Annie Raser-Rowland – The Art of Frugal Hedonism

Annie Raser-Rowland, author if the art of frugal hedonism, joins me to discuss the concepts of her book and how we can enjoy life but consume less. We chat about the hedonic treadmill, experiences vs. stuff, marketing mania and what it means to really savour and enjoy our lives.

Annie Raser-Rowland – The Art of Frugal Hedonism Introduction

Today we are going to explore The Art of Frugal Hedonism, a book written by Annie Raser-Rowland, and Adam Grubb. It explores ways in which we can have a fulfilling life while still being frugal and conscious of what we spend and what our attitude is to our consumption and how that affects our well-being. 

I think the period that we are going through is a global pandemic that has driven an opportunity for us all globally to take some time, reflect on what is important in life. And I think this conversation is and is an important one to have for us all. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Annie Raser-Rowland.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:08] Hello and welcome to Unstress, I am Dr Ron Ehrlich. Well, today we are going to explore The Art of Frugal Hedonism, a book written by Annie Raser-Rowland, and Adam Grubb. It explores ways in which we can have a fulfilling life while still being frugal and conscious of what we spend and what our attitude is to our consumption and how that affects our well-being. 

I think the period that we are going through is a global pandemic that has driven an opportunity for us all globally to take some time, reflect on what is important in life. And I think this conversation is and is an important one to have for us all. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Annie Raser-Rowland. Welcome to the show Annie.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:01:08] Hi. Pleased to be here.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:01:11] Good. Well, Annie, listen, we’re going to talk about your wonderful book, The Art of Frugal Hedonism, and the two words frugal and hedonism don’t immediately connect. You know, when we think about hedonism, we don’t always think about frugality. Tell us how you brought those two together. What brought you to writing this book?

The Art of Frugal Hedonism

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:01:32] Well, it does seem like an oxymoron to most people, but it really came out of a recognition that my co-author, Adam Grubb, and I came to when we were in our early 30s and we had lots friends who were definitely starting to feel like life contains very little hedonism. Whereas ours still did and we realize a lot of that came down to money in spending patterns in that we were able to continue working. More minimal amount. And on projects that we really enjoyed and take a lot more holidays. Whereas a lot of them were already of that age, finding themselves quite stuck in the spend-earn cycle. 

That meant they always felt frantic about money and that they felt like it was no time left for pleasure in their life and that they were losing sight of what had been making them happier when they were younger and as we expected, and that became more and more of a revelation, and within a couple of weeks of starting to ask myself that question, I had several friends ask me, how do you spend so much time doing fun stuff and going on holidays? And you never seem to have any money troubles and I thought this is a question really worth trying to answer. 

So I started to write a breakdown of my spending patterns and how I approach money and how I thought about money. And I realized that there really were some very big differences, too. Lots of people that I knew. And I realized that my lack of need for much money to live on was very protective of life’s most fundamental hedonism’s. Being able to just revel in the moment, being able to take daydream time when you want to. Being able to do things without background stress. Staying healthy and the more I looked at it, the more I realized that lots of the stuff I was doing that was actually my stingy behaviors that lots of friends teased me about was the exact stuff that was giving me the ability to stay really attuned to life’s pleasures. 

And it became clearer and clearer that in lots of ways, frugality was the facilitator for hedonism in my life, and I don’t just mean in the way that saving money meant that I could work less, but I also mean that there’s a lot of things that gradually reveal themselves, that make appearances in the book that are frugal behaviors that are actually protective of having a more hedonistic life. 

And yes, lots of those hedonisms are deeper hedonisms. Like staying more connected to people, staying fitter and healthier, staying more attuned to the natural world. But some of them are straight up in the moment, classic hedonisms, things as simple as because lots of friends by that point had taken up eating out a lot and buying the latest fashion whenever they felt like they should update their wardrobes. 

They didn’t take much pleasure in getting anything new ever. And you may have come across this term. It’s called the hedonic treadmill. It’s the more new things you get and the more you satisfy your urges to acquisition that the number you become to each new acquisition and the faster you get over it. 

Whereas I found that because I was you know, I was kind of a bit more old-fashioned in some ways you could see it and more stringent on myself. And I said, no, I’m just eat home cooking like 90 percent of the time that when I did go out and have a meal or say, I’m going to buy takeaway when I go work in the library today, it would seem like the most decadent thing. 

And, you know, when I did buy takeaway coffee, which is something that I still would only do perhaps once a month on average, that that would be a real treat, whereas I’d have friends that were down three of them a day and only drink two-thirds of the cup. In some cases, it was just like a knee-jerk reaction, getting another coffee and I realized that there are so many ways in which being frugal keeps you very sensitive and attuned to luxury and pleasure in a way we never dull your appreciation of it. So this is actually rewarding on that basis. Minute to minute at some level.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:06:25] I met the flip side where you’re just not suffering from the constant pressure of monetary stress and the burden of having too many possessions, which I see so many people struggle with. 

