Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance. Epicurus
All pleasures will eventually turn to suffering
I’m sitting in my favourite chair reading a book. Every few pages I stop and begin to think about having another. I think to myself “you’ve already had two in the last hour, enough is enough. But it’s so good, what’s one more?”. I shake off the feeling and go back to reading when that little voice creeps back in and convinces me to ignore the voice of reason. I know I’m going to regret this later. I wander into the kitchen and open the cupboard until I find them. “I’ll only take three this time,” I think to myself and return to my book. It’s not long before I’m heading to the kitchen again even though I know I’m long past my limit. I stare down at the half eaten bag of chocolates and decide that this time will be the last. An hour later I’m laying on the couch chewing on Tums and regretting my indulgence. Why couldn’t I’ve stopped at just a couple when I knew that I would end up like this if I gave in. Damn you chocolate!
I know, this is a lame example of overdoing a pleasure but it’s the same whether it’s chocolate, work, video games or even sleep. Just because something is fulfilling your desires it doesn’t mean that more of that pleasure will make it more satisfying. All it will do is actually increase your appetite for more. You love a great cup of coffee or couple of squares of chocolate. You enjoy your daily exercise or your new hobby. You can’t wait to get to work and continue with that project you are working on. These are all great things but all will turn to suffering if experienced in excess. We all enjoy the pleasure of success but at what point is it an actual detriment to our happiness and tranquility?
It’s all a state of mind
The stoic philosophy teaches that a tranquil existence comes from a balance of all aspects of your life. Whether it’s work, leisure, sex, food or spending. Overindulging will always have a negative effect on other parts of your life and will create an imbalance which will lead to suffering.
Throw moderation to the winds, and the greatest pleasures brings the greatest pains. Democritus
If you choose to devote your life to a particular calling it has to be understood that other parts of your life will suffer. If your career is the top priority then don’t be surprised if your family life is unfulfilling or you can’t remember the last time you went on a holiday. This is especially true for people that spend 60 hours a week at a job they hate. They have a belief that if they put in the time now and work as hard as they can they will be able to retire early and then begin enjoying life.
When they finally achieve their goal they realize that the reality is quite different. All they know is work, and because they put all their time into increasing numbers of a bank account and dream of a retired life that’s the complete opposite of the life that they practiced. They end up with no relationship with their family. They have no hobbies or know how to relax. They end up bored stiff and depressed because they don’t know what to do with their time. Was that extreme worth it? Was that a fulfilling life?
What if instead you retire a little later and divided your energy evenly between work, family, and leisure? All three important areas of your life are developed throughout your life. When you retire, you will be a continue on with the things that are already familiar with and love which will lead to a more fulfilled life. Maybe you will not have earned as much money as you would have if you spent your life working but the wealth you will have gain in the other areas of your life is priceless.
Moderation is not only about the major parts of life that can make or break your tranquility. It is also those smaller day to day moments we all struggle with. Eating too much or not right. Exercising too much or not enough. Drinking too much alcohol or smoking too much pot. We can overdo it or even under do it. Just because a little feels awesome that doesn’t mean more is better.
What? Turning up the heat doesn’t make the water more boiled?
To illustrate this let’s look at the idea of the minimum effective dose which I became familiar with from reading Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman.
Tim says that minimum effective dose (MED) is “the smallest dose that will produce the desired outcome. Everything else is wasteful.”
He uses this simple example: “To boil water, the MED is 212o F (100oC) at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures will not make it “more boiled.” Higher temperatures just consume more resources that could be used for something else more productive.”
Just because something is good for you this doesn’t mean that more will be better. It can actually have adverse effects and do you harm. Do you love to exercise? Do you hit the gym every day and give it your all? Well did you know that extreme workouts without proper rest and nutrition will actually cause your body harm as was reported in this article? Do you believe that omega 3 is good for you, it is at the proper dose, this article warns that too much omega 3 can actually be harmful?
If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please. Epictetus
I wonder sometimes what it would be like to have enough money that I would never have to work again. I could sit on a beach and relax or play golf or fish for the rest of my life. I think for the first while it would be awesome. Then I think life would become fucking boring. The excessiveness of the relaxed state would actually diminish the pleasure. Life would lose its meaning and I would yearn for something more in life.
Moderation is not easy
It takes discipline to use moderation to balance your life but as long as you keep this principle in mind and work on it slowly before long it will become a habit that you can be proud of. Recognize that you are enjoying the pleasure in the moment and when it is over you move on to something else. You don’t seek more of the same pleasure because this will lead to excess which will diminish the returns.
Benefits of moderation:
- You will avoid burnout by not overdoing it.
- You will achieve the desired results without wasting resources.
- Doing less but still achieving the desired effects.
- Frees up time.
- Less regret
- Leads to living life in the moment.
- Balances out all areas of your life
Moderation makes it possible to enjoy all aspects of life, not focusing on one before moving on to the next. Like working your younger, healthier years away just so you can enjoy your later years. Why would you want to do that for? So slow down and put things into perspective. Work less and play more, eat right but still enjoy those indulgences. Balance out all aspects of your life and you will find the tranquility that you seek.
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