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.