Pew - luxury necessity pollA new poll from the Pew Resarch Center finds that the recession is altering our perceptions of what we truly need, and what we can live without:  some consumer goods that were once widely considered “necessities” are increasingly being viewed as mere “luxuries.” 

The biggest falloffs in “necessity” status were in microwaves, clothes dryers, air conditioning, dishwashers, and TVs.  A few gizmos (high-speed internet, flat screen TVs, iPods) saw some modest gains as “necessities.” But overall, it looks as if a combination of changing societal norms and troubling economic realities is leading us to reconsider whether we really need all the gadgets in our lives.

Only time will tell if this is a lasting trend, or just a blip.  But it’s sure an interesting demonstration of a fact that’s well understood in academic circles, but is perhaps a surprise to a society that’s grown accustomed to plenty:  our needs are, to a large extent, a social construction.  We need a lot less than we think we do; and much of the time, our perception of need is defined by what our peers and neighbors have, or what they want, and not by what makes us genuinely happy.  In fact, we often have absolutely no idea what makes us happy or fulfilled.