It’s constant garage cleanouts, overstuffed cupboards, feeling like everything is a mess and you can’t keep up with what you have, and that everything you have seems to need something to help you look after. 

You have a special pair of shoes that need a special cleaner to go with them and then need a special bag to store something in to protect it from getting damaged and then that thing breaks and you’ve got to replace that thing. And then you have to store the thing that looks after the thing in a cupboard with the thing. And there’s a lot of stress that comes with having a really large level of possessions circulating around you. And that is anti-hedonistic, you know.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:07:14] Well, you know, it’s so interesting because you wrote this book in 2016 or that’s when it was published.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:07:19] Oh, I can’t. I know. I know. I’m sorry. That was the previous book.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:07:24] But about any way it came out in 2016. And I love this term. I hadn’t heard it before, but I can certainly relate to it. The hedonic treadmill, that hedonistic treadmill trend. And I mean, God, if we needed motivation for keeping the economy going, the hedonistic treadmill is just it is just you have got to keep buying to keep yourself happy. And, you know, I guess that’s where our society is. Although we’re going to talk a little bit about what this latest period of global reflection has taught us because it seems like your book is very timely.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:08:01] We have been getting lots of emails saying that people are finding it very useful to help get them through this, which is including ones from America which given how deeply entrenched the US is in consumption psychology. I’d say there, even if not further gone, then most of us Australians. Yeah. If they find it useful in the US. That’s the high recommendation.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:08:23] That’s a very high recognition cause the US and hedonism just almost synonymous sometimes. Let’s not go too. Let’s not go too far on that one. But I think it is true. I mean the consumption and the use of resources. You know, what is it? Five percent of the population, five percent of the world’s population and the impact that they have globally. And I don’t think Australia is, as you say, not that far behind.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:08:49] No, no. We’re very much up there. And I mean, I don’t think that any of that is. Our fault? I’d be very quick to say that I’m not sure exactly what has helped me escape some of the escaped some of those spending patterns. I think it’s partly upbringing and partly certain traits of my character. But I continue to be susceptible and to have to check myself because we are at the mercy of an extremely effective propaganda machine that is doing a phenomenally good job at teaching us that happiness does come from buying things. 

One little figure we have in the book is that in modern-day Germany, spending on online advertising alone. So that’s just online advertising is more than seven times the amount of the entire Nazi propaganda budget and that’s adjusted for inflation, of course, which if you think about how that propaganda was effective at being able to persuade people into an extremely rotten and destructive value system. 

And we have infinitely more money than that been thrown at us to change our fundamental, to evaluate in direction that the people throwing that money at us want to change them. It’s nearly impossible to resist because the psychologists who work on pitching those ads to us are very practiced at what they’re doing and they know how to hit us in all the soft spots. That’s a reference to the philosopher Epicurus in the book. Who as much as his reputation is actually just eating cheese and glugging wine, you know, there’s even restaurants and so on called the Epicurean because he’s so deeply so associated with pleasure. That he actually had a very similar principle for maintaining high pleasure levels in life. 

His whole approach to hedonism was to live fairly simply. But to appreciate the hell out of what you are consuming. That was a very strong part of his philosophy. He’s like. Don’t overdo it, but just absolutely relish whatever pleasures you are having? And he considered three things essential for a really happy life and none of them are to do consumption. 

It’s friendship, freedom, and time for contemplation and if you look at what is happening in lots of modern ads and the much more recent philosopher Alain de Botton writes about this, that most ads will feature one of those things friendship or freedom or time for inflation, and that what our brains register when we see the ad and oh, that feels like a good place to be. That feels like something closer to what I want my life to be. 

We’re not registering the bottle of Coke in the hand or whatever it is. We’re registering that person with a bunch of mates on the beach. That’s the bit we want. We don’t want the Coke. We want the friendship and the freedom.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:12:34] Or, you know, when it’s in the image of someone like gazing out across the valley with the latest Samsung in their hand or whatever, making them feel connected, supposedly. It’s the time for contemplation that our brain is registering that we want in that scene. It’s not the phone and it’s really devious. 

