In the Orthodox Church, Easter and Christmas are preceded by 40-day seasons in which adherents forgo certain meals and abstain from particular foods. These fasts not only serve as a means of spiritual preparation; they also add poignancy to the feasts that follow.
Our culture’s secular feasts, like Thanksgiving, are not preceded by fasts. Instead, we go from a perpetual state of moderate overeating to a special day of heavy overeating. Rather than moving through a cycle of abstinence and indulgence, we oscillate between being a little overstuffed and extremely so.
As a consequence, we enjoy these celebrations less.
If you’ve ever gone without food for an extended stretch, you know that the first meal you eat to break your fast tastes especially good — even if it’s pretty ordinary fare. Hunger, as it’s been said, is the best spice.
This dynamic doesn’t only hold true for food. All pleasures are more delicious when they’re preceded or punctuated by periods of intentional abstinence. Delay consummating a relationship, save TV-watching for the weekend, and only listen to specific albums at certain times of year (it’s not only Christmas music that can be made seasonal), and your satisfaction in initiating/resuming these acts will multiply.
If you’re always glutted on pleasure, you become numb to its tang. It’s only through contrast — a cycle of absence and presence, emptiness and fullness — that the height of its flavor can be experienced.
If you want to savor the best life has to offer, you’ve got to work up an appetite for it.