To-Do: Watch for Moments of TranscendenceIn books, movies, plays, television, my favorite scenes are often moments of transcendence — when, in the muddle of existence, characters somehow manage to break through everything to engage with each other, and with higher values.

Just off the top of my head, I can think of moments like this from Gilead, The Wire, Friends, Steel Magnolias, the play Bug which has haunted me for years…such moments are the principal subject of Flannery O’Connor.

I also look for them in real life.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I was talking to a bunch of first-year medical students about happiness — mostly, I was pestering them to get enough sleep. At one point, an older doctor jumped into the conversation. “Remember,” he said to them earnestly, “you’re going to be doctors. That work is really going to bring you a lot of happiness.”

This comment lifted the conversation to a new level. Not that I think everyone should be a doctor, but it’s true: being a doctor is a rare privilege. To be able to help heal people, and to relieve pain.

This moment reminded me of other times when I felt a moment of transcendence related to people’s work. For instance, the way I felt the first time I saw Justice O’Connor wearing her judicial robes. Justice O’Connor is very friendly and kind, but she’s a formidable person even at her most casual. Even so, when I saw her wearing those robes, I saw her transformed; I think I actually took a step backward. To be charged to do justice is a very solemn thing, and seeing her in her robes conveyed that point, more powerfully than you might expect.

And I remember when I stopped by the studio of a friend who is a brilliant painter. His studio was everything you’d imagine: skylight, canvases everywhere, plaster models, coffee cans filled with brushes, all of it.

“Wait, I just have to finish one thing,” he told me, and he added a few more strokes of paint to a landscape he was working on.

I looked around at everything, so beautiful. “Jacob, you are lucky,” I said, in a fierce voice.

“I know,” he said. “I know.”

In the rush of our daily routines, it’s so easy to miss moments of transcendence. In art, they are masterfully presented, with language and emphasis that set them apart like jewels. In ordinary life, they rush by. I try to remind myself to look for them every day.

?How about you?
How do you remind yourself to look for moments of transcendence in the midst of everyday life?


I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now.

A thoughtful reader sent me the link to Young House Love by Sherry Petersik and John Petersik, because The Happiness Project got a lovely mention in the most recent post. I went to check it out, and spent waaaaay too much time there.



View Comments / Leave a Comment

This post currently has 0 comments.
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.


    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Apr 2012
    Published on All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Rubin, G. (2012). To-Do: Watch for Moments of Transcendence. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2015, from


Recent Comments
  • Chet Bush: Thank you Professor Betsy Hoza for your ‘much needed Study on the ‘impotence of...
  • Lucy: Hi Shawna – you really need to get away from your father. You also need to realise that nothing he says...
  • kazchaz: This is helpful, very much so and it would be great to hear from you again, with updates on your progress,...
  • sambo: I really need some help im so depressed and anxious I cant work or leave the house im on antidepressants and...
  • Concerned: My father was a narcissist. He basically ruined my mother’s life and she ended up dying young of...
Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code

Users Online: 15165
Join Us Now!