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Wave goodbye to the Joneses

What you want or need to own shouldn't be defined by what other people have.

By Karen Datko Apr 5, 2010 9:44AM

This post comes from J.D Roth at partner blog Get Rich Slowly.


A new study out of the U.K. confirms what many of us have already learned: Money makes you happy only if you have more than those around you. According to the London Telegraph:

Despite the vast improvements in general standards of living in the past 40 years across Britain, "keeping up with the Joneses" is still our biggest aspiration, the findings suggest.
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. The pursuit of wealth is leading more people to work longer hours as they seek to pay their mortgages and climb the social ladder. Dr. Chris Boyce, of University of Warwick’s psychology department, said Britons were victims of chronic dissatisfaction.

Americans are victims of this same chronic dissatisfaction. It’s too easy to compare ourselves with those around us. (And television gives us a chance to make false comparisons: We see what “normal” people have in commercials and in various programs, and we subconsciously begin to want these things too.)


But even if you know that you oughtn’t compare your life with others, it can be tough to exercise self-control. It’s easy to get swept up by materialism, especially if all of your friends are into it. (If they all have iPhones, you want an iPhone. If they all wear expensive clothes, you want expensive clothes.)

If you want to wave goodbye to the proverbial Joneses -- the ones you’re always trying to keep up with -- you have to quit paying attention to them. You have to make a conscious effort to not care about what they own and do. Instead, focus on your goals and your needs. What you want or need to own shouldn’t be defined by what other people have; it should be based on what you want to do in life, and what brings you intrinsic happiness.


Ask yourself at what point you’ll have enough:

  • If you have five more DVDs, will that be enough?
  • If you complete your collection of Patrick O’Brian novels, will that be enough?
  • If you buy three more sweaters, will that be enough?

How much is enough?

Only you can answer that question -- and the answer may change with time. But until you spend some time contemplating enough, you’ll always be tempted to buy what your neighbor buys -- to keep up with the Joneses.


The great thing about deciding you have enough in your life right now is that this also helps you have enough in the future. If you don’t need to spend your money to buy things (because you don’t want things), you can use your cash for saving and investing. That money will then be there to assure you have enough when you’re older, too.


Nearing enough
Kris came to me on a recent afternoon. “Your birthday’s tomorrow,” she said, “but I didn’t get you anything." (I turned 41.)


“That’s fine,” I said. “I don’t need anything. Just be sweet.”


“I’m always sweet,” she said. Then she added, “Are you sure?”


“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said. “What more could I possibly want? I have everything I need. We’re having friends over this weekend [for a bacon-themed party]. A birthday present would just be more stuff, you know?”


Kris thought for a moment. “How about I go to work late so we can go out to breakfast together?” I really like going out to breakfast, but it’s just not Kris’ thing.


“Perfect,” I said. “That sounds like a great birthday present.”


I don’t want to pretend I’ve licked all of my wants. I still want things. (I just ordered an iPad, for goodness sake!) But I’ve reached a point in my life where I really do have enough, and I know it. The only thing I really need more of is time, and there’s no way to buy that.


Related reading at Get Rich Slowly:

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