Archive | January, 2018

Sartre: unencumbered by stuff

10 Jan

SARTRE

Three months ago I’d never even heard the expression ‘the experience economy’.  Now it seems that every other journalist is talking about it. Of course, there’s nothing like Christmas for persuading people to angst about Stuff, how much we desire it, and what a waste of money, space and resources it is. Shouldn’t we be opting for experiences instead?

The week before last , the whole of the Radio 4 programme ‘You and Yours’ was devoted to the question of whether, in the west, we’ve reached a state of Peak Stuff. Some people phoned in to say that they were addicted to buying things. Others told us in detail how little new stuff they needed.

One lovely woman informed us that the only non-food item that she doesn’t buy from charity shops is her underwear.  Another made the sensible point that the problem is in part a generational one. As you get beyond middle age you may well find that you’ve got most of the stuff you want, and in any case you can’t find room for any more. The young are generally in a less fortunate position.

A psychologist on the programme reflected on the trend towards experiences rather than things.  On Facebook, he said, a photo of you and your friends having fun will nowadays get far more ‘likes’ than a picture of your new shoes.

I’m still not convinced that telling the rest of the world about your fabulous experiences is any more charming or worthwhile than bragging about your new acquisitions (see this blog, 11 November 2017). But I’m interested to discover that the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre preferred to spend whatever money he had on the experience aspect of human life (as I might have expected from an existentialist, come to think of it).

Sartre’s aim was to pass through life unencumbered. He gave away books after he’d read them; the only objects he tried to hang on to were his pipe and his pen.  Most of the money he earned was redistributed to others. If he did keep any for himself, he preferred not to spend it on stuff,  ‘but on an evening out: going to some dancehall, spending big, going everywhere by taxi, etc etc – and in short, nothing must remain in place of the money but a memory, sometimes less than a memory.’  He was, apparently, a legendary tipper (War Diaries, p.244, 251).

I learned this from the excellent book, At the Existentialist Café, by Sarah Bakewell (p.119-20). The inclination described is of course very much in line with the existentialist aspiration towards freedom – from possessions as well as from preconceived ideas.

Advertisements

A self-help tip from GBS …

9 Jan

GBS

‘The way to have a happy life is to be too busy doing what you like all the time, having no time left to you to consider whether you are happy or not.’ This practical piece of advice from Bernard Shaw echoes much of the guidance which is nowadays offered by self-help gurus. He passed it on to us in a BBC film made at his home in Ayot St.Lawrence in 1946 , to celebrate his 90th birthday.  

Some of Shaw’s plays make it clear that he was mistrustful of the whole idea of  pursuing happiness (see this blog, 14 May 2015), and what he says here certainly makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure that it would work all that well if you were too depressed to keep busy. But it does occur to me from time to time that writing a blog about happiness is a good prescription for not worrying about it all that much. Ironically enough.

I discovered the quote, incidentally, in an excellent programme about Shaw presented by the actor Gabriel Byrne on BBC4 last night.