Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin - Virtue #9 - Moderation
Our new Weekly Series explores improving your life through character growth and a new habit of practicing virtues. To read about why we are exploring virtue, click here.
Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin
Virtue #9 - Moderation
Have you been in a relationship that started out with amazing passion? You got butterflies every time you saw the person and wanted to be with them every moment of every day. The connection was electric. But after a few months things started to fizzle. The relationship quickly went from one extreme to the other. Or discovering your favorite new restaurant, with food so delicious and exciting that you couldn’t wait to share it with others. Then after many visits, you find the experience doesn’t quite live up to that first time. What happened?
If you’ve ever felt restless, anxious, unhappy, or bored, what did you do? In our modern society, the answer is usually to add more. More stimulation, more romance, more movies, more music, more drinking, more money, more freedom, more food. More of anything is packaged as the cure for everything. But the more stimulation we receive, the less joy and enjoyment we get out of it. The key to experiencing greater fulfillment and pleasure is actually moderation.
Moderation doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention these days. Everything is presented in extremes. We seek extremes because we falsely believe that the more intense an experience is, the more pleasurable it will be. Benjamin Franklin realized that too much of a good thing can become overwhelming.
When we feel unhappy and bored there are two ways to revive our feelings of enjoyment and pleasure. One is to seek new things and more stimulation. You can start going out more, and buying more new things and experiences. But the pleasure you get from ratcheting up the intensity of these experiences will eventually end in a plateau. The alternative is to cultivate the virtue of moderation by seeking greater enjoyment and pleasure in things you are already doing now.
A Note From Dr. Andy
I recall taking a continuing education course on longevity of life several
years back - and was surprised to read that the one practice that has
consistently shown positive results in extending the quantity and quality of our life expectancy - with seemingly no significant associated negative effects - was the practice of calorie restriction (note that I am not suggesting this practice - it definitely is a practice that should be discussed with your healthcare specialist prior to implementing).
Then shortly after taking that class - I read about various geographical
areas where there was an abnormally large amount of centenarians (people who live to be 100+) - with such locations being designated as “Blue Zones.” Researchers studied these cultures and identified a number of common characteristics that appear to be linked to living longer and healthier lives. One of these characteristics is known as the 80% rule - and it has to do with eating in moderation.
Since coming across this information related to moderate food consumption - I changed my mindset around eating - and started monitoring what my body is telling me - and allowed myself to stop eating when I felt full (this might seem like a really self evident behavior to practice - but I assure you I wasn’t practicing this before). I hadn’t really thought of this practice as being virtuous - but - the practice of this behavior certainly has empowered me to enjoy my relationship with food, feel better overall, and as is often the case with virtuous behavior - it creates a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a viscous cycle) whereby it is easier to practice moderation in other areas of my life.
In conclusion, one of the major takeaways I am getting out of this series a healthier, happier, and more successful life - or - as the great moral teachers of history have indicated - it really is the key to living the “good life.”
3 Simple Ways to Develop
Moderation in Your Life:
The next time you’re unsure if what you’re about to say will be sincere, ask yourself these three simple questions:
Reconnect with Your Senses - We don’t need new stimulations, we need to rediscover the hidden layers of ordinary experiences. Try mindfully eating your next meal, savoring each and every bite, chewing appropriately, and focusing on the experience in the moment without rushing. Instead of quickly consuming beer or wine, savor the complexity of the craftsmanship, tasting the unique flavors. Take a moment and look up at the night sky, or close your eyes and listen to soothing music.
Reset Your Attention Span - We are on constant sensory overload every moment of everyday. Even when we have free time, we turn on the TV and check our email while folding laundry. Instead, try to do one task at a time, without mindlessly distracting yourself at every free moment. Concentrate your senses and focus on whatever it is you are doing. Get outdoors, read a good book, or watch an old movie. Pick one day a week where you “unplug” and don’t check any devices.
Delay Gratification - The more you hold out for something, the greater the pleasure you’ll experience when you finally attain it. If you eat ice cream everyday, it’s not going to taste as good as it would if you ate it only once a month. The more you hold out for that new car, the more pleasure you will feel when you finally get it. Have you ever noticed that the anticipation of a holiday can be just as good and sometimes better than the actual holiday itself? Hold out for things and enjoy the exquisite pleasure of anticipation.