Who Are the Joneses and Why Are We Trying to Keep Up With Them?

In America today, it seems like we are always striving for something. To be bigger, better than who we are. We're never content with what we have. But why? Where did this sense of not being enough come from?
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In America today, it seems like we are always striving for something. To be bigger, better than who we are. We're never content with what we have. But why? Where did this sense of not being enough come from?

As it turns out, the phrase "Keeping up with the Joneses" comes from a cartoon strip of that name that launched in 1913 and ran for 26 years. In the strip, creator "Pop" Momand poked fun at our need to do things in order to impress other people. I'd love to say that need died when the last episode of that comic strip ran, but alas, it seems to have only gotten worse. These days we don't care about the Joneses, we're trying to keep up with the Kardashians. (Thank God I don't have cable TV!)

Which really gets to the heart of the matter. Who is telling us that we need to keep up with the Kardashians? The media. Until the late 1880s, magazines were not widely read. They were for the rich, who could afford both the time and money to read them. But toward the end of the 19th century, two events happened that forever changed our world: second class mail was created and the rotary printing press was invented. This dropped the price of magazines so that they were affordable for the working class. Mass media was born. And this opened up a whole new world.

Prior to the late 1880s, most of us were so busy trying to make a living that we didn't care what the Joneses were doing, nor did we know, for that matter. But with the birth of mass media, suddenly we were being told in no uncertain terms that not only were the Joneses far better than we were, but also that we should do something about it. You see, we didn't know that we weren't good enough until someone told us. And much of that assessment was, and still is, based on a perceived lack of things we're told we should want or have. "Fortunately," those same magazines provided us with ready solutions in the form of advertisements for products that would "catch us up" to the Joneses. Of course, by the time we got there, the Joneses were ahead of us again (kind of like how your brand-new computer is out of date as soon as you walk out of the store) and the vicious cycle of keeping up with the Joneses perpetuated itself ad infinitum.

So here we are, feeling like we're not good enough. It's reflected in the music we listen to, the shows we watch (think "reality" TV), the things we say to ourselves and our loved ones. And we feel guilt, and most of all, shame.

I think Brene Brown puts it best when she says, "I see the cultural messaging everywhere that says that an ordinary life is a meaningless life." (Daring Greatly, p. 23). She calls this the "never enough" problem and attributes it, for most of us, to a singular early childhood event that perpetuated our need to be a people-pleaser -- at least, until someone tells us we can stop.

Fortunately, there are a number of anti-Joneses movements popping up. Websites like Operation Beautiful, Body Heart, and Superhero Life. Media influence is not going away and it's nice to have some sites that advocate positive self-regard out there. Because ultimately, you decide if you're going to buy in to this idea that you're not good enough.

Yep, that's right. I'm not blaming the media here. The media sell us products that it thinks we want because they know we'll buy them in order to "keep up with the Joneses." So how do we stop? Stop buying into the message that you're not good enough. Stop buying things to "improve" who you are. Because ultimately, no product is going to make you a "better" version of you. Only you can do that. So stand in front of the mirror and say to yourself, "I am enough!" Start with a whisper and then shout it out because you are enough. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Think about it this way: Actions speak louder than words, so every time your kids see you berating yourself, they, too, are getting the message that they aren't good enough. So stop the madness. Do it for your kids. Do it for yourself. Just do it.

For more by Mary Pritchard, click here.

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