Mike Kueber's Blog

May 9, 2014

The moral high ground – vanity vs. materialism

Filed under: Fitness,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 1:47 am
Tags: ,

Following yoga today, a friend asked my age and then commented that I was in good shape for a 60-year-old guy.  I thanked him and said I was lucky that I enjoyed spending time in the gym with weights and yoga and on the road biking.

Later in the day while on the road biking, I reflected further on my friend’s comment.  Ever since college, I have worked out regularly and kept my weight in the 170s.  But every decade or so, my weight would inch into the 180s, and I would react by redoubling my efforts to return to the 170s.  In fact, that happened again just two months ago, and since then I’ve returned to my daily 20-mile bike ride, and things are once again under control.

But the point is that my passion for working out is not enough to keep me in the 170s.  Even with regular workouts, I tend to slide into the 180s, and only my unwillingness to live as a 180-pounder cause me to get out of my comfort zone.  So, as I was riding today, I pondered how important it was to me to stay in the 170s.  Hypothetically, would I rather (a) stay in the 170s or (b) live with an additional 20 pounds in return for receiving $1 million?  To make the question more difficult, I stipulated that the money had to be spent on me instead of the morally high ground of sharing it with family and friends.

My initial reaction was that I didn’t have much use for the $1 million, but I would hate to carry the extra pounds.  That initial reaction became less firm when I realized that $1 million would convert into about $50,000 a year for the rest of my life, which meant I could buy an expensive new car as soon as the old one went off warranty, plus a few weeks in Manhattan every year.  Hmmm.

But what about the moral satisfaction that comes with working hard to maintain 175 pounds.  Then I tweaked the hypothetical question so that I would still have to work hard to maintain 195 pounds.  Thus, the moral satisfaction would remain the same.  The only thing that would change is that I would be carrying around 20 pounds of additional fat.  This is mostly aesthetics, with some health component.

In essence, this seems to be a contest between vanity and materialism, both of which are prominent components of the seven deadly sins.  According to Wikipedia:

  • In almost every list, pride or hubris, is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).


  • Greed, also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions.

I suspect that there is no moral high ground, just different values and priorities.  Personally, I would rather spend my remaining years as someone in his 170s instead of a millionaire in his 190s.