Occasional Self-Denial

Skip my daily frappugirlieccino? But it's one of my most important daily pleasures!

Is it? Is it really? The ancient Stoics would likely disagree with you. They'd say that you will appreciate something even more--possibly far more--if you choose to give it up on occasion.

After all, how pleasurable can something truly be if it happens all the time? It's inevitable that you'll grow to take it for granted. And something taken for granted is not an "important daily pleasure."

It's not a pleasure at all. It's a habit.

While we almost never buy frappugirlieccinos here at CK (not that there's anything the least bit wrong with them of course), we are known to indulge in fancy coffee. We'll enjoy a pot of Kona coffee on occasion to make a given morning all the more special. And on many a morning I will make an eighty second latte for Laura, a frothy and altogether unmasculine concoction to help her build up the courage to get out of bed.

But we make sure not to drink the best coffee every day. On most days we drink a basic, grocery store-caliber commodity coffee.

Substituting generic coffee or skipping a daily frappugirlieccino might seem like minor, even trivial, things to do. But they are metaphors. These small acts of self-denial are important, because they help us grasp how many of the great pleasures of modern life we take entirely for granted.

Further, it's one thing to take something for granted. It's another thing entirely to not even realize you've been taking things for granted in the first place. For us, the practice of occasional self-denial isn't just a step toward being more grateful. It's also a step toward being more mindful and meta-aware.

And it goes without saying that a more grateful and mindful life is, by definition, a more enjoyable and better-lived life.

Finally, we can go a step further. Stoic self-denial offers us one more advantage, a big one for Casual Kitchen readers: it saves you money.

Huh? A practice that saves a few bucks while increasing your gratitude and enjoyment of life? When they say Stoicism is a truly practical philosophy, they weren't kidding.

So, where else might we exercise occasional self-denial in daily life, in an effort to maximize enjoyment, minimize taking things for granted--and even save a little money while we're at it? A few ideas to get started:

Examples might be periodic self-denial of a post-work alcoholic beverage. Or, giving up alcohol for a weekend, or a week, or even for a 30 day trial. Who wouldn't want to get more pleasure out of truly glorious beverages like beer? And wine?

Long ago, I did a 30 day trial here at Casual Kitchen of giving up chocolate. It turned out that one of the more pleasurable experiences in my life was opening up and eating a single square of Dove dark chocolate at the very moment those 30 days were up.

Television/media/video games:
Uhhh, speaking solely for myself, a Facebook game called Candy Crush comes to mind, a game that has become a daily "habit" with me, offering no pleasure at all. Giving it up, even occasionally, would provide obvious benefits.

I've been ruminating about a Friday Links article I linked to recently about swearing, and I'm wondering if I might be able to dramatically increase the pleasure I derive from swearing by going a full day once in a while without swearing.

Readers, what about you? Where in your life would you consider an act of Stoic self-denial?

This post owes a debt of gratitude to William Irvine and his extraordinary book on Stoicism, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. On the concept of self-denial, see chapter 7.

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