’re playing the numbers game, eventually one of those moments has to be wonderful, right?
Interlude: Dissection of a Moment
There’s a chronological aspect to experiencing a moment. Although it’s only a “moment”, you can still separate it out:
- Before the moment – maybe anticipation, maybe unawareness; this depends on your level of knowledge
- The moment’s onset – some level of realization that something different is happening
- The bulk of the moment – full awareness of the present situation, and you might have some inkling of the moment’s significance
- Waning moment – perhaps you think it will go on forever, perhaps you’re ready for it to be over
- Post-moment – it’s done now; wasn’t that strange?
Actually, there’s probably some difference between what some people consider “a moment”. You’ve had some internal definition of “a moment” in your head the entire time you read this, and now it’s time to come to terms with it. Go ahead and sort yourself into a category, or make your own:
- Some people may consider a moment to be a split second.
- Others have said that a single moment can last an entire lifetime.
- Even more have had their entire lives flash before them in a moment. How long does that take?
- You could define a moment as a singular “event” or a “happening”.
- A moment may last an hour, but only take a second to recall.
- Perhaps a moment could be some much shorter amount, like a few seconds.
Well, let’s see what the internet has to say:
Holy shit! There it is. 90 seconds. No matter how long you think a moment is, though, I feel like the dissection I performed above still holds (although there may be some difference in how bulky the “bulk of the moment” feels). For the purposes of what I believe momentry is, I consider a moment to be a few seconds, and maybe up to a minute (note: you are free to believe whatever else you want to and tailor this writing accordingly).
Point 2: Establish a lower standard for what you consider a wonderful moment.
At a surface level, this point seems similar to Point 1 in the sense that it will result in a higher frequency of wonderful moments. However, the crucial difference here is that Point 1 is referring to the location or situation that you put your body in, while Point 2 covers the mental consideration of the moments you experience. This is the first how I pointed out above – how a human experiences a moment.
Let’s say there is some threshold above which a moment becomes especially “impactful” to the point that it becomes wonderful. “Lowering the bar” means extracting more from every moment. If the entire mental equation through which you compute your moments is adjusted to have a lower standard, then every moment should seem somewhat more wonderful as a result.
You can lower your threshold in many different ways (and I encourage you to get creative with it), but here are a few of my personal favorites:
- Have lower standards. By repeatedly accepting “less” as your expectation, you could eventually shift your threshold downwards.
- Be mindful in the moment. Be present in every moment by focusing on different aspects. The more you are immersed in the present, the deeper your potential appreciation of the present will be.
- Act as though everything is wonderful. Physically smiling can lower your heart rate and help you recover from stress faster. Notice how you physically react when you’re in a wonderful moment and recreate those physical and mental actions as often as possible.
Through living each moment to its fullest, we can both extract as much as possible from **[(as I was writing this sentence, I procrastinated by going on social media. Although I had some good moments while scrolling, I wouldn’t consider them “wonderful”. Does this mean I have to lower my threshold even more, or should I just delete Twitter?)]** our activities, and have a higher number of “actually” significant / wonderful moments! That’s it! That’s the main gist of Point 2.
Point 3: Feel the positive effects from wonderful moments for as long as possible.
This method has three main aspects, each more important than the previous:
(i) Have maximally-impactful, fully experiential wonderful moments
- Put yourself in the right scenarios (see Point 1)
- Lower the threshold of how you judge those scenarios (see Point 2)
- Focus on the positive aspects of the wonderful moments as they happen to firmly implant them in your memory.
- Of course, it’s important to be mindful of the subject of the wonderful moment. But don’t let your awareness stop there…
- Notice and appreciate other sensory details, like how it smells, what the light looks like, how your physical space looks, or what you’re wearing. These are useful for deeply remembering the moment as it happened, which can be a helpful way to induce the feeling of a wonderful moment at any time (more on this later).
(ii) “Feelings control”
When I experience a wonderful moment, a difficult-to-describe feeling usually arises within me. Although its exact expression changes depending on the moment that caused it, the feeling has a few consistent features that are almost always present:
- It exists in the pit of my guts;
- It feels warm and “butterfly-like”;
- I enjoy experiencing it;
- I can make it last longer by focusing on it.
I’m sure this type of feeling feels different to everyone else. Next time you have a wonderful moment, see if you have an equivalent.
No matter what your momentry feeling feels like, Point 3 states that using your mental power to keep that feeling within you for as long as possible is crucially important. It’s easy for a wonderful moment to slip through its sequence and fade away. Then you’re just back to normal (or something close to normal, perhaps with a slightly improved mood and a pleasant memory). Instead, we need to curate that feeling, cultivate it, and make it grow. This is the purpose of feelings control – literally controlling your feelings through focus and intention.
- Focus on the wonderful feeling that you want to cultivate. Notice where it resides inside of you. See if you can tell exactly what caused it. Think about it, imagine what the feeling looks like, really try to embody it.
- Use intention to keep the feeling within you. Let any competing negative thoughts rise and fall as you move forward with your day (or night). Stand on the island of your wonderful feeling and let everything else flow past. See how long you can hold it within you!
