We’ve been trying to “Keep up with the Jones’” since before 1879 when a comic strip with that title first appeared. The phrase refers to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social class or the accumulation of material goods. Fast forward 137 years and the Kardashian’s have left the Jones’ in the dust. This phenomenon is neither new, nor is it going anywhere anytime soon thanks to things like Instagram and Facebook.
As the saying goes, we’re always looking to see what others are doing and making comparisons. Good or bad, we all do it. This type of social comparison led to two things: Conspicuous consumption and materialism.
Those two things led us to desire more, better and different things than the things we had or didn’t have. Those desires led to the ability to purchase via credit, which then led to consumer debt, so on and so on.
Consumer debt had been steadily building since the introduction of credit until finally slowing after 2008’s meltdown.
The recovery of the past eight years has brought it back. In reality and to be fair, the Jones’ are not completely to blame according this report by NerdWallet.
The report tells us part of the problem is that household income has grown by 26% in the past 12 years, but the cost of living has gone up 29% at the same time. And some of our largest expenses like medical care, food and housing have significantly outpaced income growth.
The danger of comparison is that it can lead to discontentment. That discontentment can lead to overconsumption, which can lead to debt. Debt limits our ability to fully pursue our passions because we’re stuck in a rat race trying to make money to pay that debt off.
Let’s get a sense of where we are. Not just in our neighborhoods, not just in our country. Let’s take a global perspective.
Compared to the most of the world, we are wealthy. You are wealthy.
What’s most important in your life? To your family? Keep that in mind the next time you catch yourself falling victim to comparison.