Too much

Too Much of a Good Thing

Imagine a world where you could have anything you wanted, any time you wanted, for as long as you wanted. When I was a kid, I thought that’s what heaven must be like, but in time, I came to realize that it’s a more apt description of hell. Why? Continue with the mental exercise. Choose something that you love, make it unlimited, and take away any challenge or effort required in getting it. It will invariably lose some or all of its appeal—nothing would be special anymore. Of course there are nuances to the question. Does having an unlimited supply mean you have to accept an unlimited supply? Something might only lose its appeal if you imbibe it constantly. Ultimately, our trade-offs and struggles are a necessary part of a fulfilling life. Without them, life would be less meaningful and less happy.

A bon vivant versus a glutton

What does paradise mean? What’s wrong with enjoying good food and drink? You’re loving life and everything that goes with it. But are you skirting the border, enjoying life and being a glutton? “Bon vivant” literally means “good living”—it means enjoying a life of good food, good wine, and good company. I’m not sure if you can be a bon vivant and not be a bit of a glutton, but it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality and context. Being a glutton, on the other hand, is all about quantity. It’s about imbibing in large quantities and living there. Even if you crave quality, quantity gets in the way and eventually spoils any joy you get from indulging in your particular vice. Gluttony is generally related to addictive behavior of some kind. It can be easy to land on the side of too much of a good thing.

Relationships you have to work for

Have you ever been in a relationship where the other person would bend over backwards for you and would literally do anything you wanted and respond to your every whim? Those kinds of relationships inevitably become boring and ultimately unappealing. Why? Because they don’t challenge you. The “anything you want” model of relationships is not desirable because good relationships are a challenge; they make you think and make you better. Good relationships are never free and unlimited; they are partnerships. Yes, they can be stressful and taxing at times, and sometimes the challenging parts are all you can focus on—you have to work for them. But they can also be exciting, stimulating, and inspirational. The best relationships are never easy, but with the right perspective and attitude, they can be extraordinary..

Yin Yang and embracing your challenges

If you lived in an “anything you want” world, you would have no context to help you discern what is good in your life and why. These insights can only be achieved through comparison. The Yin Yang philosophy teaches that seemingly opposing forces (or perspectives) can actually be complementary and interrelated. This ideal can help you gain perspective on the more challenging parts of your life and recast them in a less negative way. They are part of your life. To some extent, they allow you to experience the more pleasurable parts of your life—if not directly, then by comparison. It may be difficult to see the complementarity of or interconnectedness between some of the more challenging parts of your life and anything good, but they are part and parcel of the whole (whether you like it or not). This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to move on from or minimize the parts of your life you don’t like (you absolutely should). Rather, it means that, when challenges arise, you should look at them with a sense of perspective and mentally point out those things that shine in comparison. You may even find that the “bad” parts of your life are not all bad. 

Entitlement and prosperity

For the wealthy, it’s possible to live in a world with everything they could dream of. Those who were born into wealth may have the perception that they’re somehow entitled to have whatever they want. Having that perception is an additional factor, on top of not having to work or struggle, in the imbalance of that kind of life. Is there an ideal balance? Shouldn’t people strive to decrease the struggles and challenges in their lives? A good way to think of this question is to look at it through the lenses of meaning. If you have something, is it meaningful to you, and if so, why is it meaningful? It’s often meaningful because you overcame challenges and did something to achieve your condition in life. Prosperity is not meaningful in isolation—you have to have the context for what it means to you.

It’s possible to reach a point when you have everything you want but still feel like your life lacks meaning. In this situation, you need to dig deeper and discover your fundamental connections with people, with nature, with creativity and intellectual pursuit, and with yourself—mostly with yourself.

You can have everything you want and need, but if you don’t have meaning, you really don’t have anything.

Art Credit: Rabelais. The Discourse of the Drinkers.

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