Doing better than keeping up

I was channel flipping when I came across a scene from a long-running reality show.  

I can’t tell you which city it might have been but a quick search informed me there are 10 spin-offs of the original series about fashionably dressed housewives who seem to delight in loud interactions inside beautifully decorated mansions.   

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In the scene I watched, a young woman left the room amidst a dramatic flourish while another raised her voice yelling how jealous she must be. A third woman stepped in presumably to defuse the situation and asked what made her think she might be jealous of them. That’s when the louder one yelled, “Because everybody wants to be us.” 

A comic strip created in 1913 depicted the McGinis family; a family who were always comparing themselves to their neighbors. Titled "Keeping up with the Joneses" it ran until 1940 and further popularized a saying still in use today.  

The pressure of feeling the need to keep up with the Joneses has led to increased conspicuous consumption and spiralling personal debt. The contemporary incarnation is “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” The pursuit of fame and wealth by its namesake family has made them…well…very famous and very wealthy and given rise to a voraciousness in consuming their public persona.  

Their zeal in documenting every aspect of their lives since 2007 created a new type of celebrity capitalizing on crafting an image and lifestyle that others want to emulate.  

Social comparison theory proposes that within each of us is a drive for self-evaluation, and we do that by comparing ourselves to others. But it's not just about keeping up with the Joneses, or the Kardashians for that matter, any longer. The incessant flood of pictures and posts from those in our circle and strangers across the planet has become a never-ending point of comparison and it is having a harmful effect. 

Researchers tell us it breeds envy, low self-esteem, depression and even our ability to trust others. See here's the thing. We know much of what we see is manipulated or staged, which is increasing our levels of distrust, yet we are falling for the fake stuff and allowing it to diminish our appreciation of what we have, how we look, and who we are. Little in life looks or sounds nearly as good as someone else’s because real life rarely stacks up against the images of those who want us to believe this is what their life really looks like.  

Steve Furtick reminds us, "The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel."  

The notion that “everybody wants to be us” seems to be true for those wishing they were the ones living the life they’re promoting. Sadly, it is leaving many feeling pessimistic and unhappy because they don't have the right friends, the right house, the right job or the right body in comparison with those who seem to have all of the above.  

But it might not be too hard to find a new formula. It doesn’t require abandoning interest in others, but rather bringing a bit more balance to our perspective.  

A man married for six years and very much in love with his wife asked her to stop using one of her social media apps for just seven days. Wanting to prove it wouldn't be a problem, she agreed. Her husband noticed changes in her in less than 48 hours, and more significantly, she noticed it in herself. On day four she described feeling more peaceful, content, and more patient with their three-year-old daughter. She began to recognize how often she was comparing her home, her appearance, her job and her family to people she shouldn't have cared so much about.  

“I had no idea how much damage I was inflicting on myself," she said later.  

She now puts limits on her screen time, goes for a walk with her family each day to enjoy nature, plays more with her daughter and says she can’t believe she was spending so much time watching other people’s lives. Perhaps not unrelated, their second child is on the way. 

The quote “comparison is the thief of joy" has been attributed to several figures throughout history, but no matter who said it first, it is as true today as ever. A life lived comparing ourselves to others is a life robbed of joy. We need to stop obsessing about the versions of life others are putting out there and get back to showing appreciation and finding contentment in our own. That’s my outlook. 

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