My friends, welcome back. It's been a couple weeks, just finished up at the cabin, ready to get back into teaching mode. This particular post is one I have been thinking about for quite a while, so I am going to try to go as deep as possible. Always trying to maintain brevity as well, so open yourself up to absorbing as many of the intricacies of these ideas as you can.
Let's do this!
What Even is Luxury?
Before getting too far into anything here, let's get super clear about what we're talking about. Here is a list of some basic and not-so-basic luxuries.
- Heated toilet seats
- Servants cooking and cleaning for us (restaurants)
- Getting places without using our feet (cars)
- Customized, on-demand entertainment (internet)
- Massive houses
- Becoming intoxicated on anything (alcohol and drugs)
- Other people hunting food for us
- Expensive clothing
You can see there are many different types of luxuries here, with various degrees of luxuries represented too. It might seem difficult accept being able to buy whatever food we want from a store as a luxury, but it is. Comparably, enjoying jewellery or partying might seem to be a much more obvious luxury.
I always like to think about luxuries as anything additional to my existence naked in a desert. Yes, even clothes are a luxury. If you want to get a real sense for what living without luxury is like, watch this short 45-minute documentary. Spoiler, the first luxury they adopt - their favourite one - is clothes.
Now, I know what you're probably thinking. Cars being a luxury? Really? Fancy watches? I wear one every day! How am I supposed to eat if I don't know how to hunt for myself? I need the supermarket! So, let's get it out of the way that the ideal existence is not necessarily spending all our time naked in a desert. But, awareness of all our luxuries is still the goal.
Do You Ever Count Your Blessings?
Just the existence of society today absolutely amazes me every single day of my life. We don't need to get food, water, or shelter for ourselves. And the list, of course, goes on. What's tons more amazing to me is that we don't even realize this. We're not even aware.
Without realizing the abundance of luxury that surrounds ourselves, we stop being careful and start basing our happiness on our luxuries. Our fancy watch breaks, and we get sad. The store runs out of our favourite food, and we complain. Our car breaks down, and we have to take the bus, which somehow makes us pissed.
Obviously, when we take the time to step back and spend a second to become aware of what's going on here (like we are now with this article), the miracle of being able to travel many kilometres in mere minutes becomes more clear. Being able to spend virtually zero time finding food each day is just crazy to me, when I take a second to think about it. And the fact that we're able to decorate ourselves with anything at all is just magical, since we don't have to spend all our time finding food, building shelter, and travelling around (like we used to).
But in the moment, it's easiest to forget about the fact that we enjoy many luxuries every day. In fact, after enough time being exposed to these luxuries, we develop a sense of entitlement to these magical treasures that surround us.
Entitlement is Death
To share a major pillar of my life philosophy in a couple seconds, I believe our lives are super duper short, and we should spend a much of our (life)time feeling happy and fulfilled. This is pretty much the main focus of my life. At least for now.
And if I am going to help you spend more of your life feeling happy, explaining entitlement to be death is really important. Heck, entitlement is even worse than death. What entitlement does is it teaches us to base our happiness in things that are out of our control. When we start teaching ourselves to become happy because of things that are outside of our control, when these things change or mess up from their perfect states, we get unhappy, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Instead of feeling entitled to luxuries, I think it's much better to limit our exposure to them, and become hyper-aware of when we're enjoying them, in order to prevent our happiness from being compromised.
Oh, and the reason entitlement is worse than death is it causes us to spend some of our precious lives feeling unhappy. Death is an unknown, it could be good or bad, but to make the conscious choice to spend life - something can definitely be totally freaking awesome - being entitled, which could cause us to be unhappy, makes no sense at all! We want to be using as much of our precious life for as much happiness as we can.
Luxury Actually Weakens Us
It's one thing to just be aware of the amazing-ness of luxuries. It's another thing to actually reduce the amount we expose ourselves to.
This part is mostly intuitive. Luxuries are there to make our lives easier. Generally, the easier they make our lives, the more we have to pay for them. But there is an illusion going on when we experience luxuries. We think they're making our lives better, which is why we pay for them, but in reality, they are actually all making our lives much worse.
