We’ve all tried drugs at some point in our life. It may be tylenol. It may be caffeine. It may be alcohol, tobacco, or even something a little bit more experimental. But we’ve all had drugs. And drugs are pretty amazing objects. They have the ability to completely change the way our body operates, heal us when we are sick, and even feel no pain under extreme distress. They can make us grow, make us lose weight, keep us from having babies, or even see things that do not even exist. Drugs are pretty amazing.
Drugs are pretty powerful. They can be good, bad, or indifferent. But we all know they contain power. Drugs can often be both mentally or physically addictive. They can be entertaining or depressing. They can make us feel great. And they can make us feel awful. The consistent thing we notice across almost all different types of drug classes is the amazing ability of our body to adapt to the drug. We have the ability to become tolerant of even the most powerful substances. At the first dose, just a small amount of a drug affected our body. But after repeated doses, we began to adapt. In fact, there are plenty of times when we can take a small amount of a drug, even one that originally had a great effect, and not even notice. It takes incrementally more drug to produce the same level of satisfaction. It is easy to see with alcohol, pain medicine or caffeine; but luxury is a new class of drug whose addictive properties are much subtler but impressively powerful.
The Appeal of Luxury
Face it. We all enjoy some level of luxury. What I consider luxury, you consider luxury, Trump considers luxury, or a villager in rural India considers luxury, would all be substantially different. But we are attracted to it. We are attracted to shiny. We are attracted to convenience. We like to talk about it. We like to wish upon it. We like to indulge. It feels good.
What is luxury? Is it an incredible food? $3 coffee? Is it indoor plumbing? Is it a car? A 10k car? A 100k car? Is it air condition, heat or a maid service? Luxury is a moving target and developed in the eye of the beholder. Often, luxury is defined by what is just beyond our reach. We may indulge in minor luxuries but the others indulge in more. We often have enough but want just a little more. Contentment doesn’t have a good marketing budget. It is much more profitable to sell luxury, convenience and more. Have you tried watching the evening news? Or a sporting event on TV? We are the most marketed to culture on the planet. Is luxury part of that? Has luxury moved to an expectation. Have we adapted?
Luxury As a Drug
Luxury exhibits all of the same qualities of any other addictive drugs. It provides a rush. It provides temporary comfort and excitement. It can be addictive. It can provide joy and disappointment. But one thing that may not be immediately recognizable is that it is fleeting. The thrill of luxury doesn’t last. A Starbucks coffee is awesome the first time but moves from luxury to normal if you have it every day. Air condition is expected. A soft mattress, two pillows- we don’t even think about luxury any more. We just have it. If you take eight pain pills a day you will feel pretty pain free the first few days. But over time, it may take twice that much to feel the impact. Luxury is the same. It takes more luxury to produce the same level of high. The first time you have an amazing filet mignon it is incredible. If you eat it enough, that tough cut of sirloin just doesn’t satisfy.
Once you start, it is hard to go back. A single beer or coffee doesn’t give you the buzz it did the first time. In addition to feeling, money is often part of the equation. To get the same high requires a lot more money or uniqueness over time. We become numb to our 1,000+ sf houses. We adapt so quickly to luxury we must be careful not to invest too much of our money into it. If we do, the inflated expectations will simply drive us to spend more trying to keep up with excitement. It is tough to see addiction in the mirror. It is easy to see others’ addiction to luxury. Even comical at times. You see people who have to spend so much money to feel normal. Once you unplug a little, you may even feel sorry for them. You may even feel sorry for people you know (or their kids) who make lots of money but are so addicted to luxury they don’t even appreciate it. Are you addicted to luxury? Luxury is a drug.
Luxury is an expensive illusion. It is fleeting. As soon as you reach it you develop a tolerance to it. Luxury often brings its best friend – high expectations. So, how do you outsmart luxury. Our dear friend Seneca talked at length about this topic 2000+ years ago in his epic book: Letters of a Stoic. How do you develop contentment? You don’t do it by buying more things. You don’t do it by impressing the neighbor a little more. Moving past luxury means you learn what things make you happy. What things bring you joy. And you actively pursue those. You work on building quality relationships and spending time with people you care about. You step back and look at your life and realize you have more than you need. You are probably living the life that millions of others only dream about. You and I live incredibly luxurious lives.
One of my, ultimately ironic, ways to gain new perspective on luxury is to travel the world. Since we are all beginning to live an efficient life, we will naturally find ourselves with more than enough money to live, save, and buy almost anything we desire. And I advocate spending some of our luxurious incomes on seeing new things. Travel to somewhere you can be rich. Travel to somewhere you can be poor. Travel to somewhere where everyone is poor. Don’t just take a picture- experience it. Get out in it. Do work. Volunteer. Work with missions. Meet people. This is truly paradigm changing. Take a kid to the third world. Take them to Monaco or Macau. Get out of your comfort zone and see what luxury means to other people. It will change you.
Luxury is an incredible thing. Like all drugs, it is powerful, addictive, and tolerance inducing. We are easily addicted. And it is hard to see our addictions in the mirror. But they surely exist and at different levels for almost anyone. Remember that if you are trying to buy happiness you can’t afford it. Take some time to examine your life. Are you addicted to luxury? Which ones? What do they look like for you or the people you surround yourself with? Work toward spending your time, energy, and money on things that provide you with true satisfaction. Luxury is a drug.