I’ll be the first to admit it: I usually enjoy some luxuries. Incidentally, I’m doing this right now, with my fingers playing comfortably on a brushed aluminum keyboard, while the letters appear on the magnified display of my 27-inch iMac. I am sitting in the office of my apartment, located in one of the most appreciated areas of the city; my belly is satiated by the breakfast I just took, accompanied by eggs and avocado.
There is nothing to brag about. Although I am enjoying this moment, in fact, I am only acknowledging that I am living a further indulgence, and I better watch myself, so I don’t fall to depend on this kind of pampering all the time.
When you really look at this picture: I sitting on my butt, consuming things, this position itself is already maleficent to my bones and organs. My muscles are atrophying because my body understands that they are no longer needed.
The act of writing itself is stretching my wrists and nibbling at my joints, trying to lay the foundations of the repetitive strain injury syndrome. My iMac is depreciating and my home in this prized area is committing a quarter of a million dollars worth of capital.
In fact, the most rewarding part of this exercise is the fact that I’m working to create something — this article for you — for which all this luxury would not be necessary.
If I had to get used to it all, to feel that it was my inalienable right to have it, and to become unhappy if I could not have it, I would be practically screwed. Because at this point, I would have designed a lifestyle so narrow and delicate that it could be easily overturned by something as trivial as the fall of the internet.
However, people do this all the time. Most of the people, I should say.
When you lend money to buy a consumer object, whether it’s a computer, a car, or even the house you’re going to live in, you’re getting used to the luxury of your new “toy.” Even if you accelerate the treadmill, you have to rush more to enjoy it enough.
That’s why I laugh and cry for the insanity of borrowing money to buy a car, and for the fact that most people in the world do it.
But it’s not just the borrowers who are the fools here. Even those of us who can spend thousands for any luxurious gift here and there would be wise in observing their own behavior.
In fact, the relatively rich lifestyle I lead is one of the main reasons why what I write sporadically about a frugal life does not scare everyone. People say, “Oh, yes, she has a daughter, a beautiful house — it seems like a reasonable lifestyle, I think I can consider what she’s saying”.
However great the contradictions between what I say and what I do, fortunately there is a way to reconcile the ideal and the reality. You can savor luxury without becoming a flattering slave, just by understanding that luxury is a sort of a drug.
Most of us have tried drugs in one way or another, right? Coffee is a popular example. Alcohol makes you a bit more friendly. Ibuprofen reduces your swelling and fever and can reduce the misery of a cold or the flu. Marijuana is amazing for bringing creative ideas and highlighting the texture and humor in life, and the list goes on.
But the key to all drugs is that they come with a balance of positive and negative effects. So, only an idiot would overdose using any of them in a quest for its positive effects, ignoring the negative effects already documented.
Luxury behaves in exactly the same way.
I remember a work trip that took me to a new destination (Houston), where I was greeted by a chauffeur who drove me to an extremely comfortable hotel, left my bags ready to be delivered to my room, where a cup of hot coffee would be waiting for me.
“I’m entitled to all this”, I thought to myself. “I worked hard to reach this level of comfort”; “There’s nothing wrong with asking for help from workers who are probably getting less than I am”; “Soon, I’m going to get out of my room to taste an international dish, prepared by a chef, while reading on my smartphone the messages of friends and family waiting for news”.
A scientist could probably measure the levels of hormones I got from that dose of luxury. All chemicals that come from the feeling of being powerful, pampered and getting used to it are included in this same experience.
It was fun, like I was drunk in the company of friends or any other substance. One moment was enough to make me think idly about that luxurious transportation alternative from the airport on my future trips. I got to order in my mind a list of hotels from high to low reputation, rather than “low to high”. Finally, I laughed at the fabulous furniture and enjoyed the good weather of a day in Houston.
While pampering at this level would make me dependent, there are examples of people even more spoiled on a large scale.
Some kings and queens of the past grew so dependent and accustomed to their ingrained luxuries that they would arrest or execute any servant who could not deliver exactly what they ordered.
Some movie stars today add special clauses to their contracts, specifying that they should only be taken in the first-degree limousine and hotel, and the demand is backed by threats and legal action.
My experience during the trip to Houston would be considered misleading. Anyone who has ever tasted more luxury would say, “Thaís, how do you consider luxury spending a few nights in a three-star hotel, serving up a local dinner?”
When you cower in the narrow nook of luxury, your perspective on the world and your ability to survive and thrive on it are also dramatically affected.
Like any drug, it can be fun to devote yourself from time to time to luxury, but seek to constantly maximize luxury in all areas of your life to the limits of what you can afford? To me, this is pure insanity.
It would be insane to say, “If I can afford it, I have to take drugs for as long as possible”. Likewise, taking another shot of express coffee or a fine scotch throughout the day, or visiting only Michelin-starred restaurants, would demonstrate the same imbalance.
Even more insane is for people facing financial troubles to seek luxury and even buy it on credit — that is just as a man with damaged liver trying to reach for a bottle of vodka while surgeons try to make him a transplant.
If you are not tough enough to abstain, go ahead and enjoy the luxury. Think of it as part of a full human experience: many luxury products are, after all, the culmination of art and science and the endeavor of other humans. But, avoid creating the same dependency that so many people develop.
Because, at the end of the day, luxury is best appreciated as a contrast, rather than being part of your daily life.