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Luxury and the gifted do not always sit comfortably together.

A mouse shows that parties can be dull

Could it be that giftedeness needs another dimension to free its joy?

We are intense. We are obsessive. Our work ethic can make us dismissive of others.

Especially others whose casual ease with luxury can seem a moral insult.

Yet by denying ourselves the same ease we also deny ourselves some access to love and perhaps to the full extent of our potential.

How? I suspect that to achieve the profound connection and love we deserve, we must learn to embrace luxury. To indulge ourselves. To seek ease, comfort, and the benefits of riches.

Open to everything – including love

I am so conditioned into believing that personal denial is the only path to truth that it was almost impossible for me to write: “benefits of riches”.

But I don’t trust the message of my own conditioning. It doesn’t ring true.

So I’m going to suggest that every gifted person needs to discover the benefits of luxury.

And hopefully I’ll convince myself at the same time . . .

Excess is essential

Here’s a bit of autobiography. It helps explain my early conditioning around luxury. It may have echoes for you, even if in different ways at different times.

I was born in the UK, just after WWII when shortages were at their peak.

The label that showed a garment was approved utility

Not a label from a jail uniform but approved Civilian Clothing 1941

The world I entered was marked by rationing, the utility label and – more importantly – the moral ethos such things evoked.

It was definitely ‘good’ to do without and to make the most of what you had. Every self-sacrifice benefited society and honored those who had died or been wounded.

It was therefore definitely ‘bad’ to be self-indulgent. Especially when so many of the wealthy were identified as having profited from the deaths and the shortages of war.

There is a corollary today in the thousands of lives that have been ruined by the actions of the banks and the governments that support them.

Moral puff-ball

I find it almost impossible not to be self-righteous about all this.

Puffed up pigeon looking absurd

"If it weren't for my moral superiority you'd think I was just a silly bird."

The puffed-up moral judge inside me declares: “THEY did it. THEY are the evil men.” and points to the generals, the politicians, the bankers, the black marketeers. Or to the women who proudly set them on their ‘evil’ paths.

All the people who apparently profit from the suffering inherent in vast human tragedies.

But the reality is so much harder to accept: that death and suffering from war and depression are caused by ignorance, by fear, by the ubiquitous limitations of human nature.

And we’re all in that soup together.

So there are no evil people. Or good ones. There are just people.

Despite my knee-jerk need to deny it, luxury is not a moral issue but an interesting behavioral phenomenon. And the fact that it exists suggests to me that we need it.

Giftedness is all about being excessive

Luxury and giftedness have one thing very much in common. They both appear excessive to the mainstream of society.

  • Gifted individuals push whatever they are doing to the limit.
  • They don’t see the point of just going for a run: their exercise has to fit into a planned training program.
  • They can’t just stand at a party discussing bling. They have to be recruiting for their campaign to save something that others haven’t even noticed yet.
  • They can’t just buy something – it has to be the right thing. They have little tolerance for a half-measure solution, knowing that it will just irritate on a daily basis. They’d rather go without.

A quick scan of my etymological dictionary tells me that luxury has its root in luxuria, meaning excess.

A huge old tree dwarfs the man looking at it.

"You bad, bad tree! Won't you ever learn enough is enough?"

And that’s certainly the sense in which ‘luxury’ is usually used.

It basically implies something more than is needed.

But I ask: says whom? Who is the great assessor of who needs what?

I haven’t bothered to check but I wouldn’t mind betting that the first people to ‘discover’ that you’d be better off poor were the religious leaders.

“They say: “Send your money to the Lord”/ But they give you their address.” as Hank Williams Jnr sang so profoundly.

And it’s a rich tradition to try to buy your way into Heaven. Or at least to hedge your bets by sending a donation to the Pope or some similar after-life insurance broker.

Who needs things?

The close alignment between fear and wealth has been explicitly recognized at least since the Buddha took to the road.

Yet the trappings of the wealthy – and sometimes their means of acquiring wealth – can leave them outside the circle of sympathy that we readily apply to the less materially fortunate.

“What’s s/he got to worry about?” we ask. And: “We’re all miserable but at least s/he’s rich.”

As if it made any difference.

Pain is pain. Fear is fear. Death is the end.

And they all bypass the means test.

the world's most expensive handbag

"Come on Chanel! At $261,000 you ought to include the pooch."

So if you need to carry a pedigree puppy in a £6,000.00 handbag in order to stave off the terrors, that’s fine by me.

