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Perishable Thoughts — A Time No More
For Ostentatious Spending?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, January 22, 2009

Now that we live in the midst of a recession, one question is what the effect of such events is on human happiness. Now we should never make light of such a thing. To be hungry or unable to afford medical care, to be homeless and insecure as to where the next meal is coming from is certainly no fun and, indeed, to be without a job, to be unable to support one’s family, throws in question one’s very place in the world and purpose in life.

Interestingly enough, though, once one gets beyond these necessities of life, the promptings of happiness are much more difficult to identify. We recall a study we once read that happiness, for example, can be more influenced by the relative means of a family and its neighbors rather than absolute means. In other words, if one lives in a neighborhood where everyone buys coach seats on vacations to discounted three-star hotels in the Caribbean and that is what your family does as well — you may be happier than if you can afford first-class tickets to four-star hotels but live in a neighborhood where everyone has a private jet and flies off to their private islands.

Rick Eastes, newly named Vice President Sales and Marketing at Fruit Patch Sales, LLC, Dinuba, California, gives us a moment to contemplate such issues by sending along this Perishable Thought:

“To be content with little is hard; to be content with much, impossible.”

— Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
Aphorisms (Download entire book through Google Books)
By Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, translation by Annis Lee Wister
Published by J.B. Lippincott & co., 1883
159 pages

The Baroness Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (born September 13, 1830 and died March 12, 1916) was an Austrian writer, who was famous for her novels of psychological intrigue. She is widely thought to be — along with Ferdinand von Saar — one of the two most important German-language writers of the latter portion of the 19th century.

The quote can be purchased here:

Aphorisms Aphorisms
By Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach, translation by David Scrase
Ariadne Press (CA) (February 1994)
85 pages

If one perspective on this quote is related to economic fortune and raises the question of whether the rich are actually happier than others and whether a family can simply find contentment with love and simple pleasures during financial stress, viewed from another perspective the quote may speak to the issue of merchandising our departments.

We recently ran a piece from France in which Ctifl, the French version of PMA, is pushing a small store concept with a limited array of product. The idea is to not overwhelm consumers.

It raises many interesting questions. When we offer abundance beyond what a human can reasonably sample, do we create a spirit of awe in which one feels wonder and glory at being part of a civilization that can gather such delicacies from the far corner of the globe?

Or do we create frustration and doubt as consumers question if they made the best choice?

If we think the grass is always greener somewhere else, does not offering almost infinite choice guarantee almost infinite reason for second-guessing and doubt?

One of the effects of so many people losing so much so quickly is a cultural shift in which ostentation is out of fashion. A friend who builds luxury homes tells us he is still getting orders but they are smaller now; not necessarily because the people are poorer but because it is somehow unseemly to be showy when one’s friends have suffered loss. Also, because, when some have lost, we all learn to count our blessings, and a wing in the house to oneself seems somehow to distance one from the family members who are counted as one’s primary blessings.

Retailers such as Whole Foods, Nieman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue have suffered, and this is popularly assumed to be a matter of affordability. Perhaps. Perhaps, though, there is more to it. Maybe there was a time when showing one could afford such stores added prestige, while today, showing you can afford such things makes you a boor.

Perhaps simple is the new upscale.

Many thanks to Rick Eastes for sending along this Perishable Thought.

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