The NBC show Parks and Recreation is one of my favorites because of its wide variety of entertaining characters. On the show, Chris Traeger (played by Rob Lowe) epitomizes what this post is about. This character is absolutely obsessed with fitness and nutrition. He has run ten miles every day for the past 18 years (which equates to a third of the way to the moon!). He comes to realize that although his body is in nearly-perfect physical condition, his life feels lonely and meaningless. That’s when he starts going to a shrink five times a week and talks about him to his friends nonstop.
Can you get too much of a good thing? Absolutely. We all know people who get taken in by something neutral or even good, which, when taken to unreasonable extremes, ends up having a negative impact. Some people spend so much of their time and energy in caring for others that they neglect their own needs. Some are constantly seeking to learn more and more, but rarely end up applying that knowledge and don’t actually ever accomplish anything. Others are so overly concerned about only eating the healthiest food that it actually now qualifies as a mental disorder called Orthorexia nervosa. Or there are those monkish “spiritual” types that always have their heads in the clouds and can’t really relate to those around them, who end up living isolated lives. Caring for others, learning, spirituality, and eating healthy food are all positive habits, but problems come when we emphasize these to the exclusion of other important and good things.
The ultimate health and fulfillment comes from balance of all the aspects of our lives. Any extreme or excess in any one area causes things to come out of alignment. That is because if we focus too much on either the body, mind, or spirit, we usually end up neglecting one or two of the other areas. We have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, so directing too many of those things to one area deprives the others. Often, the truest wisdom is found not in what we choose to do, but what we choose to leave undone.
I’ve come up with a short list of other examples of excesses. (If you come up with more, feel free to add them in the comments section.) Perhaps you’ll see inclinations toward one or two of these in yourself:
- Worry and anxiety (thus overly expending mental energy, causing emotional redundancy)
- Too much socializing, talking, laughing
- Concentrating with too much effort
- Too much time or energy spent doing the same activities (work, TV, games, media use)
- Pushing the physical body to extremes
- Overemphasizing a personal relationship (as is the case with Super-moms)
- Too much or not enough sleep
- Overeating (even healthy food!)
- Overly stimulating the senses
- Getting worked up emotionally to passionate extremes
If any of these rang true for you, I hope you’ll recognize the steps you need to take to bring your life back into balance. As a teenager, an area of imbalance for me was obsessing over grades and schoolwork. I took this to such an extreme that I only slept 4-5 hours a night in high school and ended up getting Mono, which then relapsed a couple of times. At other times in my life, I got myself so worked up emotionally that I would deliberately put myself in risky situations, such as walking outside alone in the middle of the night or driving recklessly. One other area that used to cause problems was my over-thriftiness, when I wouldn’t spend money for something unless it was at a certain price point or I had a coupon. There’s nothing wrong with saving money, but for me, it took a toll on my family relationships, and I wasted a lot of time seeking out good deals.
The way to obtain health and balance is through moderation. We must conserve the forces that sustain us. That is done through peace, rest, nourishment, restraint, detachment, calmness, and relaxation. Our objectives are a strong and healthy body, a disciplined, aware mind, and a creative, vital spirit. Contentment is the result of these three points coming together in harmony.