When exactly did the ‘numbness’ kick in?  When did the enjoyment diminish?  All the hard work led to higher incomes, more disposable cash, perhaps more free time, yet the simple pleasures that used to be so fulfilling now feel rather blasé.

How and why does this happen?

It boils down to self-control.

I stumbled across an article recently in the Wall Street Journal by Katy Mclaughlin that told a story about how indulging less helped her family enjoy more.  It partly caught my attention because I’ve always been a proponent of delayed gratification, but also because my lovely wife Rachelle and I are in a group with 5 other families through our church that meets once per month to study a single Virtue.  This month happens to be self-control.

I frequently see this scenario, where increased levels of wealth that people work their way into often comes with proportional increased levels of indulgence and spending…….all leading, oddly enough, to a decreased level of satisfaction with the things that once brought so much joy.

The tale is pretty common….starting out young, not making much money, struggling to get by and living paycheck to paycheck.  Choice and indulgence aren’t really options.  Careers start taking off, more money comes in, indulgences start to creep in as rewards for the hard work and success.  As that continues, habits start to form around these indulgences, making them less like indulgences and more part of the routine, the “new normal”.

So the story went, the occasional bottle of wine with dinner turned into a bottle every evening, the periodic steak dinner as a ‘reward’ turned into a more-often-than-not splurge.  It just accelerated from there, with bottles of wine becoming more lavish and the cut of steak moving up from Choice to Prime (full disclosure, I do love me some Prime grade beef, so I was sympathetic to this part, sort of!).  All this coupled together with hours in front of the television each night with their kids.

This conversation was seemingly the turning point:

“Do you know what the coldest thing in the world is, Mommy?” her 6-year old son asked after some heavy Olympics watching.

“The North Pole? Alaska?” She guessed, trying to think like a 6-year-old.

“It’s Coors Light!” he said triumphantly, mimicking the commercial.

Yeah, I would have been mortified if my kid said that, though only after subduing my boisterous laughter!  This is just one reason my wife is a better parent than I am.  But I digress.

What followed was a systematic reduction of steak eating and wine drinking, along with an all out ban on TV for the kids except on Friday and Saturday nights.

You can translate this into whatever indulgences you routinely partake in that once were occasional treats.

The results of indulging less?

Not surprisingly, the grocery budget reduced significantly, but more importantly, the occasional glass of wine started to again taste that much better and the less-frequent splurge of a nice steak seemed to bring out new tastes and flavors that previously went unnoticed.

And perhaps the most heart-warming benefit (from a parent’s point of view) was that their boys were forced to start doing other things, among which was doing some math……..ok, it was figuring out the number of days til the weekend so they could watch TV again, but it’s still math!

What’s something you hold back on in some way to make it all the sweeter when you do indulge?  Or what’s something that you once only periodically indulged in that has become part of your routine?

One example for me, I’ve found that staying away from all-you-can-eat sushi makes me appreciate and enjoy sushi much more when I buy it by the piece.  As a result, it’s more expensive, so I don’t indulge nearly as often, and it tastes amazingly good when I do!  There’s just something about savoring each piece that makes it all the more enjoyable.

“There are limits to self-indulgence, none to restraint.”
– Mahatma Gandhi