I grew up with a general idea that anything superfluous should be approached with careful examination and skepticism – and it's probably one of the most important life lessons that I have had the privilege of learning. "I don't need it" is my general starting point in any dialogue about a perceived luxury or novelty. So far, it has helped me not get bankrupt and held my sanity together in an incessant barrage of consumerism; I'm grateful for this mindset that has been woven into my psyche. However, I see it now, there's a case to be made about "nicer things in life". Subtle problems arise from our inherent short-sightedness. Judging the value of a resource based on information we have at the given moment might be inconclusive and plain wrong in more than a handful of instances, especially when looking beyond the foreseeable future. For the longest time in my mind, usefulness was defined by socially established metrics – metrics related to knowledge, creativity, and occasionally, financial returns. The usual shortcoming of such a narrowly defined metric is that it misses the vast array of possibilities that correlate in ways we don't see in prospect.
One interesting chain of events comes to mind. A few years ago, the way I listened to music was – by my current standards –uninteresting. I was pretty much locked in a fixed set of music and never stepped outside. Until I met G.
On one Monday, while I was asking him some questions he dropped a link to a song. He said to me,
Check this out, it's on my repeat today
I played the song – on my laptop. I wasn't very impressed, But I made the fortunate mistake of expressing my lack of enthusiasm about the tune. After learning that I was listening to the song on my laptop speakers, he convinced me to shell out a significant amount of money on a decent pair of headphones. It was quite expensive for me, but I had obliged. After a few days when the headphones arrived at my doorstep, I played the song for a second time through my headphones and fell in love with the tune for a few days. The headphones changed the song completely! The slightly detached jazzy undertones, with its occasionally warm bass-line and unremarkable but charming sheens of melody; I couldn't believe audio fidelity could change the face of a song so drastically.
That acquisition of expensive headphones was purely borne out of luxury, but it drove me into a rabbit hole of music discovery. Experimental, electronic, shoe-gaze, progressive, techno, post-rock, classical, I was leaving nothing un-listened. The brilliance of sound reproduction was driving me – colloquially – nuts. My musical horizon grew and so did my need to experience music in ways more than headphones and personal stereos. After I had moved to Germany, that need manifested itself in me frequenting concerts & nightclubs; One night while dancing to a Joy Division remix in a dark smokey loud nightclub I met D.
We became friends. D works in software. Few months after learning about his work, I ended up switching my employment and worked with him for a few years. When I decided that it was time for me to leave that job, I had grown significantly in my area of expertise, and capable of taking more responsibility as a professional than before; And not to mention, made a lot of great friends along the way.
What started as a simple indulgence, ended up with me meeting new people, sharing cigarettes with strangers, and eventual professional growth. I am probably contributing to rampant pseudo-scientific reasoning by linking this chain of events in retrospect. In such retrospects, it all makes sense; Because at any given point, there's only one causal chain of events that can put the proverbial observer in the present. But talking from James Gleick's playbook about the-butterfly-effect I wonder how different my life would be if I had never purchased that pair of headphones. Probably a lot, or maybe not so much. I guess we'll never know!
But it's the unforeseeable and undefinable possibilities of such luxuries that fascinates me. The same goes for video games, specialty coffee, fancy sneakers, what name you. Maybe – at the risk of sounding incredibly narcissistic – a quote by Xiu Xiu convinced someone to go on a date with me, maybe my video game reflexes saved a falling bottle of wine, maybe the fancy camera on my shelf inspires me to take more photos, maybe a state-of-the-art typing instrument is the reason I write to you every week; maybe it's all wishful thinking, or maybe all of it is wrapped inside barely measurable effects. I can't begin to reason about it but I'm certain you have had similar experiences with things or activities that you deemed prospectively wasteful in your personal history, where it was practically impossible to judge value with any arbitrary degree of certainty without an analog.
However, this is not to say that one should go ahead and splurge all their disposable income, or free time. Neither it is wise to live by a rule of not spend one's valuable time or money or anything other than the essentials; It's a balancing act, for sure. But as an individual, I think it's necessary to acknowledge that one's boundary of essential and luxury might be a flaw, a self-fulfilling hindrance. Even when pretty much all of it boils down to globalization and capitalism, it's important to appreciate this privilege that allows us to perform feats or live a lifestyle that's unimaginable to an average person across the whole of human history. My two cents, it's good to indulge out of one's comfort zone now and then, even when – at the risk of sounding bland – the R.O.I. isn't projected to be positive.