And if you, you gifted ascetic, need to wear a wealth-rejecting hair shirt to stave off your own terrors that’s fine, too.

But I think there’s a better solution for both:

Embrace luxury, discover love.

Trust replaces hurt

The rich person – especially the inheritor of wealth – has a hard time learning to trust love.

It’s not just that s/he attracts gold-diggers. It’s because the daily privileging of external objects over internal ones leaves him or her untrained in matters of emotion.

The gifted person – especially the one whose sensitivity and idealism have led them into many painful encounters – also has a hard time learning to trust love.

Gifted individuals have a set of expectations – logical enough in their way – that the objects of their love rarely reciprocate.

And the gifted also mistrust their own attraction to wealth because they are so unfamiliar with managing its seductions.

After all, you fear, if you were really really rich, just think of all those books you’d buy. Far more than you could ever read. Just like those hundreds of pairs of shoes that Trust-fund Trudy will never wear.

Barricades against the banshees

So where am I going with all this? To this:

Whether gifted with wealth or giftedness, start seeing luxury not as something shameful and excessive but as a natural outcropping of a particular natural climate.

Zug is the place where billionaires gather

Zug's climate and gold ethos make it the rain-forest for billionaires.

Luxuriant growth is simply profuse growth, whether we’re talking rain-forest shrubs or Zug billionaires.

Gifted people are all about profuse growth – of knowledge, of talent, of human understanding, and even, sometimes, of material wealth.

The ‘particular natural climate’ that promotes profuse vegetation growth tends to be a bit extreme and excessive when measured against climatic norms.

And the ‘particular natural climate’ that promotes the growth of gifted humans is a complex mix in which we, as individuals, play only a small part.

So trust your luxurious urges. They’re totally natural.

Surrender to your desires

Virgil, an acute observer of human nature, wrote:

“Trahit sua quemque voluptas.” Broadly, “Everyone is drawn on by their own longing.”

So if you wish to be drawn on, to develop your potential to the utmost, you most open yourself to your longing.

This means ALL your longing(s). Not just the bits you regard as morally superior.

Trust the process

It’s safer than you might think.

If your heart be reasonably pure your longings will be reasonably constructive, even if they come under the heading of ‘wicked indulgence’ in your internalized Book of Judgments.

Also, the outcome of allowing your longings will be reasonably constructive even if, at the outset, you have no idea that there will even be an outcome.


Archimedes took a bath and discovered what made us float.

A fishing trawler called Eureka

"Eureka" indeed. Afloat, of course.

I don’t know whether the bath was a luxurious jacuzzi but it might well have been. Without that indulgence we’d have no “Eureka!” moments – and ships might sink.

Robert Louis Stevenson neglected the family orange plantation while he sat under a tree and imagined – “Treasure Island”.

Isaac Newton did the same in an apple orchard and came up with gravity. (Or should that be down?)

Christian Dior said “Poof!” to post-war fabric restrictions and came up with the New Look and a whole new industry and art form.

Not just material luxury

I want to urge you (and me) to seize your excess and see what comes of it.

super luxury bus

"I've embraced luxury, but I'm still taking the 'bus."

There are many who find it hard to permit themselves to indulge their material fantasies while there are so many in the world living below the poverty level.

There’s probably no connection between the two things but guilt isn’t rational.

First, therefore, seek to negate that irrational guilt.

If that fails, look to indulge yourself in forms of luxury that don’t trigger guilt. For example:

  • Give yourself some time.
  • Take in that exhibit that you glimpse as you hurry past on your way to work every morning.
  • Give yourself the effort to find a parking place so you can take a walk in the park.
  • Take two minutes longer in the shower so you can really reward yourself for your efforts in the gym.
  • Pay a bit more for that shirt or top so its feel and fabric will remind you every time you wear it what a special person you are – and what a joy it can be to be simply human.

And on the subject of clothes, cut those scratchy labels out. Their cheapness and nastiness only serves as an uncomfortable reminder that you could be the unwitting beneficiary of some sweatshop in China.

  • Open yourself to luxury because luxury begets creativity.

Even fierce Ludwig could see it:

“Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken.”

Surely, if indulgence was good enough for Beethoven it must be justifiable and valuable for the rest of us?

And finally . . .

Despite all the above, do you still think Lack is Virtue?

The Nash gallery in Buckingham Palace

The enduring interdependence of luxury and art: the Queen's collection

If so, don’t be hard on yourself. There is such a long tradition of the virtues of asceticism that we can be forgiven for believing ourselves to be better off by being worse off.