When we experience luxuries, we are allowing our weaknesses grow, and hiding our strengths. (life)Time spent experiencing luxuries pulls us closer to comfort and security, and away from fear. In the moment of experiencing luxuries, we forget that what we're doing isn't good for us, because the luxury draws us in. This because luxuries are drugs.
Luxuries draw us in to spend more and more time on them, increasing the levels of comfort and security we feel. They convince us that they're much better able to create happiness than our internal selves, which is entirely wrong. Sure, luxuries can help us feel a type of happiness from the comfort and security they provide us, but the quality of this happiness pales in comparison to the fully controllable, internal happiness we can choose independent of our environment.
The Best Kind of Happiness
Fear. Well, fear and strength, and maybe a few other things, but mostly fear. The highest quality happiness we can experience is in instances where we are able to overcome fear. The more fear we work through, the more happiness we'll experience. This is because fear is the best metric to guide us towards our greatest areas of growth.
When we're enjoying luxuries, tons of awful things are happening, contrary to how we're feeling in the moment. First, we're experiencing fake feelings of happiness. Take riding in a nice, fast car for example. It's impossible not to feel awesome when you feel that thing accelerate. The feeling can only be described with a big YES! But, being exposed to environments like these too often cause ourselves to rely on cars to make us happy, causing unhappiness during times we're not able to be in these beautiful machines.
Second, consuming luxuries uses time that we could spend on things that build higher quality happiness. This kind of happiness comes from building strength into our lives. Getting over fear is the best way to build strength, but really getting better at anything increases this magical value-producing, happiness-building skill. Ideally, we're spending as much of our (life)time getting stronger, because this causes us the greatest kind of happiness.
Yes, we can't be working all day long at getting stronger, but who said our "rests" need to be luxurious? Taking a walk in the forest, chatting with a friend on a bench, or reading a book outside gives me just as much rest (maybe even more) than indulging in luxuries.
The third most important awful thing that happens when we consume luxuries is waste. Yes, of course, we are wasting gas and killing the environment when we drive a really nice car. But that's far from the worst of it. From a money perspective, luxuries are obviously stupid and wasteful. Instead of using money for the basics to keep our lives going (health, shelter) and stashing it to retire sooner, wasting it on luxuries leaves less for the important stuff, and makes us have to spend more of our lives working out of necessity, instead of choice.
So I Shouldn't Enjoy Luxuries at All?
No! Luxuries are awesome, and lord knows any of us would be able to not die within weeks if we were forced to look for food for ourselves. But I seriously think luxuries should be limited. In fact, we are best to indulge in as little, and as infrequently as we can, some not at all - Mr. MM and his dessert.
Going a little bit deeper into the philosophy of why it makes sense for us to limit luxury, we can get into some of what our purpose is here on earth. Implicit in living a happy life is helping other people. When we actually have an impact on improving others' happiness, the quality of happiness we experience is extremely high. In terms of how this relates to luxuries, it starts to become more obvious that doing whatever we can to best enable us to help other people is what's going to make us happy.
The stronger and more useful we can make ourselves to the world, the more people we're going to help, and the greater an impact we're going to have their lives, causing massive happiness for ourselves.
What this is leading us to is the awareness that consuming luxuries is, in the long run, much more harmful to our happiness than it is helpful. To optimize for what will give us the greatest happiness, we want to make decisions that will best equip us to help others. Since indulging in luxuries wastes time that could be used for actually helping other people, or getting stronger, limiting their indulgence becomes clear.
How to Enjoy Luxuries
Infrequently and carefully.
Since building strength in our lives to better help other people to become happy is our priority, we are really better off limiting luxuries. The first step is to cut out luxuries as much as we can. We're going to get into details of exactly how to do this later in this article, but the general principle is that we want to replace luxurious activities that weaken us with ones that strengthen us.