And this wave of self-reflexive ads has appeared where advertisers kind of poke fun at themselves so that they’re saying we’re on the same side as you. We get how cheap and trashy advertising is. And so you’ll have ads saying, like, it’s not about how big this ad is. It’s about the shoes or something else. You’re supposed to see that ad. And they are they get it. They’re in on the joke. And so they feel like they speak your language. They’re cool.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:13:27] It’s become very sophisticated, hasn’t it? I mean, the psychology of it. And you can see and actually it’s a bit hard to tell the difference now between news and entertainment. Actually, it’s almost like the news is just a break in between the commercials on some channels. You know, the main point is the commercials. And when you end up with somebody who’s a reality TV show host as the president of the United States, the difference between reality and reality TV is really blurred.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:13:58] Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:14:01] And and also, we’re kind of can we’ve kind of encouraged, we always have been to be good consumers. You know, whenever there’s an economic downturn, get out there and spend more and drive the economy along. But good citizenship is not really the focus, is it? I mean, it’s just the whole system is conspiring for us to get on that hedonistic treadmill.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:14:23] And because it is so well designed and because it’s impossible to keep your guard up all the time and I mean, lots and lots of those ads appeal to two very strong things, which is most of us want on some level to be a better person. And the ads imply that if we have the thing in the ads that we will on some level be a better person and be a person who is closer to the kind of person we would like to be but they also tend to aim for the. Treat yourself. Angle, which is become a very once you have sold to people everything that they possibly could need. 

Then you have to start selling them things on the basis of luxury. And so the treat yourself kind of tagline or you deserve it has become very common in ads, which makes us feel like, oh, yeah, my life is hard. I do deserve a treat because life is inherently difficult. 

I mean, that’s why Buddhism is popular, is because it confesses that and helps people deal with it. But it’s a pretty dangerous way to look at treating yourself when anytime you feel like life is hard. Instead of. So. Well, life is hard. How do I deal with this philosophically? How do I sit and contemplate that difficulty and think about how I would like to approach it mentally and with strength and to go. Life is hard. 

I should treat myself because it doesn’t change long-term game or… But those messages, yeah, they hit all these very vulnerable spots. And so a really important thing I think to do to help is both fun and effective is you wouldn’t you self administer counter-advertising. So we have one chapter in the book, for example, called Romanticise Other Eras, which is not strictly so much about other eras, in fact, but about other types of value systems. 

So when I give talks, sometimes I encourage people to pick a figure, be it a grandparent or a fictional character. Or someone they’ve read an autobiography of where what they admire about that person and what they covet about their life has nothing to do with that person’s material status. It has to do with that person being someone who they would like to be more like and feeling romantic about that character because ads make us feel romantic about those lifestyles we’re seeing. 

Oh, yes, I would love to be like that. Whereas you need to be romantic about the things you really want to be more like. So. An extreme example, if you want. I’ve had people say that they really would love to be more like a wild horse. They’d love to have that strength in that sense of freedom and that that sense of… not changing yourself for everyone around you, but looking people directly in the eye, which actually I don’t think is that true of horses. 

But, you know, I let them run with it at this talk because this is obviously their perception of horses. But for lots and lots of people, say a grandparent, often in the book, I cite the examples of having read biographies of Shackleton and a couple of other figures like that when I was younger and going, I want that sense of.. ferocious, just not being deflated by the setbacks and finding things to laugh about in any circumstance and everything that I want that I desire about what I see in those figures lives is to do with how spunky they are, how intelligent they are, how adventurous they are. It’s got nothing to do with. What they are own and unless we create other role models in our lives like that to tap back into any time we think, oh, I want to be more like Kim Kardashian.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:19:01] Well, I was kind of I was gonna say I was going to say maybe our preoccupation with celebrity is a desire an innate desire for us to look to other figures, you know, to aspire to. I mean, it’s just when they start selling us stuff, it becomes a little bit confused again, doesn’t it? I mean, you might want to look up to a hero figure or somebody else. When they turn around and go, oh, and by the way, I’ve got this wonderful product, which you can. Yeah. Which will give you a shortcut to me. Yes. And what I stand for. Yeah. I mean, that’s a celebrity, isn’t it?

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:19:35] It is. And I think it is a basic human need for celebrity. I think that I mean, I am not religious, but I think that there are certain things that a religious society used to provide for people and that was one of those things, was role models that you would have saints.. Or you would have gods or you would have whoever it was, having qualities that you felt like you could use as a reference point for the way it was good to be and since we have lost religion in many people’s lives, it hasn’t been replaced with other role models that aren’t Kardashians.

Those figures have horrifically moved in to fill that void before we really had enough time to think about it and go. Well, actually, I think I’d rather replace the baby Jesus with a leading public intellectual who I find really inspiring and how they think, you know, for me, I try and pick people like David Attenborough. Who has lived an amazing life and done amazing things?

But yeah, honestly, creating some role models is a really great counter to advertising because it means every time that you’re there having one of those moments where because we all get seduced by advertising, I try and limit my exposure. I don’t have a TV. I haven’t had one in 25 years. 30 years. I don’t read magazines, I don’t read especially lifestyle sections of the newspaper and so on, they are very insidious. I find. But still, it’s so well designed that I will find myself in shops. 

