The concept of balance is considered a fundamental quality for the good life. We believe that only a balanced approach can provide the reasonable stance, whether we’re talking about eating, religion, work, sleep, sex or money. Our language reflects this view through such expressions as “an unbalanced individual,” “a chemical imbalance,” “a balanced economy.” The unbalanced desire of addiction has spawned every conceivable form, from chocoholic to workaholic or shopaholic. And yet for all the lip service balance receives as the prudent path, we worship excess.

Should we aspire to balanced lives? Certainly not when it comes to love. The very expression “falling in love” speaks to the need for a loss of balance. It is hard to imagine what balanced love looks like, if it looks like love at all. Don’t we want to believe we would die for someone or some thing? Can we say what amount of love or grief or belief is excessive?

The notion of balance implies an awareness of what is too little and what is too much. But one can only identify excess by knowing what is enough, something we struggle with. (“Enough is enough” is as close as we’ve come.) We seem much better at identifying excess in others, and we are mesmerized by it. The righteous indignation and moral superiority that comes with labeling someone else’s excess is made all the more pleasurable for its reassurance. It implicitly suggests that we know our limits, how much is enough and appropriate, that we are in control of our desires.

We all have some form of excess that feeds our favorite rant, drug addicts, alcoholics, suicide bombers, narcissists, fat people, anorexics, CEO salaries, celebrity orgies, serial killers, faith, atheism. But the one we find most outrageous or offensive or unreasonable or fascinating, tells us something important. Show me which excess you can’t abide and I’ll show you who you are.

How can we understand our relationship with excess? How do we continue to believe that more money or cars or shoes or food or sex will make us happy? Why are we the only animal that can be made ill by our appetites?

It is precisely because money or cars or shoes or food or sex is not quite what we want that we find ourselves thinking that perhaps more would be satisfying. When we have too much, it is because we have too little of what we need.

In the comment section below, let me know what form of excess most affects you.

For more by Paul Spector, M.D., click here.

Originally published at on June 25, 2012.

Originally published at