Of course, we're going to always have luxuries in our lives. Wearing clean clothes, for example, is a huge luxury most of us take for granted every day. For these luxuries, we are best off practising massive awareness on a daily basis, translating our experiences of these luxuries into gratitude - a powerful, strength-producing emotion. But, we never want to get too comfortable with any of these luxuries, as mentioned before, because we can't go losing control of our happiness. This means that if something comes up and (as an example) we have to miss a meal and go without the luxury of consistently feeling satiated, we don't complain even a second. We take it in stride, realize that our base level of living is actually very luxurious, and focus on moving forward until we get our next meal.
The above is how we will treat some of these basic luxuries that are reasonable for modern life (consistent, quality food, adequate sleep, a dry shelter, enough free time to read books, etc.). On top of these are awesome, completely unnecessary luxuries that are available to those of us lucky enough to live in the first world. These are things like drugs, dessert, travel, partying, nice clothes, more-expensive-than-it-needs-to-be anything, and really any form of consumption that is greater than we need to live a healthy life. Some of these luxuries are worse than others. For example, world travel has a much greater potential to make us a strong people, and have the experience serve as a fun memory, than blowing money on a night full of drinking, drugging, and partying. Here are a few criteria to guide incorporating unnecessary luxuries into our lives.
1. Pick the Right Luxuries
Using our precious money and time to indulge in luxuries like helicopter rides, unnecessarily fancy dinners, and to buy expensive cars is purely wasteful. These types of luxuries are poor choices - if we're going to bother indulging in luxuries at all - because they cost far more money for not that much more fun compared to some options. Using money to buy food for a big party you throw at your place, or to go on a camping trip near where you live, or to buy tickets to a concert or festival you want to go to are just much better investments. These things are far more likely to be fun for you (and your friends) both at the time, and as memories.
When we spell out the comparison like these, the latter options of luxury do seem like much more fun, right! The reason we forget about this so often is because of advertising. Because big corporations send strong messages to us that we will find happiness in the surface level, extremely low bang-for-your-buck luxuries, we find our tired selves sometimes being controlled by these messages. The best way to combat this? An adblocker and meditation for constant awareness of when we're being exposed to ads that shape how we think.
2. Enjoy Luxuries Infrequently
The easiest way to not get caught becoming entitled to luxuries is to not have to resist them. The fewer we indulge in the better. Tons of awesome things happen when we enjoy luxuries infrequently. We have more time to look forward to our luxurious experiences, we cherish them more, since there are fewer of them, and we tend to actually have more fun during the experience if it's less frequent. Going to a concert every month makes them much less fun and exciting than just a couple per year.
Another point on timing luxuries is matching them with celebrations. For example, instead of throwing a random party, just for fun, you could time it with a birthday, anniversary, or some sort of accomplishment. This increases the value you'll get out of the luxurious experience.
Also related to timing is never using luxuries as rest, that is in any sort of consistent consumption pattern. Instead of taking a break from work by treating ourselves to an overpriced Starbucks drink, maybe we treat ourselves to some warm, nutritious rays of sunlight and go for a walk instead. On a daily basis, we want to get into the habit of using our time for things that will make us stronger, not luxuries that weaken us.
3. Pay with Time not Money
Some of the best luxuries in life don't require money at all - they require time. These are things like going for a hike out in nature, leisurely reading books outside, or indulging in some of the world's greatest art through YouTube or Netflix. If we can indulge in luxurious that don't use money more often, we can save our precious dollars for even bigger celebrations when the time comes.
One awesome way to spend time that I found recently is Quora. It's basically a forum for people to ask questions and provide answers. We talked about helping others as a huge way to generate happiness for ourselves. Being able to directly respond to others' questions using the internet, providing 1-to-1 help makes me feel very fulfilled. Of course, we can do this in real life for our friends, but Quora seems like a cool thing to mix into life, at least for the moment.
Let's See Some Specifics (Case-Studies)
Before we actually start applying the principle of luxury is weakness to our daily lives, we want to be extremely certain we understand the core concepts behind the idea. Hopefully, the examples I've weaved in thus far have given you a little taste of what applying the theory might look like, but this section is going to go much deeper. Let's do it.
