Post No.: 0104
So much about modern life works against affording happiness and achieving optimal day-to-day health (e.g. being stuck inside buildings and away from nature, foregoing exercise or social encounters because increasingly more things can be done sitting down behind screens, rushing mealtimes thus we seldom savour what nourishes us or we don’t get to eat socially enough, and so forth). It’s all in large part due to the imbalance of focusing our fuzzy lives too much on the pursuit of money and vanity and trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ (‘social comparisons’).
Modern life for many of us, with the constant busyness and chronic stresses, is not what we naturally evolved best for. It’s not to say that life was overall better in the past than today (let’s get some perspective) but modern life is different to the past in numerous ways and presents new or different types of stresses our ancestors were never quite exposed to (e.g. jet lag, sleep deprivation due to using electronic devices or artificial lighting too much or at least at the wrong times, air pollutants from traffic).
The modern materialistic culture is also increasingly individualistic, narcissistic, self-focused, self-accommodating, self-entitled, fast-paced, impatient, lonelier (despite online social networking), about chasing money first before attending to friendships, more than ever about being competitive rather than collaborative, and bitching and having lower empathy or concern for others because many people believe that poor people are purely poor because of their own choices and efforts – which then in turn leads to greater inequality. Yet the relatively more egalitarian countries of the world tend to consistently rate as the happiest places to live in. When people feel over-stressed from the workloads or feel dejected from coming out at the wrong end of zero-sum (win-lose) competitive relationships, they can often take it out on others and push those closest to them away too.
Human ancestors needed to physically cooperate in order to survive but now people can pay money to obtain goods and services to survive instead i.e. money can substitute the need for strong and meaningful social relationships in many contexts (e.g. you don’t need to be friendly with someone who knows how to do this or that – just pay a person you’ll never care to meet again if you need help). And I don’t think early human ancestors could be materialistic hoarders in the sense that they couldn’t physically carry that much around with them as nomads, and so what they carried needed to be mostly functional or shared otherwise it’d be wasted. But in the modern world, with so many goods to possibly buy then dispose for the latest models, and money existing in electronic forms that some can even offshore vast amounts of it in tax havens if they’ve got so much money that they don’t really need to use it – excessively selfish hoarding is possible – at the expense of the planet or those who could better utilise the resources.
A materialistic and individualistic culture (particularly one with more superficial interpersonal networks) of always aiming to have more things or to achieve more (measured by how many more things one has compared to others) has led to greater rates of anxiety, stress and depression in society. Also, resilience seems to be lower nowadays, with much less acceptance of negative events and negative feelings than before – as if more people feel they’re entitled to always get their own way so if they don’t then that counts as being ‘not fair’, or as if one is a failure if one isn’t constantly happy all the time (but read Post No.: 0075 for more about this). Modern life has its great points for sure, but fully submersing oneself into a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ culture without the right balances is not the best for one’s happiness, health or well-being. It’s like many people have forgotten how to live or what they’re really living for, for being too seduced by the extrinsic metrics of money and status.
‘Busyness’ has become a kind of badge of honour in many modern cultures – this is bad since people who are ‘too busy’ are generally unhappier and more miserable with their lives, and grumpier towards others for it too (people often displace or take out their stresses on others in times of frustration, and the harmful knock-on effects this has on society). People being chronically grumpy isn’t just a function of their innate personalities but the chronic situations they’re in, which includes chronic sleep deprivation.
We’re frequently individually exhausted, and we can neglect or alienate our own families and others because other people start to worry about dropping in to see their busy friends and neighbours for the risk of disturbing them. To feel our happiest, most of us would rather be with our friends and family than be at work, but pride gets in the way of that, thus we sacrifice spending time with them for prioritising the desire for more money, as if money is the ultimate scorecard in life i.e. more busyness, even for those who are, in all reasonableness, not poor, but just want to keep up with or beat ‘the Joneses’ (e.g. their neighbours or peer group). Were people never able to be happy before money was invented(?!) Woof.
We absolutely need to earn some money to live because not having enough for the basic necessities is incredibly stressful itself, so this is not about that struggle but about those who want more despite having enough, and wanting more at the expense of their mental health, physical health and quality of social relationships in the long-term (then they might die before they ever retire). Some claim to be ‘doing it for their children’ but then miss much of their children’s childhoods, and then attempt to make up for this missed time by spoiling them with material compensations, or substitutes for love!
The priorities are sometimes wrong e.g. not eating well because one would rather spend one’s monthly budget on a contract that gets one the latest mobile phone, which often isn’t the best financial deal in the long-run either – but one wants the phone in one’s hands now.
Even when people are shown evidence of some rich people who aren’t happy, they tend to rationalise that these rich people must be particularly unusual and will say ‘but I will definitely be happier and stay happier forever if I become rich’(!) (It’s like even though people know that virtually all editorial photographs are manipulated in one way or another, people can still believe the models look exactly like that in real-life and feel attracted to or envious of them because of those pictures!) Of course being materially rich itself, all else being equal, isn’t going to make one less happy – it’s how people myopically go about sacrificing certain things like their health and relationships in order to get rich, stay rich or get even richer, that’s the concern.
Some people are even stressed when going on holiday or when organising a party, as if the main things on their minds are social comparisons and managing their image i.e. overstretching themselves in order to go on the fanciest holiday that they can brag to their social circles about, hosting the most lavish party or wedding that upstages all others or simply doing things just to say ‘I’ve been there/done that’ to their peers, as if life is merely a ‘box ticking’ exercise. Holidays and parties are supposed to be fun or relaxing! Also, risking debt in order to show off, brag or ‘out-do’ others is just silly – but to many people it’s all about the image (of being perceived as wealthy, ‘successful’, fun or interesting) rather than the reality (of possibly being stone-broke and a pretender). It only fools other fools, although there are plenty of people like this (who flick through the carefully edited and curated social media pages of others too much).
Indeed, for some people, their insecurities of not feeling intrinsically worthy enough, hence the seeking of extrinsic material worth to mask their perceived shortcomings, is a genuine mental health issue, and then any debt just creates a vicious circle that ‘retail therapy’ doesn’t help (beyond very fleeting highs) but only exacerbates. In which case there is help available, such as your national citizens advice charity network. You are intrinsically worthy enough!
When we compare to those we perceive as better than us (upward social comparisons is when we compare ourselves to people who we believe are better than us), we experience a lowered self-perception; and when we compare to those we perceive as worse than us (downward social comparisons is when we compare ourselves to people who we believe are worse than us), we can end up arrogantly looking down upon them. Upward social comparisons can encourage us to strive to better ourselves and downward social comparisons can make us understand that we’re doing fine, but obsessing over social comparisons is very unhealthy.
If we are to compare between people, it’s probably better to frame it in terms of the fortunate and less fortunate (this is logically true after all because no one ever chose, earned or therefore deserved their genes and upbringing environment, for instance). Or if we still wish to measure what makes one person ‘better’ than another – don’t choose money as the measure but how fulfilled and content we are because we’re successful in balancing our life well with meaningful and well-attended-to friendships, time amongst nature, food that we savour and regular physical activities that look after our furry health as best as possible, for instance. These aren’t exactly the primary things people compare to others with or try to show off about even if they have or do them but that’s partly the point – they have intrinsic rather than extrinsic value. With intrinsic joys or merits, if you’ve got it then you don’t have to flaunt it because it doesn’t depend on what other people think about it. You know it and that’s enough.
Woof! If you think modern life in this modern world is too tacitly or overtly about ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ then please share your view by using the Twitter comment button below.