If a neighbor or a friend of yours gets a new bike or a new video game or a new doll, how do you feel about it? Are you happy for your friend? Or do you feel envious? Does it make you want to get the same thing for yourself?

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Keeping up with the Joneses?” It’s a common phrase used to describe people who strive to keep up with other people around them. It can refer to trying to own as much as — or more than — those around you. It can also refer to trying to match others in terms of achievements, such as awards, praise or recognition.

For example, if one family in a neighborhood buys a new car, another family might feel like they, too, deserve a new car. They might be envious of their neighbor’s new car and hurry out to buy a new car of their own. When this happens, people often say they’re just trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Why do people do this sometimes? Experts believe a desire to “keep up with the Joneses” may stem from feelings of inferiority. People often equate material possessions with their own sense of worth. If someone else has more “stuff,” then they might be perceived as better. The desire for more “stuff” can actually be a hidden desire to be seen as better than one’s peers.

So who are the Joneses? The phrase developed in the early 1900s in the United States. In 1913, the New York Globe published the first Keep Up with the Joneses comic strip by Arthur “Pop” Momand.

In the comic strip, the Joneses were never seen and were merely a generic way of referring to “neighbors” in general. The comic strip became popular quickly and a film version was soon featured in theaters around the U.S. The phrase “keep up with the Joneses” became a popular idiom reflecting the events of the comic strip, in which the characters were always comparing themselves to their neighbors.

Experts believe that “keeping up with the Joneses” can have negative effects on society. For example, such envy can often lead to conspicuous consumption, which means buying lots of “stuff” primarily so that others will see it, notice you and come to certain favorable conclusions about your standard of living.

Conspicuous consumption can lead to poor financial decisions. Some people borrow money to purchase things they don’t need and can’t afford merely to “keep up with the Joneses.” When this happens, people can find themselves living beyond their means, relying upon debt to fuel their desires. When that happens, bad financial decisions can be difficult to correct.


14 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (7 votes, avg. 4.14 out of 5)
  1. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I loved today’s wonder! I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about candy.

    Remember back on wonder of the day #574 – What are shadow puppets? I thought wonder of the day #575 was about eggs and I was wrong. Wonder of the day #575 was not about eggs. Wonder of the day #575 was What is a poetry slam?

    Happy Cinco de Mayo!


    • Happy Cinco de Mayo to you, too, TJ! We always look forward to your Saturday comments! We hope you had a SUPER week at school and that you learned LOTS of cool things! We’re glad you’re hanging out in Wonderopolis with us today to learn even MORE! :-)

    • Good morning, Caelah! Thanks so much for letting us know you liked the video for today’s Wonder! We thought the “computer” and “internet” they created and used in the video made it extra funny! :-)

  2. Wow! I have never heard of the Joneses. I guess you learn something new every day!!! And almost everyday at Wonderopolis !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • We all really DO learn something new every day in Wonderopolis, Isabel! We think it’s FUN to WONDER about the world around us, and we’re glad you do, too! Have a HAPPY day! :-)

  3. Hey wonderopolis!

    Today’s wonder was wonderful! I hope you have a great day and a wonderful Cinco de Mayo!


    • Hi, Grace! Thanks so much for letting us know you thought today’s Wonder was WONDERful! We appreciate hearing that! We also think YOU ROCK for wishing us a happy Cinco de Mayo! We’ve had a GREAT day so far and it just got even BETTER because we read your SUPER comment! :-)

  4. I’ve never heard of the Joneses. Huh. Before. I go, I have just 1 question; CAN YOU PLEASE DO A WONDER ON PANDAS? PRETTY PRETTY PLEASE??? All my friends and I REALLY REALLY LOVE pandas!!! Can you do the wonder soon? If so I would be SOOOO HAPPY!!!! :) :) :)

    • We think a future Wonder of the Day® about pandas sounds like a GREAT idea, Brianna! We appreciate your enthusiasm for WONDER and are really happy you visited Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Hello, Hallie! Thanks for letting us know you thought this Wonder of the Day® was cool! Just like you, we always WONDER what the next Wonder will be! :-)

  5. I agree with Brianna! I love pandas and I would love for you guys to do a wonder on that! I also like this WONDER it is really cool. I hope you guys have a WONDERful Day.


    • We appreciate that you and Brianna would both like to explore a future Wonder about pandas, Emma! Thanks for letting us know and THANKS for wishing us a WONDERful day…we hope you have one, too! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do you try to keep up with the Joneses?
  • What is conspicuous consumption?
  • Are you satisfied with what you have?


Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

So do YOU try to keep up with the Joneses? Many wise people will tell you that the secret to true happiness is learning to be content and satisfied with what you have.

And no matter what you have, it’s probably more than you think! Take some time today to think carefully about your life and all the things that make it special and great.

Don’t limit yourself to material things, like video games and smartphones and digital music players. Think about the intangible things, too. Do you have great friends? How about a wonderful family? A place to live and food to eat every day?

What about access to knowledge, such as a local library or a school computer lab? Do great teachers make learning fun each day?

If you learn to appreciate all the people and things in your life that make every new day an adventure, you’ll realize how fortunate you are. When you feel thankful for what you have, you can be truly happy without worrying about what everyone else has.

So don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses! Just sit back and learn to enjoy all that you already have!


Still Wondering

Check out Illuminations’ Parking at the Mall lesson to learn how you can develop number sense in and around the shopping mall.


Wonder What’s Next?

Grab a stick! Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day takes a beating and keeps on treating!

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