Well, I something about that packaging makes me feel like that would just be a really delicious kind of slightly gourmet bread to buy, and then what would David Attenborough do in this situation? He would just get some bread. He wouldn’t be going, oh, that one looks somehow better. He would get the bread because he’s got more important things to do with his life than covert products.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:21:56] Yes. Yes. The book is divided up into, what, fifty-one or so chapters and it’s really accessible. And I think some great, you know, this really short and an accessible, digestible ideas. I wondered if we might just pick out a couple of your favorites to give our listener a bit of an example of how we might implement some of these in our everyday life.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:22:23] Yeah. Well, we have already touched on a couple. Yes. In terms of, you know, creating your own role models. Yeah. Yeah. A couple of my other favorites. There’s not it’s not as sort of a how to reuse your tea bags, money-saving book. It’s much more based on your psychology around money and spending. There are a few practical ones in there. Maybe I’ll kick off with one of the practical ones. 

The practical ones tend to be very short into the point because they were just a handful of things that we pinpointed where we went. This is such an easy thing to change. And yet really saves you quite a substantial amount of money very easily. So I will grab two of those to start with one is to really limit buying drinks, and I don’t just mean alcoholic drinks, but you if you are going to eat out and if it’s something you do regularly, lots of people will just automatically buy the bottle of orange juice or the coke or if it’s a restaurant meal, the wine or whatever it is with a meal. 

And yeah, if that’s something you really want and you’re really going to appreciate it in that moment. Sure. Do that. But if you are going out for that. Don’t just automatically go, well, I’ll get a lemonade with that, because drinks really often are expensive. Not as expensive a half to two-thirds of the price of the meal that you’re offering may even have a table in the book where went around and looked at different levels of dining, right from a convenience store up to fine dining and you’re often paying close to half on a drink, what you are for the meal and you often just don’t need it. 

Like it’s often empty calories and you’re just ordering it as a knee-jerk reaction because the waiter comes up and says, what would you like to drink with that? You feel weird to say no I will just have water thanks. Lots of people feel uncomfortable refusing things in that context. Don’t be uncomfortable with that. 

If you’d be just as happy with water or almost as happy as water. You can save yourself a whacking a lot of money over the course of a week for someone that eats out regularly, just try skipping drinks. Sometimes exceptions that would be drinks that stand in for that eating out experience, which I think can be. If you really are trying to stand a very low budget. 

Having a coffee or a glass of wine as a reason to sit down when you might go, no, to buy something to eat is more than I wanted to spend. But I want to be in that public space. I want to sit there. I want to soak up the passing people. That can be a really good reason to buy a drink if that’s all we’re having. Just sitting there to really enjoy that ever. 

You know, coffee and alcohol, they’re both drugs. Don’t rush them. Appreciate that drug experience. Sit there and feel it. Take over your body and alter your mind a little bit and provoke thoughts and change your mental state and use what that’s doing for you. Don’t just slam it back and go. All right. That’s just a tool to let me get on with my day. Enjoy taking drugs. There you go that’s one of my tips.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:25:41] There we go.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:25:45] And another practical one would be to with whatever capacity you have for light is usually the limiting factor to grow some of your own greens. So herbs, a little bit of lettuce. Most people have a sunny windowsill or a balcony or a garden where you can at least grow a pot of parsley and rocket and spring onions, perhaps and the reason that I would suggest those things is because I have looked in so many fridges in my life where people have seven or eight little packets of this much thyme. 

And this much oregano and this many chives slowly mouldering away in huge amounts of plastic packaging that cost $4.50 each, like this tiny amount of herbs because they wanted to use it in some dish and you grow those things yourself. They’re all some of the easier things to grow. They taste much better when they’re fresh and you get to use exactly the amount that you want when you pick them and it’s just a really nice little thing to do. Have at least something growing. Lots of people are becoming absolute guns at growing indoor plants and if you can do that, then you can definitely look after some pots of herbs.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:27:19] I mean, as I was reading your book, I kind of thought, wow, this is like. I mean, we did we hear a lot about mindfulness, you know, doing mindfulness exercises, which people think of as a kind of meditation lite. But this book, you know, when you look at even your example of having a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, it’s mindfully being there to drink each drop of this. And, you know, you pick a herb and you look at that herb that you’ve grown. So it’s just kind of engaging on a moment to moment level with what it is you’re doing. I kind of thought. 

There’s another word for describing this whole concept and mindfulness while being there or just taking your time to think about everything was really that was a good example. I picked up on those two because, you know, we sit and have coffee and sometimes I drink mine far too quickly.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:28:16] Yeah, it really does change the quality of life because lots of people think are not going to be able to start enjoying things till they go on holiday or they get some time off, at least another one.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:28:32] Another one that intrigued me was beware of fake frugalism. Go on tell us a bit about that.