By denying ourselves the rewards of luxury, the thinking goes, we are contributing to the forces of truth and probably helping to save the planet at the same time.

But . . . no wealthy, indulgent patron means no truth, no art.

Just ask Michaelangelo da Vinci.

You never heard of him?


Now I’m off to indulge myself, repeating:

  • Luxury is nutritious; luxury is good;
  • Luxury is natural; luxury is good;
  • Luxury is fruitful; luxury is good;
  • Luxury is gifted’s twin; luxury is good.



14 Responses to “Take more! Gifted indulgence = benefit to humanity”

  1. Leanne says:

    I may be gifted, but it is difficult to believe so as I have been unemployed for the past year. So, the fact that you are writing about luxury during a time when millions are not certain how they will survive seems to be in bad timing. Or is the guilt of indulging in luxury at this time in direct contrast to the ever growing divide between the haves and have nots? Christopher, I really like and typically agree with your insights, but the timing couldn’t have been worse.

  2. S.K.JHA says:

    It was really nice to go through the vividness of the presentation.
    Human mind can justify any action.What I enjoy is right as I enjoy.
    Now, the degree of enjoyment need to be calibrated to understand if there could be better and higher level of enjoyment by other mix or approach-and to that extent we lack and realize when it is too late.
    Buddha and all great seem to have gone clueless in pursuance of their belief,don’t know might be short of touching the base of pacific of soul and longing to live while witnessing complexities.Giving, no doubt is better than taking-but how can one give until he/she takes- so as per me it is better to have pious values to instigate pious soul and enjoy every bit that comes your way.regards,S.K.JHA

  3. Phyllis says:

    When I think of luxury, I think of time — not money. Throughout my life, until fairly recently, I have either not had, or lived as if I didn’t have, enough of it. I hurried through eating, showering, dressing, putting on makeup, creative endeavors at work, creative endeavors NOT at work, cooking, songwriting, parties, and on and on. Luxuriating is, for me, driving as if I have plenty of time to get where I’m going; listening to others with a patience I have (in the past) rarely let myself enjoy (interrupting is such a HURRYING thing to do to people, as my son reminded me the other day); shaving my legs slowly; lighting a candle; reading without feeling like I’m letting something else “important” go undone. Spending money requires me to go shopping, and after all this blah-de-blah, its the one activity I’ve yet to allow myself to enjoy or LUXURIAT in! laughter!!

    Love your inspiration as always C.

  4. Molly says:

    Thank you for this post, you are making me feel much better about my love of Chanel cosmetics! I don’t have many luxuries, but I certainly enjoy that one.

    And Leanne, I hope you find work soon! I know, it is the worst feeling being out there looking for a job!

  5. TBS says:

    Timeless message, Mr. Coulson. Thank you.

    And I’m going to luxuriate in the fact that this came at a perfect time for ME!

  6. Donna says:

    Poverty is no fun, but what’s worse is poverty thinking, when I get in the habit of eliminating options before I’ve looked at whether or not they’re possible. Somehow poverty always feels like a punishment, a personal criticism, which makes me turn the critical eye on myself and my longings and calculate the degrees of wrongness and selfishness they betray. I haven’t been materially poor for a while, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty when I spend a few bucks for decent coffee or organic fruit.
    If given the opportunity to luxuriate, one ought to leap at the chance. In little things, like time, or perfume, or even just enjoying yourself in spite of having good reason to be miserable, why not savor a pleasure?
    It’s hard for me to judge, having grown up poor but in a fairy tale–any minute the magician would show up and reward us all (never did). So sensual escapism is a bad habit, a survival strategy, and possibly a valuable skill, all in one.

  7. joel says:

    Great article. I have this exact problem and it becomes a barrier to continuing my endeavours. I am starting to see that there must be some luxury taken because luxury is a tool to one man and wastefull consumption to another.

    Also Leanne hang in there and take whatever work you can get, you just might like it. I had a great career making around $100k and was laid off and couldn’t find a job for 2 years. I recently found work, but while looking I was waiting tables. My savings didn’t get me far but the work was rewarding, and I gained an even greater appreciation of everything. Most days I would rather go back to that life.

  8. giftedskeptic says:

    I am growing ever more uncomfortable reading your posts. The more I try to focus on the quality of content, the more I am struck by the almost absurd amount of what seem to be overtly sexist comments.

    “The puffed-up moral judge inside me declares: “THEY did it. THEY are the evil men.” and points to the generals, the politicians, the bankers, the black marketeers. Or to the women who proudly set them on their ‘evil’ paths.”

