A brief reference in Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic caught my attention. Seneca mentioned the practice of some rich men—Epicureans—who fitted out their houses with a “poor man’s room,” so that once a month they could practice being poor.
They did this, apparently, not to deepen their gratitude for the comforts they enjoyed, or from any nostalgie de la boue, but rather to train themselves, through familiarity, not to dread the poverty that might one day befall them.
To me, there’s something offensive about rich people playing poor, whether for spiritual enrichment or not.
But it’s not a bad idea to force yourself to confront your fears, to remind yourself that, as much as you might dread a certain fate, you’d deal with it.
Studies show that people generally overestimate how upset they’d be by some bad future event; people cope better than they expect. (They also overestimate how happy a good event will make them.)
I have absolute confidence that the Big Man and I will never get divorced, but other kinds of calamity might strike at any time. Maybe the huge pile of memoirs-of-catastrophe memoirs I’ve been reading this month are a kind of “poor man’s room”—a way to acquaint myself with the stations of disaster, and prepare.