Beware of Fake Frugalism

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:28:40] Yeah. I mean, that’s a fairly straightforward one. You just don’t want to make the mistake if you become someone, that is if you’re trying to cut down your consumption primarily for the sake of saving money because lots of people want to cut their consumption to change tack, to have a more hedonistic life or two for environmental reasons. But if you’re doing it to save money, particularly, people will fall into that trap of going. 

Well, I just buy the cheapest and bulk amounts of everything from the cheapest source and that really isn’t true hedonism in the long run, because if you’re buying, say, the cheapest factory farmed eggs or animal products, you are creating a world for yourself to live in and possibly your children if you had children. That is anti hedonistic because it creates a culture where quality of life is not valued, whether it be the person working in slave like factory conditions in a country who is making those cheap goods, be it that animal that is suffering to create those goods and I think we compartmentalize often and say. 

Well, I can’t see that that doesn’t affect my sense of pleasure in the world. But I think most people on some level have this gut sense of what is happening elsewhere. And when you have this sensible world where there’s a whole lot of just nasty shit going on and that you know, that you’re partly involved, that isn’t a good hedonistic feeling. That’s a dark, niggly feeling that pecks away at your soul. Oh, absolutely. 

I mean, one interesting thing about it in the dictionary definition of hedonism is it is not only the engagement with pleasure, but it is the absence of suffering. Right. So if you’ve got things that are causing you sort of psychological or emotional suffering on some level, that’s not a hedonistic life and the counter to that is that if you pay that little bit of extra money and get the organic free range eggs instead. Then anytime the eight one of those eggs on some level, your brain is having that association of oh, I can imagine happy chicken scratching around in a field and pecking and clucking and feeling the sun on its feathers and not suffering and that is actually a good feeling that replaces that potentially horrible literal feeling you’ve got niggling away somewhere in you. 

And when it’s a story that you take even a bit further away, you make an effort to know the producer a bit of whatever you are consuming, which is not always possible, but sometimes it is. You know, when I get local, honey, I know where it is and I happen to know that where the beehives are in my neighborhood. And it means that I get that little pleasure, that little hedonistic spike of looking at a bee and going buzzing around the flowers outside my apartment. 

You could have possibly made some of my honey and then little micro hedonism that I get to enjoy on a daily basis. That also makes me feel part of a bigger web of things in the world, which is a pleasure unto itself and I know so many people that say buying quality food is not affordable. But to be brutally honest with you, the majority of those people still buy things like takeaway coffees, possibly cigarettes. In some cases they buy, you know, a chocolate bar. 

The difference between buying a carton organic free range eggs. And buying a supermarket factory farmed carton of eggs is the difference between you buying that one muffin in a week or a one coffee in a week and I choose to buy the better eggs and not buy the muffin because I don’t spend very much money. My budget for part of writing this book. We actually kept budgets for an entire year and I was shocked, really.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:33:25] I felt like I’d actually spent quite a lot that year and we’ll get to this in a moment. But I don’t skimp really on spending money, on experiences or things I really want to learn about or do and I feel like that a particularly high level of that kind of spending this year. But it still came out during the year that we kept the budgets. It still came out that we spent about a quarter of the average Australian adult and if I can spend that level and afford to still buy organic eggs.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:33:58] And so remind us what that is. What is the average Australian spending?

What is the average Australian spending?

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:34:04] Oh, I wouldn’t want to try and give those figures. 2016 figures. Yes. Say. And I’m even hazy on what the ones that we can go to.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:34:14] Yeah.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:34:14] But the average spending to this point. Continues to be about fifteen thousand a year. Right. Excluding rent. So for all of our county, because rent and mortgages can be such a big variable depending on people’s living situations, then we did. We accounted for all of our spendings excluding rent.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:34:38] But it is true about seemingly cheap food or seemingly cheap clothes or seemingly cheap products. They’re not actually seemingly cheap, particularly the food. When you factor in the health and environmental costs, which we can now know, which we now really in tune with. What is the health cost of poor health in our society? Well, we know.. One hundred and eighty billion is just one hundred and thirty billion has just been spent to support us through this health crisis. So, you know, health can be a pretty expensive thing. Absolutely. And the environment is a whole other story.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:35:15] But, you know,  food is actually much cheaper now than it has been at any point in history. That’s because it has ceased to reflect the true costs of production. Whereas before there was chemical fertilizers and monocropping, agriculture, factory farming, the cost of food had to reflect the farmer’s work and inputs to renewing that land to continue to make that land farmable permanently because that’s how agriculture operated. 

