The Meaning of a Moment

“Are you going to work after you drop me off, dad?”, E asked me.
“Yes son, that’s what dads do,” I replied. “I go to work so my babies can have everything they need.”
“I thought that was mama’s job,” he said.
“Well, she takes care of you at home a lot. I do some stuff at home but I’m at work a lot so we have the things we need to take care of you.”

This is a moment I had with my son this morning on the way to school. It reflects the way my wife and I feel things ought to be, though she appreciates when I put a little more effort in at home, too.

It also reflects the reality of life for many men according to a study I found recently, which states that men spend much more time at work than women do. A Pew Research Council analysis of government data fathers spend more time in paid work than mothers, who spend more time in child care activities than fathers. However, both mothers and fathers find more meaning in child care activities, with moms finding slightly more meaning than dads. This in spite of child care being reported as more stressful than paid work.

On that note, work is not an activity that anyone seems to enjoy all that much. In a second study I read recently, work is associated with a decrease in happiness and sense of relaxation in the moment it is being done. The only thing associated with a higher drop in happiness and relaxation is sickness. Child care/play with children is associated with an increase in happiness and relaxation at the moment of the experience by around 4% in each category.

One of the key differences between these two studies is the methodology. The first study used a “time diary,” in which respondents recorded the way they spent their time and the meaning/stress of those activities 24 hours after they occurred. The second study used smartphone technology to provide random prompts, at which time the respondent recorded the activity being done right then and the level of happiness/relaxation being experienced in that moment. This reduced introspection and reflection so that only the momentary feeling is reported.

One allowed for reflection; the other did not. I have had really tough times at work and in parenting, experiences that I was glad to be done with. But upon reflection, I found great meaning and overall happiness about what I had endured. The best of times always inspire the highest level of happiness and satisfaction when I look back. And from there I found the meaning of a moment.

If I do my best to make each moment count, then both my today’s and my yesterday’s turn out better. And then I have more hope for the future. I don’t let opportunities pass me by, and I remember that even the worst of today’s lend to brighter, more fulfilled tomorrow’s.

What do you think? Do you find meaning in the moment? Or only after you’ve had a chance to look back? What difference does it make?

Copyright (c) 2013 Glen Gaugh


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