The fact that we buy into a lifestyle has always fascinated me. A global fashion or design brand creates a special way of living, and millions upon millions want to lead that life. It doesn’t matter if it’s the wealthy New York City Banker lifestyle with a huge loft-flat, bare brick walls, brushed steal and glass or the more leisurely East Coast Intellectual with preppy university clothes, first edition hardbacks displayed in the living room and dark wood furniture in the dining area. I could go on forever with examples, but you get the picture I’m sure. If that is the life you live because you happen to be living that life anyway, fine. But if not, why do so many people aspire to it? Not necessarily the professions, but why do they crave the lifestyle of a City Banker, a Lecturer at Yale, a Politician in his Hamptons summer residence or a Duke at his Country Estate?
Because the PR bureaus and the advertisement industry have created the need and urge to live a better life than what we have. And we didn’t get a vote on what that better life contains.
A good example is when the American style coffee companies started to branch out in Europe a decade or so ago. They had been found in the UK and some bigger European cities for some time, but all of a sudden they appeared in Sweden, Norway, Austria, the Netherlands etc. This created an almost overnight need for people to start having take-away coffee. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a big fan of the take-away coffee industry myself, but it does become a bit silly to pay around €3.50 for a coffee from the coffee place around the corner from where you live to drink on the way to work which is no more than 20 minutes on the metro. If you live in London or New York, where a lot of people commute for up to two hours on a bad day, and start work at 7.30am I fully understand the need to have breakfast “on the go” on public transport. That’s why the concept of take-away coffee was invented in the first place. But please, don’t try to have a busier lifestyle than you already do.
This is what fascinates me with us humans today. Why do we so desperately want to be a wealthy city banker or top lawyer in a big city, when the life we have chosen is as an office rat in a smallish town? Are we too afraid of the consequences on our health and general wellbeing so we don’t dare to take the big leap out in the unknown and don’t dare trying the high-flying lifestyle and the cost and trial it might bring? But still, we go to Laura Ashley, Lexington or Ralph Lauren Home to get the best of a lifestyle we admire and want to be part of? If so: why can’t we just be happy and content with what we’ve chosen and stick to our IKEA furniture and get on with our lives?
Because we’re not allowed to be satisfied and happy. If we were, the big companies would not make the large sums of money they want and the wheel of fortune would stop. And who would want that…
Still, aspiration is a good thing and I think we need the big companies to push us to see where the limit is for ourselves and for our capacities. Having said that, I also believe we need to be aware of how it all works so that we don’t fool ourselves into fake happiness. Consumerism is fun, I am the first to admit that. But consumption also needs to be taken seriously, and seen for what it is and what power it has. Without the greed and the consuming market we would not be where we are today as a society. With that I mean the wealthy, prosperous West with all its positive connotations. Though, that also includes the credit crunch we currently experience. It also means that the banks are scared out of their wit to loan money, that the housing market is more volatile than ever and that the pension systems are being revised all over Europe. And not for the better. I won’t even touch the subject of the cuts in the Arts funding. That’s for another blog post.
Looking at it like that, isn’t it funny that we still think “Nah, well, I still really like that lamp from RLH I bought last year. It sits so very nicely on the faux Victorian side table in the library. I don’t regret buying it for a second”. But maybe we need to think twice next time. Maybe we should look at the lifestyle we’ve chosen and question if that really is what we wanted in life. If it is and you have it all: congratulations. If it isn’t: welcome to the club…