Jen posed a question yesterday about whether we Western Catholics have become too comfortable, too seduced by worldly pleasures, and whether we should live more austere lives. This isn't a response at all, but a discussion of the tangent at which my thoughts have gone off after reading her post.
I once read that sociological research had shown that, no matter what a person's income level, if asked to name the amount of income which would be 'enough' for them, they would consistently respond with a figure which equated to their current income plus 10%.
For me, today is that magic date where suddenly the amount of month left seems an awful lot in relation to the amount of spending money left in my account. And yet 10 years ago, I could never have imagined having as much disposable income or as comfortable a life as I do now.
The trouble is that our expectations shift as our income rises.
Ten years ago, I knew I was a long way off being able to afford a car, so I didn't even think of having one. Now, I could probably list my car as a dependant and start claiming some sort of tax credit for the expense of looking after it.
Ten years ago, I was a student with three part-time jobs, and worked every evening, so I never had much time to notice that I couldn't afford to go out for meals in the evening. Now, New Man and I eat out at a restaurant at least once a week.
Ten years ago, I borrowed books from the library. Now, I buy them. And then have to buy new bookshelves to put them on.
Ten years ago, I couldn't afford to throw big parties, and it was easy enough to wash the dishes by hand after a simple meal for one, two or three. This weekend, I was hugely grateful for my new dishwasher, which made child's play of clearing up after a drinks party for 19 followed by a Sunday roast with all the trimmings for 8.
Ten years ago, I cycled everywhere, so my journey to work was free. Now, I live 30 miles from work and my train journey to and from work costs me £11 a day.
Ten years ago, I spent every penny I earned. Now, I put money aside each month and get jittery if my savings account isn't growing as I would like it to.
My lifestyle has expanded to fit my income. In fact, my current lifestyle would fit an income approximately 10% bigger than my current income very nicely. Still, I like to think that if it was all taken away from me, and I returned to the income level of ten years ago, I'd be able to cope as well as I did then.
In the meantime, I try to remember to be grateful for the many blessings that I have been given over the last ten years. And I try to remember that my car, my dishwasher and my fancy meals out are just things, that they're luxuries, and that I'm perfectly capable of living without them. But is there anything wrong with me enjoying them?
Some would say yes. The day I got my first mobile phone, an acquaintance told me I had 'sold out'. What would she think of me now - a chartered accountant, chartered tax adviser, owner of a house in the Home Counties and of more electronic gadgetry than you can shake a stick at, and reader of the Daily Telegraph? Is she right that I've sold out?
Well, I love having a dishwasher because it means I can entertain more easily. I love having a good cooker for the same reason. I love having a car because it means I can visit family and friends more easily. I love having a camera and a computer because it means I can keep in touch with friends and family who are further afield and share memories of special events with them. I love having a bigger house because it means my friends can visit me more easily. I also have a high chair, a cot and other baby equipment so those with babies and toddlers are able to feel comfortable in my home. I love having a big dining table in my kitchen so I can invite people over for meals. I love being able to afford air travel so I can visit my brothers in South Africa and the US and the good friend I'm going to visit in Northern Ireland next weekend.
The things that are important to me - God, the Church, my family, my friends, trying to do what I see to be the right thing - have not changed, and never will. And the pursuit of more money and more stuff will never stop me from making time for those important things. The luxuries I enjoy don't control me - I control them. And as long as that's the case, I'm not going to beat myself up over my good fortune.
Now, I must make a note to talk to my boss tomorrow about that 10% pay rise...