The other day I had to go to the South Park area, and traffic was bad, or maybe I should just say normal. At one point, 2 cars zipped around me. One was a Ferrari, and one was a Maserati. I am not even exaggerating.
I started really looking at the cars on the road. There were so many fancy types that I realized I had stopped counting Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche. They are more on the pedestrian side of things. (That’s the way we poor folks justify our 17-year-old Hondas.) I kept thinking, what kind of city do I live in that these super expensive cars are so commonplace?
Then I started looking at the houses and thinking about the show of wealth and all the people keeping up with the Joneses. That phrase originated in a comic strip in 1913. 1913!! And we’re still doing it; still competing in a contest that is both a self-made game and one that has no winner.
In her class the Science of Well-Being, Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos, talked about something called reference points, and how unhappy they can make us. She defined them as something we choose to compare ourselves or our situations to. If we choose something that is inapplicable to our own lives, we become less satisfied with what we have.
For example, if I were to get a new Honda, I would be thrilled. But if my neighbor gets a Tesla (or a Maserati), then I would not be as happy. I would not be taking into account that he went to law school or med school, works 100 hours a week, and never sees his family. I only see that he has a nicer car than I do.
On the other end of the spectrum are the people and places who are confident in who and what they are. You have to love people and businesses who are honest about it all. At the beach each year, Joyce and I always stay at a fisherman's motel, meaning most of the people staying there are there for the fishing. It was built in 1954. It’s super clean but far from luxurious. There are no phones, no carpet, the door to the room is rusted and has an actual key for entry. The balcony holds two plastic chairs and is made of wood that could give you 3 inch splinters if you’re not careful. When you go to check in, they write it up in a ledger made of paper and has actual carbon paper in between the sheets. It’s attached to a pier that is really showing its age. There is no keeping up with the Joneses here.
Last year they had repaired some damage from the hurricane that had passed through. They replaced some of the boards on the balcony. The funny part is that they did not paint them to match the rest. Everything is painted a drab, olive color, and now new wood, light in color, is sprinkled throughout like confetti littering the ground.
It’s just that kind of motel. There’s an honesty there. They are real, secure, know who they are and who they are not, and they act accordingly.
So maybe, if we figure out who we are, we can live it out. There’s too much energy wasted, worrying about the Joneses.