How Do I Slow Down the Treadmill?

In order to avoid stultification, [the gentleman of leisure] must also cultivate his tastes, for it now becomes incumbent on him to discriminate with some nicety between the noble and the ignoble in consumable goods. He becomes a connoisseur in creditable viands of various degrees of merit, in manly beverages and trinkets, in seemly apparel and architecture, in weapons, games, dancers, and the narcotics. This cultivation of aesthetic faculty requires time and application, and the demands made upon the gentleman in this direction therefore tend to change his life of leisure into a more or less arduous application to the business of learning how to live a life of ostensible leisure in a becoming way.
--Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class

It's difficult to tell if Veblen is using satire or if he's telling it straight, but one thing is clear: the treadmill of consumerism never stops--never--no matter how much money you have.

In fact, you can easily argue that the more money you have, the worse it gets!

Things like the Diderot Effect start to happen to you, separating you from more money than you ever imagined. Constructed preferences and scope creep kick in. Your time gets squandered building ersatz knowledge and expertise about consumer products that never even mattered to you at earlier (and ironically, happier) stages of your life.

Worst of all, after you put all that effort and money into having more "taste" and "sophistication" the more easily it can be used against you.

What's the solution? For me, the solution is to refuse to play the hedonic treadmill game in any way. I consider it a great big game of checkers, and I want to play chess.

So I engage in various Stoic tactics to help me make sure I don't get tricked into playing checkers. I use the techniques of voluntary discomfort, negative visualization, occasional self-denial, and other simple-but-effective ideas shared in William Irvine's excellent introduction to Stoicism, A Guide to the Good Life.

I try to reject consumerism at all costs: I try to find solutions to problems that involve not making a purchase, I try to make spending money not be my default action. If I do do something luxurious, I make sure it's something rare, infrequent--so I don't adapt to it.

Also, I do everything I can to not status signal. Any flashy purchase that I might make not only speeds up my hedonic treadmill, it speeds up the hedonic treadmill for all the other people around me too. The more I think about it, the crueler this seems.

I'm finding, as I get older, that the more I reject consumerism at all costs, the happier I am. What about you?

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