“If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” -Oprah Winfrey
When I’m not working on Tiny Buddha, I write for ‘tween girls, both as a contributor for a magazine and a ghost writer for a website.
Recently, I wrote several blog posts about the holiday season. One girl commented that she was excited to have received a $50 gift card and a few clothing items.
Everything changed for her when she read that another girl received a $500 gift card and an iPad, among other presents. Suddenly her gifts seemed completely inadequate.
While there’s a lesson in here about our consumer culture, and its effects on our children (the collective “our” since I don't even have pets, let alone kids), this got me thinking about the comparison game we often play as adults.
It can be challenging to identify what we believe is enough and then feel satisfied with that if we consistently weigh our choices against other people’s.
In my book, I referenced some research that reveals we often adjust our spending based on the earners just above us, whether we can afford to or not. When the rich get richer and buy bigger houses, the earners just below them feel the need to go bigger—and this cascades down the economic ladder.
We end up with a lot of people buying houses farther away from work to get more value for their dollar, commuting longer hours, borrowing more, saving less, and spending beyond their means—which ultimately can decrease our overall life satisfaction. It’s largely because of that instinct to “keep up with the Jonses.” Not doing so can feel like defeat.
But is it really? What does it mean to succeed—to fill a life with things based on what other people think they need, or to fill our time with experiences based on what we truly want?
I’m not going to suggest we stop comparing ourselves to other people, because I prefer to work with human nature than against it. But maybe the trick is to be mindful of what we’re comparing, so it’s less about having the same things as people we imagine are happy, and more about making similar choices to people who truly are.
Those choices rarely have to do with anxiously chasing bigger and better in tomorrow, and everything to do with peacefully creating and appreciating enough today.
Photo by Mala Imports