As we approach the Holiday Season and all the joys of giving (and getting), we have to question just how much do we need in the face of opulence, and are we an obese society in more ways than just in terms of human flesh. Exactly when does the process of getting (as in acquiring new things) get to be too much? We are a nation of I wannas – I wanna new car, I wanna a Playstation 3, I wanna HDTV. And as we suffocate in our own clutter, we wonder where does it all end?
Necessity, comfort, and luxury are the entwined ingredients of what has become known as the “standard of living.” The necessities of life supposedly include only our basic needs for survival such as food, clothing, and shelter. Comforts and luxuries, on the other hand, should comprise the acquisitions and aspirations of life that exceed our basic needs. But, over the years, the boundaries between them have become increasing obscure.
Our perception of what constitutes “basic needs” is affected by culture and time. For instance, while residents of a Chinese village feel that a bicycle is a necessity, U.S. citizens feel that their transportation requirements are more in tune with an SUV. Even within the same society, there may be significant differences in individual perceptions of need, comfort and luxury.
The distinction between necessity and comfort is even more subjective in nature, and is influenced by many socioeconomic factors over a multi-cultural society. What begins as “comfort” or “luxury” can often transform into a necessity with passing time. As Coco Chanel aptly stated: “Luxury is the necessity that begins where necessity ends.”
Definitions of necessity, comfort, and luxury reach deeply into society. Any alteration in them results in changes in the fundamental aspects of politics and government, economics, sociology, psychology and even theology. They define the haves and have-nots within a community, and the effects trickle down into the realms of poverty, crime, drug use, and even various aspects of healthcare.
The concept and perception of necessity and comfort have changed over time. In 1795, a warm shelter and a good umbrella would have been considered comforts. But, as time went on and people could afford more and more commodities, old comforts became new necessities; and new aspirations became the next order of comforts and luxuries.
In the early 1900s, food, clothing, and shelter comprised the basic needs of the American public. Today, hardly a household exists that is not adorned with a colored television, one or more computers, a full house of furniture, toys for the children, and at least one car in the driveway. No one would deny that these are the real needs of today’s world.
Education has also seen the effects of change in the basic needs of society. In early America, a college education was a luxury reserved for wealthy Today, nearly every parent knows the joys of paying for a child’s college education – no longer considered a luxury, but a basic need for survival.
Where does it all end? Social pressures to keep up with the Joneses maintains this cycle in perceptual motion. Like the universe that’s on an outward spiral in an endless expansion from its epicenter, there’s no end in sight. Desire, after all, is linked to imagination; and where imagination is concerned, the sky’s the limit.