    Seriously? Could not the generals, politicians, bankers, and black marketers be women?

    Become aware of your biases, sir. They will betray you.

  9. Hello, I’m sorry you’re discomfited. It’s true I have a tendency to be sexist but it’s just the result of my conditioning and my as yet uncompleted reconditioning.
    In my defence, I was using archetypal imagery and also writing about the second world war when they probably were males in those roles. I actually thought I’d done rather well finding a role for the females in my moralistic pointing. Thanks for the comment, anyway. All intelligent comments gratefully received.C

  10. Suresh says:

    Christopher, thank you for sharing this in such a politically incorrect way. You are addressing my problem. I am in mid life and has a net worth of millions, yet struggle with spending a little more for quality whenever I make a purchase. I feel self-righteous but stupid at the same time, see everyone else rewarding themselves despite being not as well off as I am. I hope to find a balance somewhere in between spartan and luxurious, so that I can emerge from my soul searching a better man.

  11. Thank you for your brave contribution. I’m sure many of us wish we could share your dilemma – so please show us a good example of how to behave should we ever be so fortunate.

  12. Adaneth says:

    I know that religious leaders in history were responsible for telling people that they are better off poor and to give their money to the Lord.

    But I’d like to have a chance to correct your misconception.

    The bible teaches people to give what they have to God, and what
    they really do is not send money to God, but say put it
    in the church treasury. The church has a duty use the money to keep the church in functioning condition, for buying resources needed, and also, it is their duty to support the orphans and widows who cannot support theirselves. It is not God’s intention
    to have the leaders steal the money. And it is not God’ intention
    to have the leaders preach out of greed, that we should give all to
    the church leaving people poor.

    Preachers who do that are not godly leaders, but wolfs who attack the flock. Therefore, I absolutely hate the Word of Faith movement, who’s leaders deceive the poor and the weak and pocket this money for themselves. Benny Hinn did this in Africa and caused hundreds of people to flock to where he was. Many died on the way there. I was really angry.

    Also, Catholics preach that you can buy your way to heaven, and people are utterly deceived. And I am sad about how many were deceived into giving all their money and even their retirement to Harold Camping because he “predicted” the end of the world.

    However, I don’t believe that you can make these assumptions about religious leaders in general. That would be stereotyping.

    The God I believe doesn’t demand such things. Actually the bible teaches that if you give to God, and you’re not giving out of our heart, it doesn’t have any value.

    Giving has to do with more than money. Giving in the bible is usually concentrated on selflessness and giving to God by giving to others and loving others.

    Actually my church doesn’t pass around the collection tray at all.
    People just give as they feel, and no preaching is done on the importance of money or that we should give money.

    So the teaching of receiving salvation by giving, or to give to the leaders, is actually NOT biblical at all.

    I don’t believe that all luxury is good. Luxury in riches and spending money on costly things just results in guilt and sadness for me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, but if I’m not careful, it builds up my selfish nature, then I get lost back in the materialistic world I hate. Being a person that sees all the poverty in life, I just can’t bring myself to be a person who can enjoy living a lavious lifestyle. Of course not everyone can live with cheap things that don’t function. There is a reason why people buy things that work. I found out my hatred of materialism and greed when I went to China on vacation looking our best. And I saw A LOT of homeless people in the street. Some starving and begging for money. While on the same streets I saw some of the riches people in China, driving in their expensive cars, smoking their cigarettes, with not a care in the world. There was not an ounce of care or love in their eyes for the poor. I looked at my own clothes, the jewelry I had on, my money, and my pride. And I felt so grossed out with myself I wanted to vomit. I had become just like everyone else. Lost in materialism.

    I let myself indulge in certain things, but I find that joy surrounding luxury things don’t last long.

    There is a difference between the idea of luxury in America and living decently and comfortably. Those two are not the same.

  13. Robert says:

    Observing my mother made me realize luxury doesn’t lead to happiness.
    She fulfills every desire, and is never contented. Her house overflows with luxury,
    and she takes a high dose of antidepressants.
    You left one item off the end of your list:”Greed Is Good”.
    Actually, greed is not good. The pursuit of luxury for it’s own sake isn’t inherently good, either. You seem to equate giftedness of mind with material giftedness, when extraordinary wealth is actually associated with ruthlessness & cunning. Gordon Gekko was probably a great art patron, but still a miserable lizard.

  14. DC says:

    Not sure material luxury is inherently *bad,* either. Stereotypes damn us regardless of direction.

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