The Seduction of Moderation

The Seduction of Moderation

Every four years the Olympics features athletes at the zenith of their careers, who’ve devoted a chunk of their lives to the pursuit of greatness. Sublime performances like Evgeni Plushekno’s skating, which earned him a gold medal at the XXII Olympic Winter Games, seem to justify the sacrifices. But when the injured skater abruptly withdrew from the competition, it was a reminder that even living legends can go from dizzying heights to lows in the space of a few days.

Only a few of us will ever experience the thrill of Olympic-grade competition, but we all know what it feels like to lose something precious. When your deal falls through, your bubble bursts or your dream dies – when you’ve gone for the gold and lost – what then? After the highs and lows level off, we each find ourselves stuck in the same place: seeking contentment in the mundane. If we have the spaces in between the extremes wired as boredom, we are missing something important.

The magic ingredient to maintaining balance between all and nothing is moderation. Admittedly, this used to sound too sensible to be interesting. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “Nothing succeeds like excess.” But lately, I’ve been trying it out and here’s what I’ve discovered. Moderation is not watered down, boring or bland. In fact, when you get it right, moderation can be tantalizing, even seductive.

Excess is a fast track to burn out, but moderation creates a slow burn. Moderation takes its time, allowing for anticipation to build. Somewhere between admiration and acquisition, moderation beckons you to savor rather than devour. It gives you a taste and leaves you wanting more, yet feeling satisfied just the same.

In a word, moderation is bliss.

Moderation is also a discipline. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel in the extreme, it just means you know better than to act on it. Say you’re salivating over a cheeseburger. You want cheese. You want meat. But you know that kind of excess can ruin your health. So you switch to veggie burgers instead. A loaded veggie burger is still delicious, and it’s better for you and the planet, too. You may even live longer.

Moderation is a gourmet veggie burger.

Our consumer culture leaves us perpetually dissatisfied because we believe that happiness is the attainment of our desires. But what happens when you finally get something you want? It loses a bit of its magic. The point of diminishing returns is never more clear than on Christmas morning. As my kids rip into their presents, they cast each one aside in their frenzy to open the next. In their pursuit of novelty and quantity, they fail to stop and appreciate quality.

Moderation is the salve that soothes the disappointment of grand promises that don’t deliver. It lets you enjoy life’s surprises in small doses along the way.

A long line of celebrities have wasted their brilliance in excess, most recently Philip Seymour Hoffmann, who died from a drug overdose at age 46 (the same age as Wilde passed, in fact.)  Having too much of a good thing can become too much to take. Moderation teaches you to relish a thing without letting it consume you. Known is Toaism and Buddhism as The Middle Way, moderation is akin to transcendence. And that’s anything but mundane.

Realizing that neither excessive indulgence nor excessive self-denial are sustainable, moderation is starting to look better than having it all. Paradoxical as it may seem, moderation doesn’t douse the fire in life. It’s what keeps the flame alive.

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