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I Tried To Keep Up With The Joneses And Found Some Much-Needed Perspective

We need to stop wanting more and be content with what we have. 

22/11/2017 10:16 AM AEDT | Updated 22/11/2017 10:16 AM AEDT
Shannon Fagan
"It is so easy to get swayed and end up in this vicious cycle of owning, and then wanting, and then consuming, and then wanting more."

My husband and I are building a new abode. The family is outgrowing our 60-year-old house but we decided that we love where we live and that it is the perfect location to bring up our kids; so we knocked it down and made space for a new one. It is something we have been planning for years and we are very excited about it.

And yet recently I came home from a work function and found myself jumping onto Google and looking up the property prices of another suburb. We were invited to lunch at a colleague's new house and as the Uber driver drove us down the Jacaranda-lined streets, past the stylishly renovated colonial houses and evenly spaced lawns between curbs and picket fences, my heart swelled with house envy.

I was starting to think that maybe after a few years of living in our new house, we could sell it and move into this beautiful (and no doubt pricier) suburb instead. Images formed in my head of our family in this suburb; the kids will go to a new school, we will make friends with neighbours from respectable professions and we will invite guests over all the time because we will be so proud of our new home. We would be so happy and there would be nothing else that we would want, right?

Maybe. But maybe not.

How often do we find ourselves in that mindset; to think about the next object we want believing that it will make an advancement in our pursuit of happiness and life purpose? Be it dinner at the trendy restaurant, that only-just-released mobile phone, the European 4WD, that next trip to France (and maybe first-class this time) or a new double-storey house.

The more you widen your circle of influence, the more you will gain a wider appreciation and perspective of what you already own.

It is in our nature to want more. This is further fueled by the heavily commercialised environment that we live in and the ever-increasing popularity of social media. We crave the rosy pictures of glamorous looking couples living their almost-perfect lives so that we can also strive to have the same.

We, in turn, cannot wait for our chance to post photos on Facebook and Instagram to inform the world of our wonderful purchases and contribution to consumerism. The world has never seen photography pursued so actively as an interest as it has been in the past 10 years.

It is so easy to get swayed and end up in this vicious cycle of owning, and then wanting, and then consuming, and then wanting more. In my case, we have barely just paid off our last mortgage and I am already wondering about how much we take out in the next loan.

When is it going to end? It won't end, unless we consciously tell ourselves that it should. We need to help ourselves step out of this warped mentality of wanting more and be content with what we have.

The first step is to understand the underlying principle of the social theory of relativity, where we allow our happiness and self-worth to be defined by our relativity to those surrounding us. We are largely influenced by what we see and hear from our social and work circles -- the news we read, the places we frequent -- and we feel that we will only be happy if we rank higher on this scale of relativity.

This can be observed even within the mentality of little ones. Take two kids who are playing in the playground and one shows off to the other an amazing toy plane that he has just received as a birthday present. It is likely that the other kid would then go home that day asking for a similar toy from his parents for his impending birthday.

Take another example, people at my work often sit around the coffee pod and talk about ski trips to Canada; where the mountains are most rugged in the world, the snow is thick and soft and the cabins are romantic. That would naturally influence my choice of what is deemed to be desirable for my next holiday destination.

Now, if I worked in the building down the road where people are paid 30 percent less, they might talk about going on ski trips, but perhaps to the Blue Mountains.

And, if I lived in a small village somewhere in South East Asia the people would probably never take any ski trips. They might boast about particularly exciting trips to the next village. If you were backpacking through SEA and came across that village, would you not feel somewhat blessed about the resources you have to be able to do that?

The more you widen your circle of influence -- whether it is the group you hang out with on the weekend, the places you travel to, the publications you read or the social media posts that you choose to divert attention to -- the more you will gain a wider appreciation and perspective of what you already own.

According to major economic publications, Australians are among the top five wealthiest people in the world by average wealth per adult. And when I input my income into the Global Rich List website, it reminded me that I am among the top 0.2 percent richest people living on this planet.

Now that's perspective.

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