There were no subsidies, there weren’t chemical fertilizers where you could just take and take from the land and then replace them and there weren’t subsidies for water use that were draining entire water catchment systems. So the cost of food was reflective of how much water you could stay away from that system and how much work you had to do to replenish that land. 

And we’re now just creating this drawdown on future generations. So we’re actually every time we buy really cheap food, we’re actually borrowing money from our children and grandchildren to pay for our very cheap food effectively and in the more direct, hedonistic level, there is nothing less hedonistic than living in a world with no beautiful natural environment and no rivers that you can swim in without being scared of having an open cut on your body or Oceans that you feel comfortable swimming in and putting your face under the water, that is the most anti hedonistic thing I can think f. I’m sure you agree.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:36:58] I do. I do. So pick another one. I mean, there’s so many great titles here that I know. Don’t be a snooty bum bum. I know my granddaughter would love that one if I read it to her. Go on tell us about don’t be a snooty bum bum.

Don’t be a snooty bum bum

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:37:15] That was probably pitched at a higher level of consumption addiction where along with that marketing of luxury goods that I was talking about that is really filling the void for advertisers being able sell us things, we need the delineation between very similar products that we have been sold over time to create reasons to buy new things because they’re always having to come up with new reasons to buy new things.

Is that whereas, you know, in the 40s, if you wanted a pair of jeans, jeans would just jeans and they would look at people wearing jeans now and they just don’t look like some denim pants to me that now we have been trained as consumers to recognize these microscopic style details and brand details between several very similar products and feel like those things are very important and mark us out as a person of taste or not. 

And sometimes I like to be the devil’s advocate just by declaring that I really like instant coffee, for example, because which isn’t strictly true. I don’t mind it. It’s you know, it’s not as good as the other kind. But does it really always matter that much? 

We’ve been taught so much that we need to be incredibly discerning and that this is somehow a mark of good character to only want to have very good quality things. Whereas in the 70s. People, really they could just enjoy a cup of instant coffee, and that was fine, and they really enjoyed it because there was no one telling them that that was somehow a really low brow thing to drink.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:39:12] Coffee is a really good example of that, isn’t it? I mean, coffee because people have become really snooty bum bums about coffee. You know, like, this shop doesn’t do it as well as that shop and this doesn’t taste, you know. Yeah, that’s a good example of it.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:39:26] Yeah. And there’s it’s nice just to have a bit of a reality check on that and say… Really doesn’t matter that much like… It doesn’t matter if you know, the the. And these are much bigger examples that we do go into in some other chapters in the book. But when you get things as large and substantial as people’s homes becoming things where they feel like it’s really important to reflect good taste. 

To the extent that people will move into a completely adequate house and feel the need to redo it before they feel comfortable or that it’s an OK place to live because the kitchen just looks a bit outdated. That’s a dangerous level of discerning consumer behavior. Because you can’t. 

The world cannot afford those kinds of resources and most people’s hip pocket cannot afford keeping up with that level of style and discernment is quite unhealthy. If the kitchen is functional. Figure out some other ways to make it nice. Put some new paint on. Change the doorknobs. Don’t gut your entire kitchen and have a whole new one put in. That’s probably made out of really cheap materials that are going to break and we’ll need redoing in another fifteen years because that is a huge renovations are one when the biggest drawdowns of expenses of resource use. And yeah, it’s a pretty dangerous psychology to come into and. 

There is actually there’s we have a whole chapter, a very short chapter on the book around the strange liberation of deciding that what you have is okay and I give to make the point, I give the tiniest example conceivable. Which is that I like to make gnocchi and like to make pasta like to make various things that might use a slotted spoon in the kitchen. And. I put on my list for when I next went to an op-shop. Get a slotted spoon because at some point I went.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:41:51] I make gnocchi all the time. I should really have a slotted spoon. And I got there and it wasn’t about the money because there was plenty of slotted spoons at the op-shop and they cost 99 cents each and I looked at it and I went. But I’ve been making gnocchi for 20 years without the slotted spoon and it’s been just fine. 

Like, guess I don’t need one then it might be more convenient, but it clearly didn’t need one because I haven’t suffered at all for not having one and there is something incredibly liberating about making that choice and you can do it when you’re going a bit consumer loco brain over something you think you really want. Like, you saw some amazing shorts in a shop window, and you just imagine yourself in those shorts and when I would look so great in my shorts and my summer wardrobe would suddenly become stylish. 

I had those shorts and people would see what kind of style I had and I’d be perceived as the person I actually am if I was wearing the shorts and if you just put that spacer between that moment where you have that feeling and let it sit for a couple of days and go. Does it really matter? Like, do I really need them? And then you sort of go I don’t and my life actually probably won’t be any different at all in a year’s time if I have them and then there’s this beautiful lightning feeling where you like the ability to not want something it’s almost as rich and pleasurable as satisfying the craving to get it..

