Thursday, March 24, 2011

Can't ignore the Joneses? A new solution.

From The Telegraph

"Despite the vast improvements in general standards of living in the past 40 years, 'keeping up with the Joneses' is still our biggest aspiration. Researchers have found that owning a fast car, a large home and having a good job may only make you happy if those around you are less well off."

For many people, our reason to get up in the morning and go to work every day is the pursuit of "more." We all want a house. And a car. A plasma TV. The iPad. (And then eventually we want a bigger house; a faster car.) But, according to this article (and probably common knowledge,) this chronic dissatisfaction and compulsion towards "more" is largely driven by those around us - and it is those specific individuals to whom we compare ourselves most aggressively. Maybe our downfall is choosing to surround ourselves with the wrong crowd.

 Won't you be my neighbor?
What happens, psychologically, if we choose to co-exist with people who spend less? What does surrounding ourselves with a new "normal" do for our sense of what defines "sufficient?" I can't speak for everyone, but am happy to use myself as a case study: I live with two amazing roommates - gals who work in retail/restaurants/luxury services and are confident that good bottles of wine can be had for $10. None of us drag high-end shopping bags home on the weekends, we didn't wait in line for the iPad, and none of us have a car. We share earbuds and sweaters; we cook for each other rather than eat out. To my knowledge, all three of us are happy with our lifestyles, and doing so below our means.

 Joneses who?
We are - or become - the company we keep. Surrounding ourselves with Big Spenders, even if we aren't one ourself, likely requires more discipline on our part, to perpetually remind ourselves that we are not trying to keep up with them. But if you take the cake out of the room, you don't have to exercise the self-control not to eat it. Surrounding ourselves with smaller "Joneses" negates the comparison altogether, and instills a more secure, and very real, sense of satisfaction.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Five things I've learned from my dog

1. The little things in life are worth getting excited over.
His favorite thing is whatever is about to happen. Eating breakfast, napping, going for walks, and watching me vacuum are all (almost) equally terrific.

2. Everything is forgivable.
I feel even worse about accidentally stepping on his foot when, after yelping, he looks up at me with a "aw, shucks, Mom, no hard feelings" expression. (I'm working on granting him the same patience when he jumps up on me and snags a new silk blouse.)

3. Not giving a response is a response.
Sometimes, while walking, a passing dog will, without clear rationale, bark ferociously at mine, lunging against his leash and requiring his handler, embarrassed and quietly apologetic, to shorten it. Sometimes, my dog responds. More often than not, he doesn't. I don't know what this means in dog communication, but I think we have all given in to the "comeback temptation" at least one time when we should've kept on walking.

4. Assume everyone is a potential friend.
Except for that guy who smells weird and comes on a little strong.

5. Aim to make others happy.
It makes them like you. A lot.

on "Ethical Function of Architecture"

"a very real increase in freedom has given new urgency to questions about what should be our place and vocation.... The same self-liberation presupposed by the objectification of reality lets us live our lives... haunted by a sense of emptiness and futility."
Should the house not make the occupant feel important? Not in the sense that it is a hollow showpiece - a status symbol without substance, intended to serve the purpose of artificially inflating one's presence and capacity to impress others - but rather in the sense that when the occupant enters it, he or she himself feels an immediate applaud for their unique accomplishments and ideals. Should an owner not get the sense, upon entering their home, that it celebrates who they are or who they seek to become, inspires the individual person to become something greater than he or she was yesterday, rather than demonstrate it to others? A house should not simply serve as a social crutch inside which we permit ourselves to hide suspicions of our inadequacy, but a place to remind us that our short-comings pale in comparison to our potential.

Perhaps such an ideal of the home is futile. So many people feel satisfied with what already exists, they would likely feel frustrated and dismissive at being asked how their house might make them feel otherwise.

"why" a client will grumble, "would I want a house that celebrates me? I work forty hours in a cubicle just to pay my mortgage, and all I want from that mortgage is a place to rest my head. I'm just your average guy. Why would I want that kind of a home?"
"because" I'll insist, touching my fingertips to his arm, "the house built for you begs to differ."

Everybody could benefit from aspiring toward his or her unique avenues of greatness. And everybody, in turn, deserves a house that is an extension of that trajectory; one built to symbolize what he can become rather than busying itself attempting to convince others of what he is pretending to be.