In Praise of Indulgence – An Essay

In Praise of Indulgence – An Essay


Like most of my generation, I was brought up believing in the American dream. That is the idea that working hard can help you achieve anything you desire. Being a highly gullible kid, I developed a conscience that viewed the American dream as the quintessential pursuit. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, while growing up, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I started to examine the idea of the dream deeper and I had to face truths and debunk truisms that led me to question the moral culpability of the people that promulgated it.


I came to understand that this alluring notion has indoctrinated our belief system and our thinking motifs in a very devious way. We became actors in an involuntary rat race that urged us to keep pursuing abstract concepts and frivolous dreams. Dreams that were usually imposed by others. Dreams that were never really chosen by us.


You see, owning the concept of reality as this is manifested in your everyday endeavors is a very daunting task. The required struggle entailed in this process becomes an unquestionable constituent of what the evangelists of the American dream would call a well-exercised life. The struggle becomes entangled into your paradigm and you happily or unhappily accept it as a necessity. You end up blindly following the rules of the game and you become mesmerized by its enchanting nature, eventually forgetting what this game is all about anyway.


But does this always need to be this way?


I remember when I watched Tarrantino’s “Hateful eight,” there was a scene that really stood out for me. John ‘The Hangman’ Rut, while discussing his views about bounty hunting, stated: No one said this job was supposed to be easy. To which Major Marquis Warren replied: Nobody said it’s supposed to be that hard, neither! (2:06 on trailer below)



In almost every film, there is a scene that stands out. A scene that elicits an emotional response so visceral that allows you to engage with its narrative and identify with its message. When the two men had this short but potent verbal exchange, I knew this was my scene.


These two men are archetypal figures. The first one represents the archetype of the hustler. That is the person immersing in the job without further questioning and promoting a “no job is easy/the hustle is all there is” mentality. The hustler is a go-getter. He will do whatever is required to finish the job and his reputation is predicated upon his capacity to keep presenting the hustle as the ultimate virtue. The idea of strategy and the adoption of innovative practices that could ease the burden of work, sound nonsensical to him. Hustle is what governs his logic and different ideas are just distracting noise.


The second one represents the archetype of the contrarian. That is the person constantly challenging conventional wisdom and being in the search for innovative practices that would revamp his mode of being. The entrepreneur is also a go-getter. The fundamental difference between him and the hustler is that although hustle should be a significant facet of his philosophy, it shouldn’t be considered a dogma. An entrepreneur does whatever it takes to adopt innovative methodologies, sail in uncharted waters and bend the rules of dogmatic reality.


These two archetypes are presented in this essay deliberately. I wanted to find a lucid way to argue about the proclivity of modern humans to propagate the idea of hard work as one of the ultimate human virtues. We glorify figures that are able to showcase hardship in the way they accomplish their tasks and whenever we are presented with an idea of an alternative, we tend to dismiss it. Especially in conservative circles, this seems to be the status quo.


However, today I want to pose a rather thought-provoking question: What constitutes hardship?


In my point of view, hardship should be broken down into two categories: Fake hardship and valuable hardship.


Fake hardship is the one exhibited by figures pertaining to the archetype of the hustler as this was discussed above. People in that category use the idea of hardship as a pathway to a more favorable treatment, for our tendency to respect hardship will automatically urge us to empathize with them. Essentially, fake hardship is synonymous with emotional manipulation.


Valuable hardship, on the other hand, is not advertised by anyone. For valuable hardship constitutes an imperative element of a well-examined life. Whether this form of hardship will be respected or admired is irrelevant. Its purpose is to remind us of our limitations and eventually help us transcend the boundaries of our capabilities.


Drawing from these two definitions, we end up forming a more canonical interpretation of the term hardship and how this plays out across the span of our lives. Revealing the truth in that respect can offer insight in the way one deals with hardship, but also in the way one deals with what many would call its diametrically opposite term – indulgence.


Indulgence is a very interesting and often misunderstood word. Its usage can be found in a plethora of contexts and one can easily get confused with regards to its proper definition. For the purposes of this article, I will make use of the word indulgence as a synthesis of the words satisfaction, gratification, and fulfillment. These are words that have always been of great gravity to me and their pursuit has defined, to a large extent, the way I lead my life. Hence indulgence will be the point of focus in this essay.


The choice of the topic wasn’t coincidental. In our modern epoch, one will unavoidably stumble upon writers who will try to make a name by creating guides like the art of doing, the art of work, the art of hustle and similar artful interpretations of the nature of meaningful activities. Upon reading all these titles, a logical question arises:


Why isn’t anyone discussing the art of indulging?


