Never read Salman Rushdie? Then you can’t like cream cakes. Long before the mullahs issued their fatwah against him, Rushdie became the bard of lardy sins when he coined the 1970s Dairy Council slogan, ‘Naughty but nice’. The ad lasted well into the 1980s, not just due to its nice alliteration, but because it encapsulated Thatcherite beliefs that self-seeking is good.
Will this austere age make it harder to spoil ourselves? As a cake lover, I hope not, and I’m not alone. The argument for self-indulgence crystallised in the so-called ‘caring 1990s’, when Jennifer Aniston spoke for L’Oreal and womankind in the line ‘Because You’re Worth It’. Cheryl Cole still peddles this philosophy because in our aspirational world, self-indulgence is less a treat than a duty.
How so? Admittedly the definition of luxury is it’s something we want not need, its purpose being to attain that idle boon, pleasure. From latin’s ‘luxuria’ (‘sumptuous enjoyment’), the word originally meant lust. Hence a fourteenth-century father cautioned his daughters against ‘leude touchinge and handelyng’ and the ‘orrible synne of luxurie’. Today a luxury is a commodity, bought with surplus wealth. Yet increasingly, serving our wants is regarded not as a sin but a necessity that our morale, our very mental health, cannot do without.
Don’t believe me, believe the figures. Sales of Jaguar cars and LVMH brands, like Louis Vuitton and Moët et Chandon, are soaring. This irrational exuberance isn’t just down to Chinese big spenders. Economists reckon its symptomatic of emotional vulnerability, our need to cheer ourselves up. Likewise they rationalise the boom in littler luxuries, like lipstick and foundation.
You could lament this trend, say we’re in denial of our humbled financial state, or under unhealthy pressure to keep up a front. But I welcome it. Latest psychological research confirms it’s not reason but emotion that drives us. And if we made pleasure our top emotional motive – rather than guilt or envy – couldn’t the world be a better place? Better still, we would redefine self-indulgence as giving to others. Wellbeing studies find the most enduring bliss comes from being kind, and Bill Gates certainly seems happier now he’s the world’s second richest man, but number one giver. So whatever your pleasure, go on, spoil yourself. If nothing else, it will do the dratted economy good.