Reality Check: Perspectives on Luxury

It can be interesting to see how people used to live, so I took the opportunity this summer to tour the historic Wyatt House in Summerside. Through that tour, one gets a glimpse into the lives of some very wealthy folks, spanning a century or so.

One of my observations is that some of those “historic artifacts” are familiar items many of us grew up with (or in my case, still use). If you, too, are blessed by having already lived a few years, you know what I’m talking about.

Some objects, such as the gold plated china and the intricately carved furniture, were truly evidence of wealth.

However, other parts of the house got me thinking about our perception of luxury and how that perception has changed. Running water, the wringer-washer machine, (even the lazy Susan!) were evidence of great luxury not so many decades ago. Now, they are common-place; expected.

It was the commode at the foot of the bed that was the clearest demonstration to me of a change in our perspectives of luxury.

This wealthy woman—to use current terminology, a member of the 1%—used a stair to get to her bed. The stair was in the form of a cabinet, cleverly designed to conceal a commode. The luxury of the flush toilet, now found everywhere from campgrounds to the poorest of housing, was, not all that long ago, an unimaginable luxury of the future.

When we lose perspective, it’s easy to dismiss what we have as not being important. We may take familiar things for granted: the warmth of water to wash our hands; the cool of the refrigerator to preserve our food.

These commonplace advancements—–many the work of engineers, factory workers, and trades folks, have incredibly positive effects on our everyday lives. Yet, it’s so easy to overlook them; we see them every day. We may forget that folks didn’t always have access to them. We may forget to be grateful.

What else does perspective do for us? When we’re unhappy, we may choose to think about everything that seems to go right for other people but wrong for us. We may dwell on what other people have and compare that with what we don’t have.

These thoughts serve to make it easier to feel jealousy or resentment, even when someone else’s good fortune has nothing to do with our good or bad fortune. Does jealousy or resentment make our own lives better? Or worse?

One way to regain perspective is to consider that many of the benefits enjoyed by only the wealthy just a few decades ago are common now. Fruit, available all winter! Luxurious clothing, and inexpensive too (especially at Frenchie’s!) And yes, indoor plumbing—luxury indeed, especially if you remember last winter!

There are many perspectives one can bring to any issue, and rich:poor is no exception. One perspective, often mentioned, is the income ratio of rich to poor. However, another perspective is to recognize the improvement in the lives of both rich and poor, as what used to constitute luxury is now accessible to so many.

Which perspective do you think is helpful?

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