"Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health.”
Lately between both the weather and news about politics, it seems everything has become extreme which reminded me of something I wrote about a few years ago on moderation. It as actually a quote from Ben Franklin who suggested we should avoid extremes and while he was referring to moderation, what he said was that we should not hold grudges against others. I think too much of our world has fallen into grudge holding and that is definitely the opposite of moderation.
A grudge is a persistent feeling of ill will or resentment resulting from a past insult or injury. It's when someone holds onto feelings of anger or animosity towards another person or group because of some perceived wrongdoing, often continuing long after the incident has occurred. Holding a grudge can affect one's emotional well-being and interpersonal relationships, as it involves harboring negative feelings and sometimes an unwillingness to forgive or move past the original offense. It’s being unwilling to moderate those intense feelings and moderation is a key to emotional wellness and happiness. No wonder then why it may be that so much of the world is now in a mental health crisis.
Moderation is something humanity has seemed to struggle with historically and certainly still does today. On a personal level, over my lifetime I’ve struggled with moderation when it comes to food choices and quantities. I remember an incident illustrating this when in high school back in the early 1980’s my mother bought instant cinnamon rolls for the first time which came as raw dough in a tube which you just popped open, baked for yourself, and topped with vanilla icing. The first time I ate one of those warm rolls with the fresh icing running over it I was instantly at risk of addiction. In fact, the very next weekend when my parents went out, I got the bright idea of baking a whole tube (which was more than half a dozen rolls) to consume all those rolls by myself. It also ended up being the first time I discovered that too much sugar consumed so quickly really could “make you sick” as my mom used to warn, and it could lead to actual vomiting. My fresh baked gluttony proved a hard lesson on the importance of moderation.
I don’t know why food was always such a focal point in my family growing up but looking back I suspect it was because my parents grew up as children in the Great Depression in America in the 1930’s when food was scarce for many people. My father considered it sinful to ever waste food and his rule was to “take all you want but eat all you take.” He further explained that phrase as something he had learned from cooks in the Army and that they were graded on the weight of garbage after meals to be sure they were not wasting too much food.
More food was always a good thing it seemed provided you could always eat all the food you took. My brother and I took this to extremes and used to have eating contests between ourselves or with friends. I also remember by high school my brother and I achieved honorary status with our friends because we could each consume an entire Pizza Hut large meat lover’s pan pizza all by ourselves - that was two large pizzas between the two of us -consumed entirely in less than ten minutes. We had realized early on that to eat that much you had to do it fast before you “started feeling full” or you could risk failure in the quest for food mastery.
America certainly seemed to support our notion that more food was always better and looking back I can see how serving sizes have grown just as Americans have grown. I was not surprised to read a few years back that the diameter of the dinner plate has grown by two inches over the past thirty years and a small beverage at a fast-food restaurant today is bigger than a large beverage was thirty years ago.
Here again that lesson hit close to home later in life when I worked as a missionary in England and was surprised to see how much smaller refrigerators were in British kitchens compared to those in America. English friends of ours also commented that when visiting America, they were amazed at how large our refrigerators were and while also not intending offense they said they were equally amazed at how large some Americans were.
These memories make me realize how out of balance my life has been at times and that has also manifested in how hard and how much I have worked or pushed myself to my absolute limits. There have been two instances in my life when I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I fell asleep standing up and was awakened as I crashed into someone standing near me. Once was while on patrol in the Army after marching while loaded with heavy equipment for over 36 hours non-stop. I can somewhat excuse that instant of failed moderation since I was following military orders.
The second time I fell asleep while standing was entirely by choice unfortunately and that was while I was a passenger on the Washington, DC Metro rail train. In that instance, I was getting up daily at 2:30 in the morning to make a 200-mile round trip commute back and forth to work each day and typically surviving on about four hours of sleep for weeks on end. In that second instance of daily failed moderation, I later paid the price by suffering a stroke which my neurologist explained would kill me the next time if I didn’t stop the monster commutes and daily sleep deprivation. Again, a hard lesson on the importance of moderation.
It seems that humanity including myself has often failed to recognize that the most enjoyable or rewarding parts of things we do are often in the first moments and in small increments. The first taste of a chocolate confection can be truly blissful; but eat an entire plate full and it can make you sick like my overdose on cinnamon rolls. It’s also how I’ve come to understand why true gourmet dishes and delicacies are served in very small portions despite their sometimes extreme expense. Too much of that good thing can quickly become less pleasurable and detract from the delicious new flavor or texture you’re experiencing.
The world would have us believe that more is always better. More food, more sex, more money, more car or truck, more house, and more stuff. Americans have accumulated so much more stuff in the past few decades that entirely new industries have developed such as self-storage facilities and professional organizers who need to teach us how to declutter our lives. Economists find repeatedly though that once we acquire that new thing, the life happiness quotient or pleasure factors typically disappear completely within just a few weeks. The pursuit of that exciting feeling then shifts to the next best thing on our list of things we hope to attain or acquire.
I used to see first-hand the cycle of sorry of people pursuing that “first excitement” or “first high” in illicit drug use when I was a clinical director of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation hospital. People with lifelong addictions would reminisce of the first time they got high on whatever their particular drug of choice might be, only to later discover that the next highs were never quite as blissful, and the lows would last longer and longer until the next not quite as satisfying high. This could perpetuate for months or years until they might move to a more powerful drug to obtain that same initial high and the cycle would start again but on a more powerful drug.
Along with material things and substances like food or alcohol and other drugs, there is also the issue of overuse and indulgence of media consumption. The need to stimulate our minds with entertainment has grown so strong and addictive that for many of us we may spend literally hours on our phones, tablets, or other screens consuming countless videos, posts, and texts. I can often see this difference when I suggest old movies from my childhood and early adult years to my adult children who grow quickly bored with “slow” dramas.
To bring more moderation to our lives, we need to live to less extremes. Eat less, drink less, buy less, simplify, let things go, and slow down. A great example of the power in this was when the late Fred Rogers demonstrated to children the length of a minute by showing a clock on camera in complete silence and allowing the second hand to travel a complete circle around the clock. Even in the late 1960’s it was considered unheard of to have that much “dead time” live on TV airtime.
A powerful and effective way to step out of the extremes and get back in touch with more healthy moderation is to unplug and disconnect for a bit and spend some time in nature. Sit in a park and watch the birds or squirrels for at least a full fifteen minutes or even half an hour. Take a walk in the woods and try to observe things again as if you were a child seeing things for the first time. Stoop down and look at what you can see around your feet and observe the wonder of nature. Notice the veins in a leaf or the colors in a flower. Find a bird you hear in the trees or notice how the clouds are moving overhead. Research has demonstrated that even fifteen minutes of being “awed” by nature and feeling something greater than yourself is a fast and effective way to calm our nerves and sooth our spirits.
So think about where you’re practicing some good moderation this week and think about where you need to back off of the extremes or areas where you’re overdoing something in your life. Too much of anything is generally not good for you. Moderation is the key and I’m grateful to have reflected on this, so I hope you are as well!
Have a great week!