06/06/2013 07:08 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

Everything In Moderation

What makes for a happy, healthy life? I sought pearls of wisdom from my 99-year-old Bubbe. She is healthy by most standards, though I wouldn't go so far as to say she is "happy" -- that is a tough word when you are 99. My Bubbe is best characterized as "satisfied."

"Give me something for my readers, Bubbe" I implored her, "tell me -- what makes for a happy, healthy life?"

I knew what she was going to say before she even uttered a sound, but she took a minute and thought before she answered. "Everything in Moderation," she said. It is her mantra. I've been hearing "everything in moderation" from her since I was a little girl.

"Even moderation in moderation?" I wondered out loud, being a smart alec only because I knew she wouldn't get it and would ignore me. "Isn't it ok to forget moderation every once and a while and go absolutely crazy?" My mother believes that everything in moderation may lead to a long life, but not necessarily a very exciting one.

She didn't answer my question; Bubbe never sought excitement; she never had need for it. "Never overeat; when you feel tired, stop what you are doing and rest; go out in all kinds of weather and breathe in the fresh air; always keep your feet warm; indulge just a little in the wrong kinds of food. Her example of the wrong kind of food? Gribines -- chicken skin and onion fried in Schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Just watch -- one of those words just might be the next winner at the next national spelling bee.

"What about sex?" I asked. "Good." She answered, "in moderation." I didn't ask her if "moderation" in sex meant in quality or in quantity, but I assume she meant both. I was not going there. A few months ago we got into a discussion about the mechanics of gay sex (her take: "I just don't believe it") -- a discussion from which neither of us have recovered.

"What about drugs and alcohol?" I asked. "Never," She answered. I have been known to have martinis and ice cream for dinner, so that bummed me out a little.

"What about money?" I asked. "Can money make you happy?"

"Well, you certainly can't be happy without any money," my Bubbe advised, "but eveything in moderation. Too much money is no good either."

I used to agree with that one, but recently I heard Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, the authors of Happy Money, the Science of Smarter Spending being interviewed on NPR. They say that if money is not buying you happiness, you are simply not spending it the right way. According to Dunn and Norton, you can spend your money to make you happy (no matter how much money you have) if you: 1. buy experiences instead of stuff; 2. buy time (the commodity we really all crave)  3. Make spending money a treat by spreading it out; 4. adopt a "pay now, consume later" attitude toward your spending- giving you the anticipation of looking forward to the experience and making it seem like it is "free" by the time you use it, and 5. spend your money on making other people happy (the giving feels good component.)

Everything in Moderation may have worked for my bubbe, but I don't think it's a workable model these days. Most people probably believe they are living their life moderately. I could certainly convince myself that eating just one sleeve of Girl Scout cookies is moderate. My husband would say he rides his motorcycle moderately. And I keep going back to that split scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are each talking to their shrinks about the frequency of their 3-day-a-week love-making, where he describes it as "hardly ever" and she describes it as "constantly."

I prefer a little more excitement in my life than "everything in moderation." I am more of the "I'm up for trying just about anything once" kind of gal. Moderation as a catch all leaves me with too many questions. What about meaningful work? What about taking risks? What about belief in something bigger than yourself? What about sleep? What about Vitamin D? What about steering clear of people that make you sick -- I, for one, do not want to spend even one second with people who hire guides with "disabilities" to cut the lines at Disney.

And what about laughter? Certainly laughter should never be moderated (note the picture for this post -- it has nothing to do with anything -- I only put it in because it made me laugh.)

I have no doubt that when my grandmother learned that "Knaidel" was the winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee Contest it made her a smile.   In her time, my Bubbe made some pretty awesome Kneidels (spelled with an "e" when pluralized.) But if I remember correctly, I am pretty sure she only served up one knaidel in each bowl of chicken soup.  


Read more from Better After 50:
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The I Feel Great Diet
Family Relations When There Are Mental Health Issues
Desperately Seeking Menopause

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Secrets To Living A Long Life From Centenarians