Living well is all relative. Stuff-wise I still live better than 95% of the world’s population, that is, my standard-of-living in terms of pure consumption is better than 95% of the world’s population. If we disregard the house and the car, my stuff is better(*) than what most American’s have; I just have much less of it. What are we counting? Quantity or quality? Strangely, most Americans count quantity even though most of that quantity reside in closets, garages, and storage units on a semi-permanent basis. Having 10 shirts that fit instead of 30 shirts of various sizes is not really deprivation. It’s just uncommon sense, which makes me a bit of an outlier.
(*) Luxury is quite hard to find in ordinary department stores in the mall, unlike say, in Geneva or Paris. If you don’t believe me, here’s a challenge. Next time you go to a mall, try to find somewhere they sell IWC watches. In the city of about 250,000 I grew up in, you could buy those at no less than 3 different stores, and it’s only a $3000 watch. And that was in Denmark … not exactly a country known for extravagance.
I live in an RV, but don’t let that fool you—it’s a California thing.
If we lived somewhere where the housing bubble hadn’t blown up to insane levels, I’d fork over $100k for a house in the downtown area of a small college town, in cash. I have been looking.
Spending 40 years of my life working just to buy stuff seems a bit extreme to me. Yet working that much is the norm in the US. It is so ubiquitous that spending all day away from home does not factor into people’s “comfort calculations”—only leather seats and oversized furniture do. However, living is about what you do, not what you have.
Try to imagine that my life was the norm but where only 1% of the population spent 10 hours a day working just to fill their growing homes with cheap stuff from the mall and their growing bellies with oily and salty restaurant food. It would probably be classified as a personality disorder, a weird addiction of some kind.
I know ‘living well’ in the mind of the average American prioritizes the ability to buy things and disregards leisure time, being healthy, being happy/content, and hanging out with interesting people/avoiding annoying/boring people, all day long. I’m sorry to say this but this really is a cultural issue to a large extent. However, as you also know the “average American” don’t really exist and there are certainly other people in America like me who are different from average and that is what is great about America and why I like it here.
Now, a bigger question is… is it worth it being different. It is sometimes lonely at the top, that is, not having to work for a living at my age probably puts me closer to the top 99.99…% of the world’s population, although I never feel lonely or that I’m missing out for not, say, blowing $100 on a single restaurant meal or paying $25 for a haircut. I’d rather spend $2 on a homemade meal and cut my own hair and use the $123 difference to not work for 7 hours at the average wage and instead read a book, practice sword drills, or go sailing. I value reading a book higher than having some dude mess with my hair. In contrast 42% of US college graduates never read a book again in their life. This shows that living well can mean something very different to different people. For me it is doing whatever I want whenever I want within reason. For others, it is the weekly $100 restaurant meal and the ATV in the garage.