After reading a review on ANZ LitLovers’ blog I put this book on a wishlist as it looked to be the kind of book I would definitely want to read, and that’s where I left it because as a budding Frugal Hedonist I haven’t been buying books recently (note that’s the frugal part, the hedonist in me would buy and buy and buy all the books in all the world). Then, oh happy day, a lovely lovely generous and wonderful friend popped it in my Christmas stocking for me and, in honour of the sheer considerateness of it, I felt I ought to read it immediately. And the post-Christmas consumer bloat/depression might have influenced me a little bit too. Could frugal hedonism offer an alternative, better option than the false promise of mass consumerism that blights Christmas every year?
The idea of frugal hedonism is really simple, and it aligns with a lot of the things that have been influencing me over the past year or so: minimalism, paring back, trying to live a more purposeful life. Frugal hedonism is about spending less money, whilst enjoying life more. Sounds impossible, right? Well it does, but largely because we’re so heavily conditioned, through years of exposure to smart advertising and a cultural push towards materialising everything, into believing that owning things will make our lives better, easier, more productive, more fulfilled. But if that was true, we wouldn’t need to keep buying things. Eventually we’d reach that point of satiation. But that’s not how it works at all. Instead we buy more, want more. Frugal hedonism turns that on its head, or at least a little. Maybe, they suggest, that what we need is less of most things (frugality) and more of the things that bring us joy (hedonism) and, perhaps, the things that bring us joy don’t always need to be bought:
“Many of us tell admiring, nostalgia-drenched tales about the resourcefulness and spirit of our grandparents in the face of harder times. We marvel at how war-time rationing improved people’s health and forged strong communities as neighbours came to rely more on each other than on purchasing power for both necessities and recreation. We speak with a twinkle of envy about the simplicity of life in ‘the olden days’, or the unencumbered freedom of cattle-drovers and swagmen. We digest the stories of long sea voyages to strange shores, or of forging a life in a new land, and we quietly ache to put our own tenacity to the test in such a way, if only a little.
Partly these undercurrents of emotion come from a basic human appreciation for strength. Partly they speak of a yen to feel that we are living ‘real lives’, challenged to capacity. Perhaps even that part of us which has noticed how food is tastier, rest is sweeter and love is more vivid when we aren’t so swaddled in cottonwool, craves a little more deprivation for the sake of the stronger joys that come with it.”
The book is split into short little chapters, maybe a page or two or three, all of which suggest ways in which you can quite easily incorporate frugal hedonism into your daily life. They advise things like recalibrating your senses, learning to hate waste, being more creative about how we meet up with friends – perhaps a little pop-up pub of your own by taking some chairs and some wine and pitching up on a street corner, or a picnic in the park, a visit to a museum, rather than the all-you-can-eat lunch. They suggest setting your new normal: instead of measuring yourself and your needs and desires against others, spend some time thinking for yourself about what things will make your life joyous and fulfilling and then to pursue those things ruthlessly, become a ‘character’ by being entirely and completely yourself instead of trying to ‘measure up’ and ‘fit in’. They remind us to think about the ultimate cost, the hidden costs, of conspicuous consumption – the children working in poor conditions in sweatshops in other countries, the cost in damage to the environment through using our cars for short journeys. Is it worth the cost? Maybe it is, but we should make that choice consciously. They ask whether all this choice, this abundance that’s available to so many of us, is a good thing? I have often wondered, when staring confusedly at the cooked meat aisle in the local supermarket, why it is that they think we need 20 different types of ham to choose from and what it is that offering all these different types of ham says about our lives and the way that we shop and eat. But the Frugal Hedonists express all this much more succinctly and better than me:
“The Frugal Hedonist does not expect perfection. The Frugal Hedonist expects that life will be a multi-coloured journey of pleasures and struggles and joy and death and adventure and boredom and epiphany and love and loss and getting drenched in storms and dry by fires and sometimes eating slightly stale bread but not minding and sometimes eating freshly plucked raspberries and being jubilant. He regards most shops and restaurants as giant lumps in the landscape, to save himself from adding more candidates to his ballot paper of potential consumables. She recognises that although endless choice promises endless freedom, it also entraps us in an endless series of fine-tuned decisions that that we feel must be well-made to encourage success and accurately reflect our identity. So, she makes some broad decisions to spare her brain this gruelling banality.”
Reading The Art of Frugal Hedonism was exactly what I needed at a time when I was suffering a surfeit of boredom and dissatisfaction post-Christmas. Whilst it could be a heavily, moralising subject the authors have approached it with a super-light touch and consequently it is creative and humorous and very easy to read. Inspiring, I would say. It has certainly inspired me to think a lot more carefully about what I spend my money on, and to give some very serious thought to how I can introduce more creativity into my life not by buying more things but by living more, connecting more, letting myself experience both pleasure and boredom, using and treasuring the things I already own. Or letting them go, if they’re a burden to me. It reminded me that my dissatisfaction is mostly with myself, because I know I can do things differently but I fall into old habits because it is easy…or I think it is, but in the long run it just makes things harder. The Art of Frugal Hedonism is a joyous read about how we can fulfil our needs without having to work a joyless job 60 hours a week, dreaming of retirement. Maybe not all of their ideas will resonate with every reader, but I expect enough of them will to make this a worthwhile read for most. Maybe we can aspire to something different? I certainly believe that, and thanks to The Art of Frugal Hedonism I might just be able to make that belief a reality.