I drive a 2008 car that just hit 60,000 miles; I’ve had my LG enV cell phone since 2007; my laptop is four years old and I’ve had my camera for almost five years; I’ve been wearing my favorite shoes – a pair of comfy boots – since Christmas 2009, and I bought my winter coat in 2004; I still have the same television I bought my freshman year of college… more than decade ago.
Yet, despite appearances, at times, I can be absolutely obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses, whether that fictional Mr. or Mrs. Jones is my cousin living a glamorous life on the West Coast, the neighbor down the street who actually managed to sell her house in a slow market, or a friend who blew my entire yearly clothing budget in one afternoon of shopping while on a trip to New York City. Sometimes, I think I cling to all my old stuff – stuff that, by rights, I do use every day, or at least on a regular basis – simply so I can make the excuse: “I’m frugal, I’m looking for a good deal, I don’t need that new, shiny stuff when my old stuff works perfectly fine.”
My needs are the basic things I absolutely require to survive. They’re simple things, like:
- A job
But even my needs can have me comparing myself with those Joneses, because when you get right down to it, most of our wants begin with our needs.
Wants vs. Needs
Each one of the needs listed above is simple enough. For my family of four, shelter could mean something as simple as a two-bedroom apartment; heck, it could probably mean something even simpler than that. We could live off PB&J sandwiches, wear our clothes from last year, take public transportation. Doing all those things technically meets our needs – we don’t need anything more than that to survive and in reality, most of the world doesn’t have any more than that; in fact, most of the world’s population survives with far less than that.
But how do you think your friends or family would respond if you asked them if they actually wanted to live in a small apartment? What about if you asked hem if they wanted to eat basic, and often unhealthy, foods? What would they say if you asked whether they wanted to take the bus every day?
I’m betting they’d say no.
The fact is, even my own so-called “needs” reflect my obsession with keeping up with the Joneses. I don’t live in a minimalistic apartment; I own a three bedroom house in a suburban neighborhood, a home I’m often overheard saying isn’t big enough for my family. I don’t take the bus; instead, I buckle up in an SUV I purchased brand new, albeit a few years ago. And my family and I definitely don’t subsist on PB&J or ham and cheese sandwiches; we routinely buy seafood and steaks at the grocery store and like to eat out a few times a month. In other words, my “wants” have infiltrated their way into my “needs.”
Why Do We Want What We Can’t Have?
When I’m being honest with myself, I can admit that I wish my “basic” needs were met even more luxuriously. For instance:
- Shelter – My husband and I are actively looking to sell our current home and move into one with another bedroom, a separate office, and a playroom
- Food – If I eat Hamburger Helper one more time, I may hurl
- Clothing – I’m coveting a new Michael Kors handbag I saw at the mall last month with my mom
- A job – My husband is jonesing for a job with a more impressive title
- Health – You could live healthfully by eating well and taking regular walks outside… yet I live at my gym, and desperately want an elliptical trainer at my house, too
- Transportation – I have more than a small obsession with the Infiniti FX
These wants vs. needs have grown exponentially in extravagance as I’ve aged. When I was in college, I simply dreamed of having a job or owning any car; when I had my first job, I looked forward to buying my own starter home and eating out whenever I didn’t feel like cooking. Now that I’m a little bit older, my wants are grander than ever, and I’m pretty positive how they got that way: by comparing myself to others.
As humans, are we programmed to always want something more, something new, something better? Are we designed to constantly compare ourselves to those who have what we want?
Reader, how do you work on feeling content with what you have? How do you stop comparing yourself – and your possessions – to others?