It seems silly to even question that more isn’t always a good thing. Head down the high street or watch an episode of your favourite drama and you will immediately see that more of everything — money, pleasure, babies, food — is the answer to all of life’s problems.
But alas, more is not always more. And, in most cases, less is always more. Think what happens when you cut back on your eating, the hours you work, the money you need, the crap in your house, your carbon footprint, the size of your house debt, how much booze you drink, social media you consume, and articles you read. Okay, you can forget that last one for now.
Going for “more” is a reaction of the lazy mind obsessed with validation. The fact is, life becomes much simpler and better under a little self-induced austerity.
Western society generally equates “more” with success and everything from more meaning to greater happiness. Yet in practice and as many other cultures have known for centuries, the reverse is true and less is frequently the path to a happier and more fulfilled life.
The Stoics had this equation figure out a long time ago. The Ancient Greek’s such as Seneca and Epictetus based their whole philosophy around knowing what is within your control and not wasting your life trying to change and worrying about the rest.
Ideally, rather than blindly chasing more, it would be better to consider the “size” of everything, noticing whether want we want is something we want or just an addiction to “more”, and consequently better optimise our lives to fit our ambitions.
More of anything doesn’t always mean better.
The general idea goes that the more you consume, work, collect, learn, accumulate, or experience, then the more content you will be when you look back at the end of your life.
It seems silly when you put it that way. But this is the way most people in modern society live — in the constant restlessness of doing as much as possible to search for content and to avoid regret. The opposite of this, as the Stoics taught, is living a humble life of moderation.
When they say moderation, it’s not necessarily about restricting yourself and living a pure life with minimal possessions. “So-called pleasures, when they go beyond a certain limit, are but punishments…” said Seneca, referring to an idea called “The Golden Mean”. The Golden Mean explains how everything in it’s extreme has its downside, and how so those who exhibit moderation find a space of harmony between both excess and deficiency.
A good example is how in too greater doses, virtues like ambition, empathy, and self-confidence can become hindrances. Too much ambition becomes insatiability. Too much empathy becomes co-dependency. Too much self-confidence becomes arrogance. The same goes for too much composure, nobility, adaptability, and generosity.
Some of these virtues may be our greatest assets in some areas of our lives. While in others, they may be holding us back or weighing us down. The stern self-discipline that’s made you successful at your job may be preventing you from going out and having a passionate love life. Your calm demeanour or modesty that’s helped manage a family may be stopping you from pushing ahead at work.
More of anything doesn’t always mean better. But we live within a dualistic world in which we’re constantly flying from one polarity to the other, tipping between goals we need to achieve and circumstances we need to avoid. Living in moderation and landing in the golden mean isn’t about denying any one part of it, say by becoming complacent and lacking direction or giving everything you own away. It’s also not about becoming obsessed with finding the right balance. Or forcing yourself to cut down on whatever so that you can get more nobility, more to brag about among friends, or more chance of getting a place in heaven.
Moderation is about doing what’s right because it feels right and is right for you and everyone else. Because satisfaction and life are not found in constantly chasing after more and more, they’re discovered when you make do with just what you need. After all, it is when you stop wanting more that you start needing less, as you can see you are not lacking in anything and already have much more than you could ever need.