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.

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