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What is luxury to you? (And what could it be?)
From Joia’s daily walk
My major goal in our Deep Dive into Kapferer and Bastien’s 24 Anti-Laws of Luxury Marketing is to ‘mine for the gold’ and extract the valuable insights for high-end and luxury entrepreneurs.
Ultimately, however, we also need to go beyond.
While the 24 Anti-Laws are the core of the book, K & B provide multiple additional ideas - for example, their identification that luxury, in essence, is both social and personal.
In this respect, philosophically, luxury corresponds to our nature as human beings, as we are simultaneously both profoundly social and profoundly individual. We are the most socially-oriented of any species (think of our deep need for belonging and to be understood, as well as what we can accomplish with collaboration, exchange, and the division of labor) We are simultaneously the most individually oriented of any species (think of our singular ability to direct attention, intentionally pursue a highly abstract line of thought, and build rich inner worlds). In order to thrive, we must nurture both aspects.
As polymath Jacob Bronowski put it, a human being is “the social solitary”.
Regarding the personal aspect of luxury, ultimately what is luxury to you depends on your personal values. In this sense, true “luxury” will always be more than just about expensive prices, as price is only the market value or social aspect of luxury.
The question is - what are your highest personal values?
K & B give us an interesting jumping off point to consider. Regarding the personal aspect of luxury, they write:
“In addition to this key social function, luxury is an access to pleasure: it should have a very strong personal and hedonistic component, otherwise it is no longer a luxury but simple snobbery.”
Of course, we want to avoid being snobs! That requires that our personal values are authentically personal, and not just copied from others or just what’s socially expected. (An important topic we’ll delve into more deeply, starting, in fact, tomorrow).
However, what’s most striking to me about this passage is that K & B equate the personal aspect of luxury with hedonism…
What about eudaimonism?
(A word so uncommon in everyday English, unfortunately, even my spellcheck doesn’t recognize it).
Briefly, hedonism, from the Ancient Greek hēdonē denotes pleasure and enjoyment, typically those pleasures that are of the moment. Many of these pleasures might feel good for a bit, but, like an evening of too much wine at the symposium, might leave you with a hangover the next day - or worse.
But the Greeks also had another concept, eudaimonia, a word whose transliteration would be “good spirit” and is commonly translated in English as happiness, well-being, or flourishing. Only our English term “happiness” doesn’t seem to quite cover it, since in our language happiness is an emotion and emotions are understood to be transient and fleeting.
Eudaimonia, however, is a full, expansive activity/state of living well, one which Aristotle insisted required “virtuous activity in accordance with reason” as a prerequisite. Eudaimonia involves the pursuit of meaning, self-actualizing, and personal growth. Introspectively, I experience it as a deep undercurrent of long-lasting life-satisfaction combined with eager hunger to be more, and that feeling is present as an internal bedrock regardless of any daily emotional swings I may be undergoing at a more superficial level. (After all, it is possible to feel more than one thing at a time, and at different levels, such as when you’re mad at someone you’re in love with. The anger passes and the long-term love remains - that love forming into the whole of your eudaimonia).
One of my favorite simple descriptions of eudaimonia is “joy in the pursuit of your potential”.
THAT is the kind of personal happiness that luxury ought to aspire to.
To your joy in your unique pursuit,