Friday, September 17, 2010

The Pleasures of Self-Control

“If you must excite desire, better do it by the impatience of want than by the repletion of enjoyment. Happiness earned gives double joy.”

~Balthasar Gracian.

I, for one, have quite an addictive personality, and so for me there is much to be gained in establishing cumulative and incremental gains of self-control.

Being compulsive by nature naturally has its benefits—passion for one, which is a zest for life and God and the things of good achievement... but the downsides are numerous also; pleasures are fleeting and they’re not readily enjoyed as they ought to be most times.

The Penultimate Aphorism

Perhaps it’s fitting that the 299th Aphorism of the great sage, Gracian, focuses on the wisdom so many with addictive personalities could benefit from. Here he taps into the cherished insight of delayed gratification, and that perhaps of the continual kind.

I’ve long found the greatest corrective to the wanton desire is very simply abstinence, though we cannot abstain, for instance, from eating.

Quenching the Appetite

Building from the premise left off, eating it is that’s the perfect example of the irony of the appetite.

We arrive home from an outing, ‘starving’ hungry (as if many of us really knew what that would be like!) and no sooner have we tucked into something tasty, fullness has its way with us... then we have a little more just to prove we’re full. We almost feel cheated that we’ve filled up already. Sound familiar (or is that just me?).

Balthasar Gracian tells us that it would be better to “revive the appetite by the hunger that is left”. Better it is that we’re slightly hungry than overfull. In other words, we’d be better off only having a little—perhaps something of an agreement with ourselves beforehand as to what that little amount actually is. Then self-control, of course, is the self-discipline to close the gate at exactly the right moment and not a moment after.

So, there it is for the person with self-control issues:

Abstinence for some things – smaller portions for others. Then self-control does at last return us pleasure.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.