Sometimes even better, which is quite a revelation. If you work up the willpower to practice it a few times and the science behind that, too. I mean, one, I’ll come back to that point that I was going to make about spending money on experiences and on learning because there’s a lot of science that says that the pleasure that comes from purchases and acquisitions fades very quickly, that people’s happiness levels, even after remarkably big purchases. 

Like a complete home refit or a new larger house or a new expensive car, that everything about people’s happiness levels, the satisfaction levels have returned to the same level within a year. and for smaller purchases much, much faster. Whereas experiences, when we spend money or don’t spend money on experiences, the opposite is true is that it tends to be the more you invest either your available cash or your life, energy, and thoughtfulness in experiences, the more content you become. And there’s several reasons why that’s true. 

Experiences don’t tend to date in terms of the way that lots of consumer goods do. So you don’t tend to look at your experience and go, oh, that just doesn’t seem as great as it did when I first wanted it. They’re not they don’t have the comparable the capacity to be compared in the way where if you go, I have a beautiful time. Walking on the beach with your daughter, your partner, your dog, and you look at the waves crashing. 

You don’t tend to look at someone else who’s gone for a walk that day and go… I bet they had a better walk than I did in the way that people will covet each other’s possessions and suddenly look at theirs and feel like it’s a bit shabby compared to the other person. They also build a sense of self. And we are the sum of our experiences and experiences creates stories that you get to tell people that give you a sense of volume as a human being in the way that consumer goods don’t. And the remarkable thing is they do that even when the experiences are a failure. There’s a phenomenon called positive reinterpretation. Yeah. Where you have a bad experience that might actually be categorically a disaster and yet when you look back on it, because it becomes a story and it becomes a narrative and it becomes a moment of intensity. 

You start to look on it as a positive, positive experience, even though is technically a failure. And I’m sure you can think of a million examples of this yourself. I think, by the way, a kayaking trip that I did with my partner at the end of last year, the first two days of this were beautiful and sunny and the last three days when gale force winds and we were freezing and we were exhausted, we were having to paddle like Vikings for seven-hour days and there were so many points then where we were just looking at each other. 

I don’t know if I can do this anymore. Like, where is the weather forecast we’d hoped for? But by the time it was done, we were like that.. that was amazing. Right. And we still talk about it and how hard we had to paddle and how insane that weather was to this day and that happens in much smaller ways, too. Now that positive reinterpretation. Almost never happens if you buy a fridge that just doesn’t work.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:48:01] While you’re talking about positive reinterpretation. It’s interesting about the period we’re going through at the moment isn’t it really? I mean, so many people now I mean, as long as you are fortunate enough to have a roof over your head and food on the table, and if you are fortunate also to have your job still, you know that putting that aside, so many people have reflected on this period in a positive way, isn’t it? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned, given you’ve written a book called The Art of Frugal Hedonism… What are some of the things you’ve taken out of this period? Yeah, kind of. Is it more than just… I told you, so?

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned?

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:48:46] I mean, I’ve found parts of it hard to as it hasn’t being highly protective, having the philosophies that I do. I guess one of the things I’m really grateful for is that I have heaps of friends who are in money stress because of this and I’m very grateful for the ability to live off so little money, that it means. 

I’ve always got a buffer that I have always got savings because of how little I spend and so even though my work is cut down a whole lot, then it doesn’t worry me, particularly if it just means I’m saving less than I usually do and that’s a really nice peace of mind to have. It’s reinforced for me.  The. The way that people, including myself. Just thrive on nature at a time when we’re under any kind of stress. And when a thing feels uncertain on nature. Yeah.

I don’t know where you are. But here, the parks and the gardens are just packed with people. And yes, that’s partly because people don’t have other places to go and want to go out into the world but you can also just see that people would just want to look at the sky and they want to look at plants because it helps them feel sane and feel okay.

 And, I guess I keep thinking about. Not so much on a personal level, maybe more on the policy level of how I’m really hoping that this becomes a catalyst both for people in their local council areas to write to the council and say, we need more green spaces. We need, as especially cities become places that have fewer and fewer silent places. 

We need green spaces big enough that you can’t always hear traffic noise in them so that your brain can find some stillness because I think the noise aspect of being in natural places is really overlooked adnd I notice other people like myself at this point seeking out the parts of the creek that I live near. 

