Saturday, March 27, 2010

Luxury

Every so often, usually while taking a shower, I'll be struck by the thought of just how luxurious my lifestyle is. That may sound odd coming from someone who lives without so many of the amenities that lots of her peers think of as necessities of life (air conditioning, cable TV, convenience foods, and so on). And indeed, I'm well aware that I'm not nearly so extravagant in my habits as most Americans of my age and income level. Yet compared with most of the people who have ever lived, I live in positive luxury. Consider, for example: I take a hot shower almost every morning. Now, cast your mind back to the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, if you've ever read it. That family had to haul every bit of its water from a stream or a well, and to heat it one kettleful at a time on the stove before pouring it into the bathtub. Considering what an undertaking that was, they naturally couldn't think of doing it every day. The whole family bathed once a week, on Saturday night (so they'd be clean for Sunday), and they all took turns in a single tub of water. Now granted, the Ingalls family wasn't rich, even for their own time, but 150 years ago, even those who were rich enough to have servants draw a bath for them couldn't expect them to stand there pouring hot water over their bodies continually. Yet I not only spend five minutes each day under a stream of hot water but take this blessing almost entirely for granted and get grumpy if the water supply fails for any reason.

Perhaps this kind of thing is the reason for the saying, "A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity" (which I've seen attributed variously to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Alex Berenson, and "the Greeks"). I first encountered this line in Andrew Tobias's modestly titled The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need (an excellent volume that I may get around to reviewing in a future post), and at the time, I didn't quite see the point of it. I've certainly sampled luxuries in my life—from champagne to silk underwear—that I felt I could go on living quite happily without. Yet I often forget how many of my own personal "necessities," like hot showers and electric lights and high-speed Internet, are really luxuries. I don't always appreciate what a treat it is to be able to sit up reading long after the sun has gone down, or to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa every morning even though the nearest cacao plantations are over a thousand miles away, or to type in a phrase like "when was the shower invented" or "where is cacao grown" into Google and find an answer in seconds.

Maybe the saying really ought to be, "A luxury once accustomed becomes a necessity." I can easily live without luxuries I've tried once and been indifferent to; I can even live easily without luxuries I've tried once and enjoyed purely as a change of pace. But a luxury that's become part of my daily life is truly hard to give up.

So while I have no intention of foregoing my daily shower, I guess I should at least try to make a point of appreciating it.
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