What is so bad about indulgence anyway that it has become such a rarely discussed topic? In my opinion, there is nothing bad about the term itself. The problem arises when people tend to misinterpret the meaning of words and also fail to see their true value.


For instance, oftentimes, indulgence is associated with debauchery. That is the excessive indulgence in sex, alcohol, or drugs. Although all these forms of pleasure are quite beguiling, immoderate immersion in them can lead to imbalance and even lack of purpose. Thus having them associated with indulgence stigmatizes the significance of the word.


This point is very accurate since one way to describe life would be as the amalgamation of habits and practices that can ensure a balanced lifestyle. We are constantly in the search for the right combination of choices that can offer us a way to balance out the multitude of stimuli that intrude our presence. Therefore, balance seems to be, for now, the most optimal way of living.


In such a complex landscape, indulgence needs to battle hard in order to establish its value concretely. Its battle seems similar to our battle. The everyday battle each and every one of us faces whilst attempting to make the best out of our lives. When I had this realization, I couldn’t help but empathize with this predicament and work harder in ensuring that indulgence gets the praise it deserves.


In a world where the proper understanding of the word indulgence becomes self-evident, one can reap easier the benefits of a more effectual mode of being. A mode of being that is characterized by intent, awareness and a pragmatic strategy that will allow us to abrade modern conundrums we all face.


Such a conundrum is the pursuit of meaningful work – work that is free from oppression and becomes a way of living rather than a way of surviving.


Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, this omnipresent conundrum has led to the hypnosis of the modern worker and to his or her inability to think differently. Specialization of labor has boosted productivity, but, at the same time, has reduced the amount of indulgence entailed in the work. Menial work became the safe choice and our loss aversion mechanism urged most people to gravitate towards safety rather than pursue different working patterns.


I want to emphasize on the word menial here because specialization as a general concept doesn’t necessarily act as a hindrance to indulgence. Specialization can offer the chance to immerse in deep work, which can be very satisfying in itself. Insofar as one decides to investigate the intent behind the work of choice, one can experience tremendous joy in work even if it involves a great degree of specialization.


After the advent of the Internet, the concept of meaningful work has gained steam, since more and more people have initiated the fertilization of revolutionary alternatives. Entrepreneurship has transitioned from an endeavor associated with the privileged few, to an endeavor associated with anyone creative enough to disrupt different markets. Artists and content creators have managed to monetize their work and build followings that could identify with their message. Different working trajectories keep emerging and people can change specializations just by teaching themselves new skills online.


In general, the opportunities keep rising and one could say that, eventually, they will become endless. However, plurality isn’t the answer to satisfaction. People’s dissatisfaction is still palpable and one could argue that most not only don’t feel better than before but also that the average stress levels have increased dramatically.


The reason is quite self-evident. The rat race has changed only form, not purpose. Everyone keeps chasing a different version of the American dream, ignorant of the ramifications that such a situation begets. Indulgence is still either very small or completely absent. And that because most ignore it deliberately.


The nature of the work one does becomes meaningful only when it provides the necessary status that will result in admiration from the rest of society. The creation of value becomes an ill-defined idea and the notion of indulgence gets lost in the translation of this idea.


When Bernard Russell introduced us to his monumental essay, in praise of idleness, he explained that idleness shouldn’t be treated as laziness, but rather as a critical idea that allows us to see through the maladies of overproduction.


Bertrand Russell

I believe that indulgence needs to be approached in the same light. Indulgence is the antidote to the deleterious effects of modern work that is solely associated with toxic accomplishment. Work can indeed offer accomplishment, but an accomplishment far greater than the one limited within the confines of our social edifice.


How many people do you know of that immerse in work just for the sake of creativity? Or for the sake of knowledge? Or for the sake of flow? Or for the sake of presence? Or for the sake of self-transcendence?


All these terms are swallowed by the monolithic idea of work as this was presented by the forefathers of the American dream.


Just imagine if you for once would stop caring how others perceive your work, and focus on everything that allows you to indulge in the work itself. Everything from your interaction with your colleagues, to finding solutions to seemingly insoluble problems.


If this was the case, just imagine how most will focus on the happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia.


Just imagine.


Indulgence isn’t just a way to turn imagination into reality but it is the way in and of itself and we have been ignoring it.


In this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.


The act of indulging can be materialized by immersing in an activity totally and by identifying the true value of the activity itself. If you are unsure where to start, the “30 Challenges – 30 Days – Zero Excuses” workbook provides a selection of activities that can structure your life around the art of indulgence.


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Featured Image © Joan Miro, Blue II, 1961

Adrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at "The Quintessential Mind" - A unique personal blog that offers a holistic approach to self-development. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.
Adrian Iliopoulos