What makes for a happy, healthy life? I sought pearls of wisdom from my 99-year-old Bubbe. She is healthy by most standards, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say she is “happy.” My Bubbe is best characterized as “satisfied.”
“Give me something for my readers, Bubbe,” I implored her. “What makes for a happy, healthy life?”
I knew what she was going to say before she even uttered a sound, but she took a minute and thought before she answered.
“Everything in Moderation,” she said. No surprise there. It is her mantra. I’ve been hearing “Everything in Moderation” since I was a little girl.
“Even moderation in moderation?” I wondered out loud. “Isn’t it ok to forget moderation every once and a while and just go absolutely bat shit crazy?” Everything in moderation may lead to a long life, but not necessarily a very exciting one. If you have lived a life of complete moderation, have you really lived?
Bubbe didn’t answer my question; she never had need for excitement.
“Never overeat; when you feel tired, stop what you are doing and rest; go out in all kinds of weather and breathe in the fresh air; always keep your feet warm; indulge just a little in the wrong kinds of food.” Her example of the wrong kind of food? Gribines, which is chicken skin and onion fried in Schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Raise your hand if you think either of these will be the next winning word in a National Spelling Bee contest.
“What about sex?” I asked. “Good,” she answered. “In moderation.” I didn’t ask her if “moderation” in that context meant in quality or in quantity. I was not going there. A few months ago we got into a discussion about the mechanics of gay sex (her take: “I just don’t believe it.”) I have yet to recover.
“What about drugs and alcohol?” I asked. “Never,” she answered. I silently hoped nobody read her my column where I admitted to having martinis and ice cream for dinner.
“What about money?” I asked. “Can money make you happy?”
“Well, you certainly can’t be happy without any money,” my Bubbe advised. “But Everything in Moderation. Too much money is no good either.”
I had to agree with her on that one, but then I heard Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, the authors of Happy Money, the Science of Smarter Spending being interviewed on NPR. Their theory is money can buy happiness if you: 1. spend it on experiences–not stuff; 2. buy time (the commodity we really all crave) 3. make spending money a treat by spreading it out; 4. adopt a “pay now, consume later” attitude toward your spending–giving you the anticipation of looking forward to the experience and making it seem like it is “free” by the time you use it, and 5. spend your money on making other people happy (the giving feels good component.)
Everything in Moderation may have worked for my Bubbe, but I don’t think it’s for me. I am not a moderate person. I cannot eat just two cookies. I want the whole sleeve. When I go for it, I really go for it. Hell, I gained weight by adding too many chia seeds to my smoothie!
Most people probably believe they are already living their life moderately. My husband would say he rides his motorcycle moderately. My son might say he snowboards moderately. Remember that scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are each talking to their shrinks? Each states that they have sex (with each other) three times a week, but he describes it as “hardly ever,” and she describes it as “constantly.” That’s the problem with moderation. No one has a clue what it means.
And what about everything Everything in Moderation doesn’t deal with? What about meaningful work? What about taking risks? What about belief in something bigger than yourself? What about sleep? What about Vitamin D? What about steering clear of people who make you want to vomit? I, for one, do not want to spend even one second with people who hire guides with “disabilities” to cut the lines at Disneyland.
And what about laughter? Certainly laughter should never be moderated (note the picture for this post- it has nothing to do with anything- I only put it in because it made me laugh.) I have no doubt that when my grandmother learned that “Knaidel” was the winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee Contest it made her a smile, but I bet it has been a very long time since she had a really big belly laugh.
In her time, my Bubbe made some pretty awesome Kneidels (spelled with an “e” when pluralized.) But if I remember correctly, I am pretty sure she only served up one knaidel in each bowl of chicken soup. I’d give you three.