Truth A: Human beings are highly sophisticated animals, risen apes, skillful and craving scoundrels with occasional clusters and acts of kindness. (For evidence read Charles Darwin, research the holocaust, etc.)
Truth B: We are bombarded by thousands of advertisements and temptations each day. Often ridiculously conflicting:
Commercial A: Sign up for a gym and get a six pack!
B: Try Wendy’s new jalepeno chicken sandwich!
C: New $1000 medicine prevents liver cancer!
D: Bud light slogan: raise one to now!
Life is, materially, easy and comfortable. We must recognize this and realize it’s a luxury and a gift to reflect and make different decisions…and to have a blog.
A sign of a civilized society is that we don’t often ask, “How do I get what I want (how will I eat tonight, how will I survive) but what do I want (wings or fries? action film or comedy?) We have enormous choice. Amazon.com sells 480 million products, average supermarket has 20,000 different items, entertainment on our phones, an exponentially growing pool of music, videos, etc.
Because of Truth A and Truth B, we must exercise RESTRAINT in the face of such easy access of pleasure. Why? A hedonist life (maximizing pleasure) is not a satisfying or a happy life…
Or is it? Of course there’s a part of me that would like to shut myself up in a room for years and eat pizza, become lost in YouTube black holes, music, booze, books, masturbate, and so on…
But I don’t do this because:
Reason 1: At the grave, how do you want to look back? I selfishly indulged by animal desires, locked in a room, cut off from family and friends, and felt good? There are deeper, more lasting, and more satisfying things like relationships, art, pursuit of knowledge, and helping people.
Reason 2: Even if I didn’t care about those “deeper things” (perhaps the idea of them being “deep” is an illusion, perhaps it’s just a personal value judgment followed by simple mathematics: you spend 10 years working on a painting…feel elated relief when you’re done. Date someone for 3 years, you share many experiences which alleviate the raw nakedness of your soul). We get used to pleasure until it’s not pleasure anymore. Candy, sex, and booze lose their satisfying qualities if consumed all of the time.
So, how do you establish a balance, a framework, for restraining yourself for “deeper, more satisfying things,” (discipline is the difference between what you want now and what you want most) and indulging in short term pleasures? Because life is meant to be enjoyed, despite the struggles. We can’t be celibate monks all of the time. Besides, you could die any day, right? Have some fun. It’s all ashes and dust in the end. But how much should you give in to pleasure? What’s the balance?
Random memory: while visiting a friend of mine years ago I met his sloppy, obese, pig-like roommate named Bart. Bart was eating three cheeseburgers, smoking a bong, and watching TV. “I deserve this,” he said. “Because I ran 2 miles this morning.” I could see that he was sincere. This filled me with inexplicable horror. Why? I’ve also sat on a couch, smoked a bong, crushed a large pizza to the face, and numbly watched a movie I wouldn’t remember. But before this I ran 10 miles, lifted weights, read 200 pages of a book, wrote 5 pages of prose, gave Hank a bath, and shaved.
Our frameworks for justifying relaxation and pleasure were different, but the mechanism was the same. We both controlled our animal desires and worked hard so that we could give in to pleasure and relax later. But how do I know I’m not deceiving myself when I give in to pleasure? How do I know I’m not being someone like Bart, but just a little higher on the scale for a what I deem a deserving reward?
I don’t know…and there’s no easy way to find out.
So, the unsatisfying answer is this:
Trial and error. Live and learn. Observe and research. Crash and burn. Reflect and change. Patience and honesty with yourself.
It’s an easy truth to recognize…much more difficult to live it.
Now that I’ve finished this blog…I deserve to…to…to…to…