There’s only a few parts where you can’t hear traffic noise anymore and people need to be proactive about this, like write to your local council and say “Covid has taught me that we need this please, can policy move in this direction” because it’s essential for giving all of our minds and bodies the resting places that we need as part of being sane, functional, healthy human beings. Cities need to cater for that.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:51:52] It’s a very important part of good care of citizens. One the other bits that I guess I’m finding very interesting is. And I don’t know. I move in social circles that don’t necessarily reflect the dominant culture. So I’ve got a strange gauge on it. But. I would like to think there’s a lot of people reflecting. On the fact that for a good chunk of the last year. 80 percent of businesses in lots of areas are shut and no one is going out is suffering from not having things they need because of that, which seems very lovely and stark measure of how unnecessary most of the businesses that we have around us and most of the things that are selling up, all those homewares stores, all of the gift stores. 

I mean, even lots of what stays open is not strictly necessary. I know a lot of fashion shops that are still open and the, you know, a lot of cafes and so on, but are still open. We strictly don’t need most of those either. But it sends a pretty clear message and I know there’s lots of online shopping going on, so that messes that clarity up a little bit.

I was pretty horrified after speaking to a postman not long after this started, some at the post office who said the online shopping just gone through the roof because people still want their fix of acquiring something new. But it is still a really beautifully simple and elegant demonstration of how many of the shops selling things are selling us things that we just don’t need at all. It’s all shit to keep the consumption machine ticking over and I really hope people reflect on that and go, well, other businesses.

I actually need that sell me stuff. I need that. I really want to consume for really good reason or necessary to life, because we do need to cut our consumption back because we are acting like a very, very greedy, spoilt child in most of the Western countries. And it’s not going to work for very much longer. It’s already starting.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:54:29] Now, listen, we’re coming to the end. And I just want to ask you one last question. You’ve covered it to some degree, I guess because we’re all on this health journey to get through life in this modern world. And I’m wondering what you think the biggest challenges for an individual on that journey?

The Biggest Health Challenge

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:54:47] Health… Did you say?

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:54:50] What the biggest challenge is for an individual on this journey through life in our modern Western world?

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:54:57] Health related?

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:54:59] Not not necessarily health-related. Just what would you say is the biggest challenge in our modern world as individuals?

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:55:08] Being appreciative. I mean, it’s cheesy, but most people struggle with it and I struggle with it as well. But any time I stop and compare myself and this is a great strategy for reminding yourself how lucky you are and that you probably don’t need whatever it is you’re currently craving… compare yourself to basically any human being, with the exception of kings and emperors, throughout history, and we so well catered for in terms of comfort and convenience, even those of us in society who spend the smallest amount. 

Have such a luxurious lifestyle compared to most humans throughout all of history. And to me, the best thing we can do at this point in civilization is to recognize that and find that sweet spot where we are really enjoying some of those conveniences and comforts and diversity of products and services that technology and globalization has brought us but we’re not overtaxing them, that we really enjoy the most precious ones and suck every bit of pleasure and gratitude out of the ones that we are consuming, whether it be having the heating on so that you don’t have to have fires smoking up your house all through winter. 

That’s amazing. And most humans throughout most of history would be like, oh, you can just push a button and be warm and you don’t have to go gather fuel and have smoke and soot issues, and like, that’s just all by itself. Just that little one is amazing. Just don’t turn the heating up too high and then only use it when you really need it and put on extra clothes. That one tiny example. Or that you can buy. Food that comes from 100 kilometers away rather than only 10 kilometers away. Yes. Maybe do that. 

Maybe allow yourself those Tasmanian grown apples if you live in Melbourne. But don’t buy the lemons that come from America. Just, you know, enjoy a bit of that incredible luxury we have. Really appreciate it and recognize how historically phenomenally indulgent even those small things are and then just pull it in a bit on all the excessive stuff so that we can keep enjoying this level of luxury. For another century, at least, even that may be optimistic.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:58:13] Well, what a great note to finish on, and thank you so much for joining us today and we’re going to have links to the book. It’s a very timely read. I really enjoyed it. Very accessible. Thank you so much.

Annie Raser-Rowland [00:58:25] My pleasure.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:58:29] Well, what a note to finish on. Gratitude being appreciative of what we’ve got because, in human history, we are in a situation where we have just so much at our fingertips that we take for granted. I think the whole concept of hedonic treadmill. 

The hedonic treadmill and also positive reinterpretation were such interesting concepts. I really enjoyed the discussion. We will, of course, have links to that book, The Art of Frugal Hedonism, and I would recommend it. It’s a very easy read. It’s got some great ideas in a very accessible.

Now, also, don’t forget to download the Unstress with Dr Ron app. It gives you access to the podcast. There’s a whole lot of webinars on there and there, ebooks. We’re actually just reviewing our Web page and organizing some amazing courses coming up in the second half of this year. And also, don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes. So more reviews the better. I think this is an important message. I hope you agree. So until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.