Frugal Hedonism

Up to a point the decision to use less energy is a no-brainer. Why not eliminate waste? Why not increase efficiency standards? Unless you own stock in Exxon, and you’re worried about setting a bad example, being sensible with energy makes a lot of . . . well, sense.

However, the decision to be frugal about energy can get confusing and downright tricky when we look at issues like recreation or luxury. We all like to have fun. We need to have fun! How do we reconcile “frivolous” uses of energy with a determination to make a significant overall reduction in the amount of energy you use?

I run up against this issue in my life all of the time–especially when it comes to using gasoline! I’ll save gas all week by fitting my errands in with my work route so as to minimize miles. I refuse to make extra shopping trips, choose my routes carefully, car pool when possible–but then on the weekend we might take off for a pure pleasure cruise in the mountains. Did I save any gas at all?


Well, if I had heedlessly guzzled gas all week, PLUS took a road trip, I would have used more gas.

I would love to pat me on the back and you on the head and just drop this discussion before the truly frugal folks berate me for taking a pleasure trip at all. But I have to admit that the possibility of blowing whatever energy we manage to “save” is real. Some economists believe that it’s not possible to significantly reduce our energy use merely by becoming more efficient because we’ll just take our saved energy and use it for something else. This is called the Jevons Paradox.

So is frugality opposed to just about anything in life that is fun? Or generous? How about globetrotting adventurers and philanthropists? Should they just stay home and save the gas? If frugality is good, then is luxury always bad?

I think frugality does not exclude luxury. Frugality defines it because there would be no luxury without a limiting factor. That might actually explain consumer madness–perhaps we’ve lost the knack of luxury, which is perhaps another word for a keen sense of enjoyment. Real enjoyment is rarely enhanced by immediate gratification.

Perhaps our mechanical, driven consuming is a search for real enjoyment. Perhaps we would enjoy a greater feeling of luxury if we were more frugal.





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