Luxury has sometimes been described as having been democratized: No longer does an average person have no way of participating in status consumption, no chance to fill up a home with all the stuff that shows a middle-class (or better) existence, no opportunity to regularly go on holiday, let alone eat out or let others (or industry) cook for him-/herself.
All these former luxuries have become much more normal for many more people, and as long as one can just manage to come by the money necessary, they are readily available to everyone.
In the process, every decline in the price of foods and goods has been celebrated as a victory for the consumer. Your real wage may not have been rising for decades, your job is getting replaced by workers in cheaper countries or various machines and algorithms – but hey, your standard of living is still high. Can’t you eat enough to get fat, max out your credit card to get most anything you want?
High-tech products, convenience foods, world travel, conspicuous consumption of things increasingly deemed essential – these are things and elements of lifestyles which used to be difficult to get and which are still considered good. And they are nice to have, indeed. So, they were luxuries but increasingly became normal. For those who still don’t have that all, it is still the lifestyle to aspire to; for those threatened with the loss of these things, they are the symbols of the status desperately clung to.
“Eco”-living tends to be talked about as either just another luxury lifestyle, just for those rich enough to be able to afford the luxury of caring about the environment and the products and practices by which this care is supposedly shown, or as near-abject poverty, sacrificing constantly and radically until one has so little and does so little that the impacts of one’s lifestyle are negligible.
Of course, there’s some awareness of such luxury still implying lots and lots of consumption and therefore impact, and of true poverty often implying the least concern for conservation and protection of the surrounding environment as immediate survival matters more…
There is a radical middle ground, having enough of good things and doing enough of a good fit with what makes happy and isn’t unduly impacting negatively, if not contributing positively, to environmental functioning.
It has to focus on fine things that last and cultivated living that carefully creates what is needed, appreciating the small and good things in life, however – and once one suggests such a position where having enough and living the good life ought to reside, it is decried as patrician and elitist.
It is, after all, only too easy to glorify “simpler” lives from a position of middle class or above sensibilities and status, the way calls for sustainability and environmental protection all too often come from “rich” developed countries and seem to ask the poor to do their part – and remain mired in poverty while the rich won’t (or even worse, so the rich don’t have to) “give up” anything.
These very ways of talking about things show the poverty of thought we are suffering, though.
We talk of giving up things, losing a standard of living, having a country be rich or poor, but overlook the possibilities for lives that fit better (with ecosystems and with the things that make happy) and are thus richer.
Enamored of stuff and enthralled by its advertising, we chase standards of living and all the products that are supposed to show our status and give us happiness – inclusive even of the meaning and concerns we want to express in our lives and living – and forget that life does not get rich and happy by money and things, but by its living.
Sure, it’s still easier to enjoy the little things – and the fine things and the important realities – when you have money in the bank and certainly when you don’t have to worry how you’ll put food on the table the next day and keep the roof over your head. Such poverty needs remedy.
Even at that level, though, things such as relationships and self-efficacy matter.
In more secure situations, they continue to matter, there should be more chances for them – and that’s just where the luxury of the ecohappy life matters and where we could do better, realizing that richer lives await us in their living, in the learning and doing that makes better in the performance of good living.
These are riches we can bring into our lives, ourselves, in communities, and with the environments we inhabit; and these are the riches that money cannot buy:
To shape a life so that there is less hollow busyness and more time to stop and smell the roses, be with friends, enjoy good food.
To make a living in ways that fit with environments and identity, giving enough to live well-enough and needing just what is needed so that it doesn’t have to give much – and always more.
To live creatively and exploratory so as to actually come to life, where one lives, getting to know a place (and one’s place in it) intimately and making the grass greener there.
Yes, it’s hard to want less in a world of such super-abundance, but it’s a whole new level of democratized luxury to live more and become more, actively and creatively. Looking at the things the materially rich start to be after and the things that have always made for a good life, it’s time we learned to leapfrog that development from poverty by way of affluence to a desire for more meaning and sense in life and get straight to ways of living that combine sensibility and sensuousness in better ways.
Next up, a look at ecosystems, eating, and joy that illustrates this theme very nicely.