Let's look at a basic daily habit like breakfast. What we eat for breakfast is not a decision we make everyday. It shouldn't be, at least. Most of us have the same entire morning routine every single day. So the idea here is to not look at this block of time as what I want to do for my morning today, or tomorrow for that matter. Instead, it's approaching this period of time for the next month, or couple of months.
When we start to recognize that picking our habits has a huge impact on our lives - since these decisions affect small parts of our days, every day, for long periods of time, the importance of picking good habits becomes really clear. When we're learning how to incorporate luxury into our day-to-day lives, we want to be sure to limit the amount of luxury we have built-into our systems. Since we usually decide on our habits once, and then just stick to them, it's worth it to make sure we invest the time and energy to set up good, strength-building habits - not luxurious, weakness-attracting habits.
So this is where we will begin, by automating the basics for strength, giving us a solid base to our lives.
1. The Basics (Sleep, Eat, Exercise)
Properly maintaining this beautiful vessel of life that we've all been blessed with is a universal obligation. For me, this continues to be a daily challenge, and beating the challenge is extremely important, because too little sleep turns me into a very tall six-year-old. The best strength-building thing we can do is automate body-maintenance. If we can work up front to design awesome health habits, the payoff in mood and energy we feel later is really worth it. I wrote an entire article diving into these three things further, which you can find right here, but I'll include my top tip for each below.
- Sleeping - The hours before midnight are most valuable.
- Eating - Eat the same high protein breakfast every day.
- Exercising - Set a weekly schedule, and stick to it. Consistency is paramount.
2. Rest and energize yourself for free
When we're feeling tired, it's easiest to go to our phones to occupy our time, or open up YouTube or Netflix. Since these are such easy, default options, and they cause us incredible weakness, it's important to build in different responses for tiredness that don't cause us such weakness ahead of time. Simply understanding some options might help you.
Instead of going for the phone when you need a break from work, try taking a walk, or even lying down, maybe meditating a little bit. Instead of indulging in expensive food with a friend, try going for a walk, or playing a game of catch outside. Be in nature whenever you can. Go for walks when you take calls.
There is two levels for this. First, we want to be building the reflex so that when we go for normal rests, we're indulging in things that actually make us stronger - like exercise, socializing, touching nature, and just doing nothing - instead of weaker - like consuming entertainment through our phones/computers, socially isolating ourselves, and not moving.
Second, we want to incorporate things that give us strength as regular parts of our lives, and weakness as non-habits: things we enjoy occasionally, but not consistently. This could look like reading a book each week, seeing a friend for dinner now and again, and going to the park with friends/family on Sundays.
3. Keep the luxuries out of daily life
It's easiest to find luxuries creeping into our lives without us realizing it. Our standard of living slowly creeps up, and before we know it, we start suffering from major entitlement. This could look like an episode of TV a night eventually turning into a whole season. It could look like a chocolate bar after dinner turning into everyday expectation. Or even driving to work when you've bused for months.
In essence, we want to train ourselves to become hyper-sensitive and aware of luxurious experiences where other things do work for us, so that we can be spending most of our time improving ourselves (to become more useful to others - and happier).
Before we even get to enjoying some of life's beautiful luxuries, let's not forget that even on a base level, we enjoy tons of these every single day. Access to resources to maintain good health on a day-to-day basis is a massive luxury that large parts of the world are not blessed with something as simple as access to enough food. We needn't forget this.
When indulging in life's luxuries, there are a few things we have to keep in mind.
1. Be aware of recommendation machines.
Here are three places you probably didn't realize technology was influencing how you think. When you go on YouTube, in the "recommended for you" section and in the "related videos" section, YouTube has videos that they've picked especially to make you watch more videos. If we're not careful and aware of these recommendation machines, we'll be trapped by luxury, having it pull us towards spending time on something we don't necessarily want. The exact same system works on Amazon for recommended products, and all social media. What we see is designed to make us want to see more, sort of making these things like drugs as I mentioned earlier.
