Keeping Up with the Joneses
Too much is never enough
Before you try to keep up with the Joneses,
be sure they’re not trying to keep up with you.
– Erma Bombeck
We’re all guilty of falling into the trap of material excess to some degree and keeping up with the Joneses. With massive pressure from TV, magazines, culture, and peers, it’s the “easy” thing to do. However, settling for what is easy and popular does not lead to a life filled with peace (regardless of what the advertisements say). As the writer/poet/playwright Oscar Wilde is known to have said:
Everything popular is wrong.
One of the biggest issues with keeping up with the joneses (material excess) is that it is not sustainable. I’m all for having the finer things in life; it’s just that we place heavy emphasis on the wrong “fine” things. It should be apparent to everybody at this point in our global consciousness, that we have done a great deal to harm the earth in recent history. 100 years ago, you would have given no second thought to drinking from a fresh water stream. While you would still have had a chance of ingesting a parasite, you would not have worried about toxic waste from the manufacturing of plastic, Styrofoam, and other harmful chemicals. While swimming in the ocean, you would have only needed to watch out for jellyfish, rays, and sharks not toxic run off, radiation and hypodermic needles.
While we are setting our goals, we tend to want “more than” what somebody else has. However, if everybody had five cars, four houses, two boats and a storage unit full of toys, where would we fit all of the waste when these products were no longer useful? You see, material possessions are manufactured to last only a limited time. If they were made to last forever (or at least as long as possible), then you wouldn’t need to buy a new one five years from now and the manufacturer would go out of business or at least be less attractive to its stock holders. Obsolescence is built into products because this keeps the company competitive on price and guarantees that the customer will need to purchase another item in a set number of months, years, etc.
So if we are to keep the earth in mind and still make goals to attain nice things, what is left? The goals we set for ourselves will have to become more about the attainment of health and spirituality than of wealth accumulation for the sake of being “better than” somebody else. Our future goals will have to be focused around creating sustainable energy, food, and recreation that can provide us with individual choice while keeping the good of the world population in mind. Physical and mental health, coupled with spiritual growth, is the only real goal we need to achieve complete peace within our lives. The outward goals we have, for the most part, are centered on our ego’s need to feel better than, more than, and superior to somebody else. If you have to compare yourself to somebody else to feel a sense of who you are, you will never be happy with who you become. For as soon as you surpass the Joneses, you become the Joneses and the cycle continues.
The Value of Things
The value of material objects is fleeting after a point. If you already have your basic needs met, having more “stuff” will not make you happier (at least not for long). If, however, you are struggling to provide basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter, then the value of those things is tremendous. Once your basic need for money and material requirements are met, the remaining possessions you acquire will do little to help you in any real way. I am not promoting a monastic lifestyle where one gives up all possessions and just searches for God (although, I’m not at all against this either). Instead, I merely want to point out that our goals in life have largely been decided for us by past generations, big business, and our peers. Setting your life’s goals around having more stuff is in direct opposition to achieving peace. Again, this is not to say you should not have nice things: It’s a wakeup call to realize what is important and to set our goals according to our own realizations, not the goals and dreams of those who value the dollar more than their fellow man. We should set our sights on the stars and learn to listen to that little voice that clearly tells us what we should be doing; that little voice that is all too often drowned out by our ego. The time of listening to our ego is now coming to an end. Let it talk, rather than avoiding what it has to say, but give it just a nod of acknowledgment and move on with your higher aspirations.