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I spent half of last week in the city which is the poster child for a life of excess: Las Vegas, Nevada. This was my first trip to Sin City, as it is called, and my wife and I had a good time.
We didn’t gamble (gasp!) or stay up all night (blasphemy!). We enjoyed our kind of vacation, which means we spent a very un-FinanceSuperhero-like amount of money on meals and shows. We had fun and paid for the trip with cash. It was relaxing.
However, if you’ve been reading articles on this site for a while, you know that every moment for me is a cerebral experience which leads to critical thought and analysis.
Over the course of three days and nights, I took in the sights, sounds, and smells around me and learned a lot about the world. I reclined on a plush, poolside chaise lounge and observed other resort guests joyfully playing black jack at one of several swim-up bars. In the afternoon, I marveled at other vacationers’ massive 50 ounce margaritas as they passed us on the street. And at dinner, I enjoyed the festive atmosphere as patrons dined on creations by chefs Gordon Ramsey, Bobby Flay, and others.
In the midst of this vacation, in which I was supposed to be enjoying time off from work and letting loose, I couldn’t help but notice a prominent trend: Excess did not make me as happy as I thought it would, and by all indications, it didn’t make other people happy, either.
While laying by the pool, I didn’t feel any happier than normal. In fact, by the third day of vacation, I began to resent rest and relaxation. After enjoying a couple over-sized pina coladas myself, the novelty lost its allure. And by the time we sat down for breakfast on our last day of vacation, there was little discernible difference between the food I was supposed to be savoring and a ho-hum bowl of Cheerios.
Others did not appear immune to the effects of excess. The enthusiasm and smiles from the same group of folks cavorting at the swim-up bar had strangely vanished just a few days later. Sunday morning in Las Vegas showcased a palpable difference in energy and happiness, and it wasn’t just because half of the guests on the strip were hungover from a night of partying into the wee hours of the morning.
Near the end of the trip, I grasped the reality of the situation:
It is human nature to believe and act as if a life of excess will make us happy. In reality, living a life of excess often leads to exactly the opposite.
This trip wasn’t the first time I experienced this phenomenon, and I’m sure you’ve experienced it for yourself, too. If we’re honest with ourselves, we feel the effects of “the letdown” following the excess of holidays, birthdays, and even weekends. It hits us after our favorite team wins a championship, our children get married, and we get that big promotion. It’s that nagging voice in our heads which asks, “OK, what’s next?”
So why exactly does a life of excess, or even fleeting moments of indulgence, fail to satiate our desires and make us happy? Why does dry-aged steak begin to taste like ground round after only a few days? Why can’t we seem to reach a lasting state of fulfillment?
Our outlook on happiness is all wrong.
The Roots of Excess
For centuries, man kind has toiled away to develop a laundry list of modern conveniences which are supposed to simplify life, make living easier, and increase happiness. Yet in many ways, we are more miserable than ever before. These modern “conveniences” have relegated many of us to the role of consumer, while life experience and plenty of research show that producers are happier.
We have raised the bar to unsustainable levels. In doing so, we have removed the elements of competition, growth, progress, and striving for something new. This leaves few avenues by which we can seek fulfillment, so we look to food, entertainment, or perhaps the bottle. And we’re befuddled when these pursuits don’t provide lasting happiness.
Happiness brought on by a life of excess is only temporary. We might be happy for a short time after moving into that new house with two bathrooms for everyone or buying that new watch on Amazon, but that happiness will fade.
On face value alone, things are things and experiences are experiences. Most are neither intrinsically good nor bad. Strangely, excess has a way of transforming neutral things into bad things. It transforms what may otherwise be good things into weakness.
When you buy a five ton, gas-guzzling SUV in order to drive your two kids to school and back on paved roads, your excess is weakness. When you swing through a drive-through for a burger and fries when you have ingredients for a far more delicious meal at home, your excess is weakness. When you go on a shopping binge at Lularoe online, your excess is weakness.
I’m not advocating for stoicism or minimalism in this space. I am calling for moderation.
The Benefits of Moderation
Ditching a life of excess and adopting a life of moderation is not easy. The desire to keep up with the Joneses, the fear of missing out, and common insecurities trick us into believing that excess is the key to happiness. Our minds may realize otherwise, but our hearts are deceiving.
By choosing to embrace moderation rather than a life of excess, we can enjoy the following benefits:
*The ability to enjoy experiences at face value
*The adoption of realistic expectations
*Greater fulfillment and gratitude for what you already possess
*Increased likelihood that you will give and help others. An excess mindset prompts most people to horde wealth like a pack rat. Moderation, on the other hand, encourages people to exercise all of the benefits of money, including helping others. After all, if you’re not generous with a dime out of a dollar, how will you be generous when your net worth reaches one million dollars?
If you find yourself clinging to hope that reaching “the next step” is going to bring you happiness, reflect and consider whether you are currently living a life of excess. If you continue to search for happiness and fulfillment in all the wrong places, you will continue to be unhappy and unfulfilled.
Roll up your sleeves, get to work, and fulfill a purpose. It is in these moments that I often find fulfillment and happiness, and I believe it will work for you. Ditch a few of life’s excesses, get out of your comfort zone, and experience all that life has to offer.
How do you measure happiness? Is your vision of happiness tied to excess? What makes you most happy?