Important note: holding the feeling can happen independently of thought about the moment that caused it. Once the moment puts the good feeling inside of you, it’s an asset that you can invest in, a launchpad to jump from, a new checkpoint. You can now focus on that feeling and cultivate it without thinking of the moment itself. I personally don’t believe it’s healthy to try and relive a singular moment for an entire day. “Riding the high” from one wonderful thing that happened to you feels unsustainable and damaging. However, if you can keep the wonderful feeling inside for as long as possible, then you have the opportunity to do something very special…:
(iii) Channel the effects of prior wonderful moments into subsequent moments to make them more wonderful.
Holding the effects of each wonderful moment inside of you and cultivating that raw feeling into something usable shouldn’t be an entirely internal affair.
- As you embody the feeling from a wonderful moment gone by, channel it into your next activity. See if you can make it joyous and delightful, regardless of how mundane it feels. I believe that every moment can be wonderful in one way or another. Luckily for us, one way or another is all the ways we need!
- Externalize your wonderful feeling by spreading it to others through words, actions, or just vibing really hard in their presence. Many people notice good energy. Why not have good energy all the time?
(iv) Inducing momentry
If I’m in a decent state of mind, I can induce the momentry feeling regardless of whether or not anything wonderful has happened recently. Lightly smiling really helps me create it from scratch, as well as tensing my abs when I exhale. I also enjoy closing my eyes and looking upwards (an action I typically do while meditating).
After you’ve done it a few times, it becomes easier to create and hold this feeling within you. That doesn’t mean it’s ever entirely easy, and I’m still not good at keeping it going for more than a few minutes at a time (a testament to my attention span). However, every time I experience a wonderful moment, it triggers the idea of momentry, and then I can manufacture a few more minutes of goodness. If I can become adept at channeling that goodness and creating more goodness using it… what a time that will be!
1. Focusing on the Short-Term and Long-Term
Momentry could appear as an inherently short-sighted ideology. By focusing on the present moment and channeling the positive feelings into subsequent moments, practitioners could miss out on building long-term projects, goals, and self-actualizations (which I will refer to as “projects”). I’ve brainstormed a couple ways to address this while still abiding by the framework:
(i) Mentally “front-load” the enjoyment you know you’ll feel when completing a long-term project into the moments in which you’re working on that project.
- Envisioning the achievement of a project while working on that project could bring positive feelings from the future into the present.
- I would argue that this is entirely free to do (in terms of feelings). It’s not like you won’t feel the enjoyment when you finish the project because you “used” some of it earlier. It’s free real estate.
- If you can actually manage to insert a “seed” feeling of a future wonderful moment into the present, you could realize serendipitous benefits while working on the project itself, thereby improving it (while maybe also improving the feeling you’ll get once you complete it).
- Caveat: If this tactic actually works, I feel like it could result in motivation problems. While making your moments better may bring enjoyment and thereby improve your work, it could also cause you to feel as though your work is complete by mentally signalling to yourself that the project has been finished. Just like writing a to-do list feigns the completion of a task within itself, front-loading enjoyment of a project’s completion might manifest negative results.
(ii) Actively choose the work you are required to do.
- Momentry is easier to practice when you enjoy what you do on a day-to-day basis. Thus, it’s important for an individual to choose the work that they must do. Having any input in this is a privilege. For those who have the chance to do so, exercising the ability to choose what work you do is still quite difficult. This choice is usually subject to many internal and external expectations, such as the inputs of family members and influential friends, societal norms, and personal momentum.
- Most work is inherently non-wonderful. Even if you’re fortunate enough to be “doing something that you love”, it’s still work. Work is work.
- If you can choose your work, consider your long-term goals. You might as well structure your work so that you know you will get a wonderful moment or two as you reach milestones within it.
- My friend Drew and I were talking about work and suffering a while back, and something he brought up stuck with me: we all have to suffer. No matter how “good” your life is, bad things are going to happen to you. There is no way around this. So, you might as well do your best to choose your own suffering. If life is going to punish you, why not earn something you want along the way?
2. Actually Doing It
Actually channeling your momentry feeling into subsequent moments is difficult. Honestly, all of this “feeling management” is quite difficult. The primary issue is that your emotions are involved in everything; they influence your thoughts automatically; they don’t “want” you to manage them. You can’t really control your emotional reaction to something, but you can control how you react to that emotion. With momentry, we need to remember that reducing the amount of time we spend reminiscing on negative feelings will ultimately leave more room for the positive feelings, and using those positive feelings to our advantage will cause them to multiply.
Actively noticing the moments you experience and acknowledging how those moments impact your emotions is active work. The important part is to continue actually trying to do it. Without effort, there is no change, and even with effort, there may not be change. Practicing momentry is a continued area of improvement, not a singular project to be checked off the list.
To wrap up, I’ll leave you with a story I read from the first email of the Aro Meditation Course (if you want to get into meditation, go check out their website)
The Tibetan meditation tradition is full of colourful stories of meditation masters of the past and their pithy summaries of the essence of the meditative path. One was given by the great yogi Milarépa to his beloved student Gampopa. When they parted for the last time, Milarépa told Gampopa that he had taught him everything there was to learn about meditation—except one final secret that was too precious to just give away. There was a tearful goodbye before Gampopa set off. When he had gone a little way down a hill—over a stream—and had started up the hill on the other side, he heard his teacher’s voice again. Milarépa yelled that last, most profound teaching to Gampopa across the valley:
The important thing is to actually do it.