Luxury is a word we think we know. However, on closer inspection, it reveals itself to be deeply complex and surprisingly personal. Its meaning is relative and contextual: what one considers a luxury, another might deem a necessity. What is aspirational in one culture might have little resonance in another.
This leads me to believe that luxury is a fluid concept, one that is not only subjective but also evolves with society’s shifting values and ideals. Its Latin root is “luxus”, which carries the meaning of excess.
In early French, luxury meant debauched, while in the Elizabethan era, it came to mean something more akin to sensual pleasures and pursuits.
The most recent dictionary definition attempts to balance all of the above, describing luxury as a condition of abundance and comfort, as well as indulgence and pleasure.
What I can glean from this contemporary definition is the shift away from materialistic connotations and ostentatious behaviour. Instead, it speaks to a measure of the quality of our experiences and the conditions required to feel comfort, abundance and pleasure.
I would argue that by redefining luxury as experience-driven, it becomes more subjective. We are thus free to define abundance, indulgence and pleasure uniquely and for ourselves.
Assuming our basic needs and responsibilities for survival are met, I believe a life lived luxuriously is a complex combination of not just means but perception and imagination as well.
Having long, hot showers with good water pressure, lying in bed till noon on Sunday, sitting in a ridiculously comfortable gaming chair, preparing a pour-over coffee for yourself every morning, starting an indoor farm, hunting down the right travel bag with the perfect arrangement of inner pockets, enrolling in a painting class, et cetera, are all valid expressions of pleasure and indulgence.
Luxury combines an awareness for what you want and take pleasure in with the ability to act on it. In 2020, faced with a global pandemic and being confined at home, many of us were forced to re-examine our priorities, needs and wants. Particularly so when our ability to act on them became curbed by factors beyond our control.
We were reminded that time is the ultimate luxury, especially time spent with loved ones. We became either grateful or frustrated with our homes, recognising the limitations and the privilege of personal space .With travel and social gatherings restricted, we travelled inwards and sought deeper connections virtually.
We taught ourselves to make sourdough and began to enjoy a slower pace of living. In a way, I think Covid-19 humbled all of us and gave us permission to slow down and re-evaluate. And from this, I think a new expectation for luxury is emerging.
Along with the quality of our experiences, I think we now have greater aspirations for how our time should be spent and what we indulge in.
I like to think that having been collectively confronted with the fragility of life and normalcy, we are more motivated to take charge of pursuing the things that give us pleasure and supportive of other’s pursuits too.
And I think this new era of luxury is one of meaning and self-awareness.