The publications that are thriving these days are those whose readers are wealthy. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, for instance, just wrote about Tatler, the gossip magazine about the lives of the very rich, which is doing well all over the world.
I read the media favoured by the monied class partly because my work requires it - my speechwriting clients move in these circles, and I need to know what they're talking (or gossiping) about.
However, while they may be reading, they're not shopping. There has been a glut of stories about how the luxury goods market is tanking. A recent Financial Times headline asked, "Was it ever worth it in the first place?" The article pointed out that the credit crunch has caused many to question the value of designer brands. You know, $300 sunglasses, $500 jeans, and $15,000 handbags. (Later that week, I spotted a comment from an analyst advising continued investment in the big luxury brands like LVMH. Why? Because they're going to make a killing in India and China. Likewise, Tatler is doing very well in Russia.)
You'll notice that I peruse this kind of press "partly because my work requires it". I also devour it because I'm fascinated by the super-rich (at least from a distance), and once aspired to be someone who would appear in a glossy spread chatting about my favourite home (because I would have more than one, naturally).
I'm a slow learner, but I have finally cottoned on to the fact that happiness does not, most assuredly, that way lie. That it's just plain crazy to spend my life chasing money so I can buy more stuff. I have this quote from the English poet William Wordsworth up on my fridge as a daily reminder, "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers."
Instead, I'm pursuing what I think of as free luxuries. And I share this list as a public service to the very rich. Because if they're not out doing retail therapy, they might just be at a loss for what to do with their time. Or wondering what life is really all about.
1. The luxury of time
I've discovered how luxurious it is to carve out an afternoon or an evening with absolutely nothing on the agenda, and out of reach of every electronic device known to humankind. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes about how human beings used to sit around the campfire at night, not some flickering screen. Time really is more than a luxury, it's priceless.
2. The luxury of nature
I start with the weather, because it's always right outside the door. November in the northern hemisphere is a great time of year as the cold northern winds and warm southern currents duke it out: the skies are an ever-changing panoply of clouds and colours. And whenever I go walking in the wind, I remind myself to get it while I can: we're harnessing nature at an alarming rate. For now, the wind is still free.
3. The luxury of customization
The American bespoke shoe designer George Esquivel says that, "True luxury means getting exactly what you want." Amen to that, George. Only my idea of bespoke is being able to take the time I can carve out of my busy life (see #1) and make up what I do with it. I'm not interested in a guided tour or the latest cool place or hottest thing. I'd rather just wander the streets in a rundown part of town, or set off on my bike or in a kayak, making it up as I go.
4. The luxury of contemplation
A friend of mine is raising her grandchildren, single-handedly and without much money. And now, on top of everything else, she has breast cancer. The other day, at the end of a long phone call, this aging hippie told me that she'd recently rediscovered meditation, and what a balm it has become. "And it's free!" she said with a laugh.
Now, over to you. Do your bit to help the super rich weather the current economic storm by sharing with us your version of free luxuries. What's more important than the stuff we can buy, and how and where do you find it? Please comment below, or email me directly at JULIA (that familiar symbol) wearethenewradicals (DOT) (com).
Julia Moulden is on tour, talking about the New Radicals.