You may have heard the phrase, “keeping up with the Joneses”. I’ve often wondered where it came from and why we need to keep up with the Joneses? It doesn’t seem to be a very green thing to do. I decided to look into it.
Who are the Joneses Anyway?
There are varying explanations regarding the origin of the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”. Two are listed below:
- In 1913, Arthur R. Momand created a comic strip called “Keep up with the Joneses”. The “Joneses” were neighbors of the strip’s main characters, and were spoken of but never actually seen. The comic strip ran for 26 years, and was later adapted into books, films and TV.
- The Jones were a prominent New York family with interests in Chemical Bank. In the 1850’s, the Jones and other rich New Yorkers began building extravagant mansions, including a house by William B. Astor (married to a Jones cousin), a phenomenon described as “keeping up with the Joneses”.
Why do People Want to Keep Up with the Joneses?
Is it human nature or marketing that instills in us the desire to “keep up with the Joneses”? In early societies, did some families try to keep up with the family who had the most hides or best hut? There probably wasn’t a lot of marketing going on back then so maybe it’s part of human nature that’s gotten out of control.
I realized I would need a lot of further research to cover this topic so for the purposes of this post, I decided to focus on some of the terms used to describe the phenomenon of “keeping up with the Joneses” (some are actually in the dictionary).
- Affluenza – combination of the words affluence (wealth) and influenza (disease), an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses, an unsustainable addiction to economic growth.
- Conspicuous Consumption – coined by Thorstein Veblen in 1899, showy extravagance in buying or using goods or services, meant to impress others with one’s wealth, status, etc.
- Materialism – the doctrine that comfort, pleasure, and wealth are the only or highest goals or values, tendency to be more concerned with material than spiritual or intellectual goals or values.
- Over-consumption – a situation where resource-use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem, a prolonged pattern of over-consumption leads to inevitable environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases.
Not Keeping Up with the Joneses or Anyone Else
Interestingly, when I entered “keeping up with the” in the Google search field, the top results were for “keeping up with the Kardashians”. Apparently the Kardashians have replaced the Joneses as the people we are supposed to keep up with.
It doesn’t take much research to learn that having more stuff does not make people any happier than those with less stuff. Why contribute to global warming and use our planet’s limited resources to generate stuff just so we can impress our neighbors?
Let’s start a new trend called “Not Keeping Up with the Joneses or Anyone Else”.
- 4th of July – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
- GDP is So 20th Century – Gross National Happiness is In
- I am an American Citizen not just an American Consumer
- Stuff – Less is More
- Webster’s New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition