Satiety or Sobriety: What would you choose?

three men sitting in a boat with a black dog

Time and again, I find myself returning to the age-old humor classic Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. I have sometimes wondered why that might be but have not pursued that train of thought for long in a desperate attempt to avoid paying any cognitive taxes. 

the cover of the book 'three men in a boat'
One of my favorite books

I must admit that it has been life-transforming. Wait, I lie. I have always lived my life that way- avoiding work every chance. 

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that I like almost every sentence written in that book. But on every other re-read, some new wisdom catches my eye.

The following was the highlight of my most recent re-read of the book: 

How good one feels when one is full – how satisfied with ourselves and with the world! People who have tried it tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented, but a full stomach does the business quite as well and is cheaper and more easily obtained.

Good indeed, no denying that. This might have to do with the fact that I read the book in self-imposed solitary confinement, avoiding all world distractions (food included) as if they were the plague. 

But that aside, the sentence did leave a good aftertaste. I wondered about it during and after many meals and felt even more strongly that a full belly is a prerequisite for sustainable happiness. 

Yes, you can be happy without a full belly if you have a clear conscience, but I guess at some point, the grumbling of your stomach will overpower all other senses and thoughts.

Full disclosure, my belief in my ideas isn’t as steadfast as I would like.

So naturally, I resort to the public library’s reference section for all the true wisdom out there. 

This search was quite the workout – moving around in the Psychology, Philosophy, ancient wisdom, and theology aisles- to name a few. A common theme was conscientiousness as the foundational brick for any sustainable human happiness. 

Out comes Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, where physiological needs (satiating hunger in this case) are considered key to a satisfied human. 

And Bam! 

I see him and Mr. Jerome in my daydreaming mind, shaking hands, hugging, and having drinks at the local bar close to my place. I decelerate my imaginary speeding car and come back to the reality of my own experience.

The only times I remember having had trouble sleeping was – if I had a presentation at work the following day that I am sure would bring shame to my professional existence, OR I only had a green salad and a soup for dinner. 

Oh, how powerful hunger is, how accomplished at keeping me awake! 

Literature tells me love has the same power. Love can make you lose your sleep and your appetite. I thank my stars that I never came across that kind of love (with loss of appetite and sleep, what good would that be to me anyway?)

This is not to undermine the importance of conscience. Not in the least. Literature worldwide is replete with advice and means of keeping a clear conscience. I wouldn’t comment on my level of conscientiousness; objective self-assessment isn’t my strong suit. 

But I like to believe that I am reasonably conscientious.

Now the fun part is, I found myself obsessing over the first part of Mr. Jerome’s sentence, completely ignoring the second:

“…but a full stomach does the business quite as well and is cheaper and more easily obtained.”

I can only speak for myself when I say that eating dollops of cream cheese, tzatziki, and a veggie burger gets me tangibly closer to happiness every day than mental cleansing – conscience or otherwise.

Ogden Nash, from the local library’s fiction aisle, had a terrific insight laid right out: 

“There is only one way to achieve happiness in this terrestrial ball, and that is either to have a clear conscience or none at all.”

I have not lost all hope.


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