We can (as Diogenes observed) greatly enhance our appreciation of any meal by waiting until we are hungry before we eat it and greatly enhance our appreciation of any beverage by waiting until we are thirsty before we drink it.
--William B. Irvine, from A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
In the modern world, nearly all of us can eat and drink whatever we want, whenever we want.
But wait: isn't food all the more delicious when we wait a little while for it? Even a simple glass of cold water becomes delicious when we're deeply thirsty.
In his exceptional book A Guide To the Good Life, William Irvine explains how the Stoic philosophers sought different forms of voluntary discomfort as exercises of discipline, gratitude and pleasure. Yes, you read that right: pleasure. There are many modern misconceptions the Stoics, and one of the biggest is the inaccurate belief that the Stoics were "stoic" in the modern sense of the word, meaning unemotional or Spock-like. On the contrary, they knew how to enjoy the good things in life, and they frequently sought them out.
But the Stoics weren't hedonists. Yes, they sought enjoyment, but they also sought the understanding and acceptance that the things that bring us pleasure can also be lost. And they practiced voluntary discomfort by "going without" from time to time in order to better understand this concept. After all, knowing you can lose something--or worse, that it can be taken from you--helps you appreciate that thing even more.
Of course, eating and drinking is something we often taken entirely for granted. We do it every day, repeatedly, often with little enjoyment and sometimes without any thought at all. Which, if you think about it, is not only unhealthy but a little depressing too.
So, why not, periodically, wait a little bit to eat? Why not experience an hour or two (or more?) of hunger from time to time, and therefore turn that meal you waited for into a significantly more satisfying experience?
Interestingly, this plays right along with some of Arthur De Vany's ideas about kurtosis: the concept of introducing variability, randomness and even occasional meal-skipping into your eating and exercise schedule. Our bodies were built for varying meals and varying caloric intake. Despite all our modern cultural programming, we were not built to eat three predictably-timed square meals a day.
Of course, just the mere act of waiting until we're hungry to eat is practically unknown for many modern people. Just look around. Judging by our society's obesity rates, we eat mindlessly, all the time, and whether we're hungry or not.
Isn't this typically ungrateful First World behavior? Maybe we could take a page or two from the Stoics, and wait until we're hungry before we eat.
Readers, what's your take?
Read next: Applying the 80/20 Rule to Diet, Food and Cooking
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