We spent a lot of time and money building our screened-in porch. After six weekends, some great memories, and plenty of frustration, it was done. For a while after completing the project people would ask how we were enjoying it. "It's great, we love it!" we would say. That's true, it is a great addition. We certainly weren't using it in proportion to what it took to build it, though.
Don't get me wrong. Many cool evenings have been spent swinging on the porch. I love to watch the rain from inside the screen. My favorite time of the day is right after the sun has set but it isn't quite dark yet. It's the perfect decompression period after work and before whatever the evening holds.
These are the images I imagined for our porch. The more common reality, however, is our dogs tearing through the screen, the floor getting dirty, us going weeks without an extended sit, and still a minority of our friends having sat out there.
How often do we work hard for something to only let it become a backdrop to our next endeavor?
I think of marriage in a similar way. You pursue someone, you fall in love, you plan a wedding, and you join your life together. Throughout engagement you dream of the day that's coming, for the life the two of you will share.
A few weeks, months, or years (depending on how disciplined you are) later, you're laying nearly naked in a comfortable bed in a dark room next to the love of your life...scrolling through your Facebook feed.
And I can't tell you how many times I've observed couples at dinner, barely aware of the fact that someone is across from them, captivated by a digital reality from a glowing box that's stealing their attention and the potential for any intimacy in their life. And I'm sure they wonder why they feel disconnected from each other.
What is wrong with us?
We work hard towards something great. We finally attain it. Then we let it become the backdrop for our next pursuit. It's an endless cycle of discontentment. The cycle is subtle, too. Most of the time you don't realize the patterns forming until they're hard to break.
The opposite is also true.
It may sound odd, but I learned something from my face wash this week. Before you think I've lost it, just bare with me. I have used Kiehl's Facial Fuel since 2010. I will never forget the first time I used it in my friend's bathroom. The combination of menthol, caffeine, and orange and lemon extracts made my face more refreshed than ever before.
But like anything, the repeated use caused the experience to dull with time. What was once invigorating had become hardly noticeable. Temperance was one of Ben Franklin's thirteen virtues: "Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation."
In psychology there is a concept called habituation. It refers to a diminishing response to a repeated stimuli. I use the face wash every day twice a day for seven years, I don't get the same effect. You drink until you're drunk every time, and now a bottle of wine with friends is no longer enough. You get the point.
We are always teetering on the fence of too little or too much. We are tempted to neglect or to overuse and abuse what is good. The happy medium of moderation is a difficult but worthy pursuit. It keeps us from starvation but protects us from gluttony in all areas of our life.