Surfeit Stupor


It occurred to me following the Thanksgiving engorgement last year that we spend a lot of our time and energy overindulging in things that make us “groggy”.  In fact, it sometimes seems that numbing ourselves is a full time pursuit with its own end game for its own purpose:  If we’re not numb, we’re not getting a full ride!


Onward through the fog!”

Henriette Seiterle

So, how much is enough?

How much food?

How much television?

How much social media engagement?

How much immersion in video games?

How much “binging” on movies, sitcoms, etc.?

The answer, for most of us, is that “enough” is when we can’t take any more!

But we seem to become even better and more tolerant at stuporous pursuits the more “seasoned” we become:

You may or may not have heard about extreme gamers who wear adult diapers so they don’t have to interrupt the “flow” of their uber-engagement for incidentals and accidentals!

And what then?  At some point, we eventually CRASH and have to regroup … re-establish some equilibrium … center down … take a nap … raid the refrigerator … or withdraw and rehabilitate.

What’s happening with any or all of the above is experiencing what I call the “Surfeit Stupor” twilight zone.  Imagine having to fight your way through this “fog” to get anything useful done!

But why would anyone do THAT?

The FOG’s the thing … The Holy Grail!

It sometimes seems the whole point of busting our butts is to retire so we can watch endless television and movies, play endless video games … etc.

And when all the “low-hanging fruit” becomes exhausted and/or gets stale, the “fog” can be perpetuated pharmacologically with various assortments of drugs applied, continuing the spiral of fog and stupor … until there are no significant threads of viability left to cling to.

This is not the most auspicious finish line any one of us might aspire to in our more cogent reflections!

And RECOVERY from the surfeit stupor is generally a long, painful, arduous and, often, shameful process.


All of the superficial surfeit in which we immerse ourselves is merely a default/substitutional materialization to fill a large void in lives that have been freed from a surfeit of hardscrabble gravity.  We haven’t yet figured out more productive ways to go from hardscrabble gravity to valorous engagement.

In an ideal universe, having “enough” or more-than-enough can actually serve as a stepping stone to greater and grander heights if applied diligently, but it becomes a liability if abused.

So, one might conjecture that the surest way to the top is never to have enough … in particular, never to have enough of more noble things!  From this perspective, it comes as no surprise that some of the most successful individuals started out from the most humble and austere beginnings … without “enough” elegance and nobility in their lives.  And their lofty dreams and aspirations keep driving them onward toward much larger “Enoughs”.  Their “discretionary” energy and earnings consistently go into things like education and investments in personal, professional and business development instead of into candy, triple cheeseburgers, milkshakes, pinball machines, gambling, ostentation, video games and social media.

They learned early to delay gratification.  And the more they delayed, the further they got from the “fog” and the further they rose and the larger and clearer their vision of the future – and of future gratification – became.  And the more realistic their possibilities turned out.  And both their possibilities and the rewards for their efforts multiplied to produce “more than enough”.

Similar patterns emerge from studies of “Unlikely Champions” who, though facing formidable odds of ever truly “making it”, through extreme discipline in applying whatever they DO have, dedication and sacrifice of amenities, end up rising to the top of their respectively chosen fields of endeavor.

Mounting evidence suggests that people can not only survive but thrive emotionally and psychologically (as well as economically!) in austere conditions.  In “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy”, William B. Irvine [Oxford University Press, 2008] recommended the following formula for recalibrating one’s “enough” compass:

  • Avoid Hedonic adaptation: The moment we get or gain something we take it for granted.
  • Goal #1: Enjoy what you already have.
  • Respond to confrontation and trauma by adjusting perspective.
  • Contemplate impermanence so the relevant takes on new importance and the important takes on a new sense of urgency.
  • Practice voluntary discomfort. [ … the “Perfectly Unbalanced Life”]
  • Forego base pleasure.
  • The Good Life is impossible without self-control … e.g., giving up stuff that diminishes the true value of living.
  • Stoics are not Ascetics, avoiding all pleasure, but seek higher pleasures.
  • Seek to “out” your short-comings.
  • Aspire higher.
  • When things go wrong, do some introspection instead of blaming others.
  • Engage in inconspicuous consumption.
  • Focus desires on the immaterial.
  • Master the art of impulse passivity.
  • Delay gratification.
  • Seek sustainable JOY and SELF-MASTERY.

Benefits of meaningful restraint and the pursuit of a higher / more noble “Enough” include:  Peace of mind … an energized (“Unbridled” but carefully channeled) Spirit … FOCUS … less “fog” … more control … security … sustainability … self-esteem … self-confidence … self-awareness … sanity … navigability … higher quality choices … higher quality engagement.  May your “meaningful restraints” bring all of the above – in due course – with a surfeit of “Enoughs”!  Quartermaster


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