The Jones’s have always been portrayed as a faceless couple on your street who inspire discontent and jealousy. They own the biggest house at the end of the cul-de-sac, and while you’re on your knees in the front yard pulling weeds, they roll down the street in their luxury vehicle with their golden retriever hanging its impeccably bred head out the window. According to lore, you turn back to your petunias now feeling like your life is lacking something, this causes you to go out car shopping the next day, because, dang it, you need to keep up.
We all have people like that in our neighborhood. But the Jones’s are much more insidious than that. The Jones’s are everyone and everywhere.
I will tell you one tale for reference
In January I started training for a half marathon. My running shoes were relatively new (acquired at an outlet store six months prior) and they were just fine. I had put only about thirty solid miles on them. They were intact, light, and did not cause me any foot, ankle, or knee pain. I was relieved to not be pressed to buy new shoes. I loathe the idea that any time we have a life event we need to go out and purchase stuffs to fit into this role. Like, not only am I training for a half marathon, but apparently I need to look like I am, too.
But a month into my training I visited my friend’s apartment one evening and I saw her running shoes. They were sitting on a shoe rack right inside the door. They were the most fabulous shade of blue, had a rounded toe, and a logo I had never seen. What were these shoes? I needed to know more! Upon seeing her bright, seemingly unworn shoes, my own running shoes seemed dull, drab, and, frankly, ugly. They certainly weren’t worthy of training for a half marathon. Once home I took to the interwebs to see if I could track down these shoes. I shopped and salivated for hours. I even found a pair on Ebay that were new, and a steep discount. I imagined I would be much happier with these shoes and running would be much more comfortable and enjoyable with them on my feet, not the arduous task it was with my old, smelly shoes.
I waffled back and forth for days trying to decide if I should buy them. It’s only $40, I’d tell myself. But that’s a slippery slope I’d whisper. Back and forth I went, opening my laptop to check the Ebay listing, only to quickly shut it again.
In this example my friend whose apartment I visited was Ms. Jones herself.
And it wasn’t that I consciously wanted to “keep up” with her, I just really liked her shoes. The problem is that when I saw her runners I couldn’t help but reflect on how unappealing my own were. I was perfectly happy with those tried and true trainers until I saw something “better”. Then I was seriously discontent with what I had. Not good enough, the gong clanged in my head.
Where else do the crafty Jones’s lurk, spreading malcontent and despair? Everywhere you look
Billboards, magazine ads, social media.
There is a woman in a bathing suit ad who is testing my resolve something fierce. A hint of warm weather and suddenly I can’t check my newsfeed without it being suggested that I need a new swimsuit, and they are cuuuuuuuuute. Not like my one from last summer that’s slightly faded from the sun and pilling on the butt.
Oh, and your friends next-door who were living pretty much the same lifestyle as you: small house, practical car, family dog? One night over cards they break it to you that they’re house hunting in the burbs. Suddenly, you feel left behind and you’re questioning everything. Is this “up and coming” neighborhood still a good fit for you? Isn’t it a little gritty here? Wouldn’t it be nice to own a bigger plot of land, be sequestered from the noisy sounds and bright lights of the city, and not have your car broken into at night? After cards you return to your once perfectly fine home to find the air inside stale and uninspired.
What about when you go camping? The place where you go to get away from it all. You are happily setting up your humble little tent which provides the best shelter from the rain and elements only to jerk your head up as a behemoth RV trundles by, literally kicking up dirt on your tiny dwelling.
At work it’s the coworker with the new dress, the best haircut, the adorable shoes. Your capsule wardrobe feels ill-fitting and dated, and you’re already online shopping at your desk before you’ve visited the office kitchen for your morning cup of coffee.
It’s either face the Jones’s everyday of your waking life or go live as a Tibetan monk.
So, what do you do? How do you deal with or ignore the Jones’s?
You’ve heard it before, but I’ll remind you: The Jones’s exist only in the vacuum you see them in. Of course, their lives look pretty grand when all you see is them cruising through the neighborhood, all polished and perfect. But you don’t see their life once they park in the garage and go inside. Maybe their kitchen is a mess, maybe they’re hoarders, maybe they hate each other and sleep in separate beds, maybe their dog poops in their shoes. Or, maybe none of that is true and they are wonderful people with great lives who have their ducks in a row. But you don’t know because you only see the bright, shiny side of them. Just like you are not defined by what you possess, neither are the Jones’s.
Take the woman in the bathing suit ad. Sure, she looks sun kissed and happy, with her floppy beach hat and black one-piece, but then the photoshoot end and she gets dressed and goes back to her normal life. Maybe that’s studying for college exams and staying awake on a diet of glazed donuts and no-doze.
And your friends’ new life in the suburbs might be fantastic, but certainly no more fantastic than your life closer to the city can be. And you aren’t being left behind because it isn’t a race.
No matter how rational the mind, though, it can be hard to drown out the constant noise, a persistent buzzing in the background promising us our lives will be better if we buy things.
So how do you quash it?
1. Stop consuming entertainment that has ads.
Most magazines are literally books of ads with a scant few articles in between. Read a book of poetry instead, or a book of anything. Come to think of it, a book may be one of the last remaining pieces of entertainment that we can count on to not be plastered in advertisements or plugs.
2. Take a break from social media.
Try an unplugged weekend. Get out in nature, where you need only the most basic essentials to survive and be happy. Lace up your hiking boots, pack a sandwich, and make a whole day of it. I promise you will not miss a single thing by not checking in with social media.
3. Get to really know your neighbors
Become friends with them and share in their ups and downs. You’ll root for their success and you’ll come to understand them as complex people with complex, imperfect, lives that make them real.
4. Cultivate the things in your life that bring you real happiness
I mean the kind that’s deep and lasting. For me that’s relationships, adventure, security, and family.
5. Set personal goals for yourself that have nothing to do with buying material goods
Maybe that’s exercising more, eating healthy, getting a promotion, volunteering, learning something new or taking up a new hobby, fattening up your retirement accounts, etc…
My final word is just to keep a clear head about you. Appraise the life of the Jones’s with a hard eye, and don’t rush to assumptions. As with all things in life, buying more things is not the solution, instead find your happiness within you.