Our best combat is to limit our exposure to these recommendation machines by reducing the time we spend on luxuries. Beyond this, whenever we do expose ourselves to technology related luxuries that have the potential to control how we think, we combat them by not using them. If we're going to watch something, we think of what we want to watch before we go on YouTube and let it decide for us.
This principle can be generalized even further to how we spend any of our time, energy or money. Instead of going to the store to 'shop', we only go when we know exactly what we want. Instead of allowing ourselves to be the product of other's wants, we control the outcome of our lives by thinking about what we want to spend our precious resources on before we actually spend them.
So when enjoying luxuries, we be sure to avoid enjoying recommendation machines to avoid losing control of our thinking.
2. Plan, in order to control.
For example, when following a diet, when we are to engage in the luxurious experience of a cheat day, we plan this event as opposed to deciding on having one when we have cravings. The diet that I have generally followed for the past five years is the Slow Carb Diet by Tim Ferriss. You can learn all about it and how to have a successful cheat day here in this video, or by doing some Googling.
The diet is a great tool to illustrate this concept, because on Saturdays, you're allowed to eat whatever you want. For the latter half of the day, consuming the luxury of whatever food you want can be enjoyed to the maximum. But beyond this, during the week, you've got to eat meat, beans and veggies. This is an awesome indulgence because even though it's sort of unlimited, you're still only consuming luxurious food for a small part of the weak.
The danger we have to be careful of when consuming luxuries is their addictive drug-like effects. Whenever we consume luxuries, they are designed to make us consume more. Smoking marijuana is a great example of this. Smoking too often isn't the best for our health, but occasional enjoying the experience can be positive. The best way to ensure we don't fall into the trap of consuming too much of any drug is to plan our consumption before we actually enjoy the drug, and include an end point. This prevents us from falling victim to actually listening to the drug wanting us to do more when we feel it in the moment.
3. Keep it infrequent.
I can't stress this enough, because in today's world, it's so easy to get convinced by all the addictive advertising and consumable products out there to continually bathe ourselves in luxury, which makes ourselves weaker, which makes us less able to resist them, and ultimately increase our frequency of use.
There is no exactly measure of when to enjoy luxuries, but schedules definitely work well. If you have a weekly nice dinner at friend's house, or an adventure planned with a friend on the first of every month, the consistency will create value for you. The anticipation is a valuable experience in and of itself.
For me, it's been working well to spend as much of my time getting strong. Resisting the urge to consume luxuries is extremely valuable to me. I love the feeling it gives me. Of course, I indulge in them now and again for fun, and to remind myself of what they feel like. But as I'm getting older, more and more, I'm finding the reminders less valuable. The real value in life lies in the strength building experiences we have talked about already. That's where I like to focus most of my energy.
Since luxury is weakness, let's focus on strength building activities. Generally, we can break these activities up into these categories:
- Basics - our enjoyment of everything is limited by how good our bodies feel.
- Socializing - our best energy comes from connecting with and helping others.
- Nature - nothing beats feeling forest air, looking at big open spaces (fields, oceans, etc.), and moving our bodies to soothe our minds.
- Learning (reading) - build strength by improving our thinking machine
Well ahead of us enjoying luxuries is us resting and refuelling ourselves with these strength-oriented activities. Luxuries are the afterthought.
When we do indulge in luxuries, let's also remember the below:
- Rare - luxuries are consumed infrequently
- Aware - when we do indulge, we do so with maximum awareness
- Care - enjoy the heck out of them, because luxuries don't come often.
If you're looking for a list of fun things to do (some more luxurious than others), check out this one I prepared for you at the link below (short so you can remember it).
As an important final note for building awareness to maximize the gratitude we can feel on a daily basis from all the luxuries we're blessed with, meditation is an awesome tool. It will help you get more out of luxuries when you experience them, and make you more aware of when you're getting pulled down their addictive rabbit hole.
Remember, fear is the only honest guide for growth. If you're scared of reducing the number of luxuries in your life, chances are you're going to grow a lot from it. The process is slow, but like everything, it starts with a step.
Grow stronger, my beautiful friends.