The Richard Nicholls Podcast

Free bonus episodes and hypnosis audio when you subscribe to Richard's newsletter!


Episode 138: Keeping Up With The Joneses

I have a question for you dear reader.
How much of your real life do you reveal to the external world around you?

If someone asks you how you are, do you bombard them with your frustrations about your selfish spouse? Or about how you feel that your life is going by too quickly and there’s a sense of impending doom everywhere you go?

Or do you say “Fine thanks, you?”.

On social media do you post photos of yourself crying and write about your absolute loathing of your boss, before starting a discussion with old school friends about the pointlessness of your existence?

For a majority of you the answer to this is “No”, you don’t do that. For some of you those scenarios rarely come up anyway. But for a lot of you it will. And a lot of your Facebook friends will go through those same emotions but will either not post anything at all about how they feel, or they’ll lie and post a photo that says “Share if your partner is the best friend you’ll ever have” right before they come home from the affair they’ve been having that they already secretly know about.

Why do so many people try to impress others in order to be proud of themselves? Is it to get one up on someone? As if thinking that we’re better than someone in some way is the only way to be content in life?
I don’t think anyone would ever give that advice to someone who was asking for the secret to happiness. Quite the opposite in fact.

Problem is while, once upon a time, it was only your relatives, close friends and colleagues that you compared yourself with, we can now see into the lives of billions of other people. But those relatives, close friends and colleagues are more than likely going to have a similar standard of living to you.
But if you mostly follow people living some millionaire lifestyle then you aren’t comparing like for like. I’m sure we all know this but even so, looking at how great everyone else life seems to be prevents use from noticing how amazing our own is.
And if so many people are creating this fake Walter Mitty style character that doesn’t even exist then we shouldn’t have anything to be envious about.
Yet so many people are, and keeping up with the Joneses can cause big problems. If Mike Tyson and Meat Loaf can be bankrupt twice because they can’t stop spending cash they don’t have, what chance do us mere mortals stand when next door gets a new kitchen on the same day that Barclaycard send us a pre approved credit card that we didn’t even ask for?

Buying things to impress others is often called conspicuous consumption and is a term that was coined back in 1899 when you either had money or you didn’t and that was that. With credit cards and loans things are a bit different nowadays but we aren’t Peacocks, we don’t need to fluff up our feathers!
A lion might flaunt it’s mane but humans flaunt their possessions, that’s evolution for you. But just because our instincts say “Don’t get left behind or you’ll be someones dinner” it doesn’t mean we have to act upon those urges. Take a deep breath to remind your brain that you’re safe, and evaluate your life. Do you actually need a 7 grand new kitchen? Or do you just need a new cooker and maybe some new cupboard doors? Don’t let the misery of comparison deny you happiness and pride in what you already have.

The actual phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” comes from a newspaper cartoon strip in 1913 and ran until 1940. In the strip, the author poked fun at our need to do things in order to impress other people by depicting the social climbing McGinis family, who struggle to "keep up" with their neighbours, The Jones family. And we still poke fun at these sorts of people, because we know that it’s wrong and unnecessary. They’re the Hyacinth Buckets of our world that we laugh about. But despite this there is this peculiar attitude amongst the majority that an ordinary life is a meaningless life. That just being OK is not OK, but it is!

The problem boils down to not being happy with who you are and appreciative of what you have in the first place. We know that there’s a correlation between materialism and self esteem loads of experiments have shown it, but knowing that this is how the brain works isn’t enough, it’s one thing to know it. but its another to actually do anything about it.

So do yourself a favour. Stop wishing that you were someone else, or that you have what they have, instead start appreciating who you are and the wealth that is already present in your life.