Quit keeping up with the Joneses, they’re broke!

By Lisa Sugarman

Generally speaking, I usually try to keep a low profile. But I’m not sure that’s going to happen after the ink dries on this one.

So while you’re reading, remember: this is an opinion column. O-P-I-N-I-O-N. And frankly, who the hell am I anyway?

You’ll need to keep one thing in mind, though. If you decide to read any further you’ll automatically give up your right to complain. It’s a lot like when we used to watch All in the Family in the 70s—just by tuning in we unconditionally accepted that Archie was going to offend someone. We knew it was coming. A lot like drinking the McDonald’s coffee even though you knew it was too hot and then suing anyway.

So for the time being think of me as a cuter version of Archie Bunker and understand that the complaint window is officially closed after this paragraph.

Just read and then think. Then think some more.

Even though I wasn’t born at the Mary Alley that’s where I got the stitches I have on my chin after I fell down the handicap ramp behind the Bell School when I was two. So in my mind I’m only one degree of separation away from being a true Header.

I’ve lived in Marblehead practically all my life. Grew up on Cornell Road, raised a family here, lived here, worked here—the full monty. So make no mistake, I love this town and every beautiful, unique little nuance that comes with it. Except one.

The Joneses. I hate the Joneses.

And I hate that so many people feel like they need to keep up with them.

They’re at every barbeque, cocktail party, dinner party, and get-together. And they’re getting people all worked up. And for what? On ocean view? We all practically have an ocean view if we live here.

When I was a kid I was probably too busy biking back and forth to Tent’s Corner for penny candy to notice them, but as a parent raising a family in my favorite little town, I notice the Joneses everywhere.

Okay, maybe not a physical version of them, just the illusion of them. (It just sounds so much more dramatic when I personify.)

They’re smoke and mirrors, those Joneses. An apparition. They’re a lot like fashionable gypsies. They’re always moving around and they always leave everyone curious about their next move.

But the simple idea of them is what’s causing so many people to give in to all the conspicuous consumption that goes on around here. Way too many people are trying to keep up. No matter what it takes.

And I just have to wonder … why?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for the haves buying and doing and building whatever makes them happy; I just wish so many of the have nots could seem more content with what they do have.

There are plenty of hard-working people around here living within their means and they deserve a lot of credit because that’s not easy, especially in a place where people can so easily give in to an overdeveloped sense of cultural inferiority.

Remember, someone came up with expressions like, “the grass is always greener” because it’s human nature to crave. We just can’t help ourselves sometimes. Hell, I’ll be the first to admit that there have been granite countertops and built-in entertainment centers I’ve wanted in my life. But wanting is one thing. We all want things. Coveting is another thing altogether. That’s taking wanting to a new and dangerous level and that’s how people can get into trouble.

But think about it… there are only 10 Commandments and one whole Commandment is dedicated to not coveting. For a reason.

So I’m publically outing the Joneses right here and now. Newsflash: The Joneses are broke! And you will be too if you keep trying to keep up. I’m just weary of seeing people try so hard to keep up with an illusion and I think the quality of so many peoples’ lives will radically improve if they could just stop looking outward and started looking inward.

Why am I saying any of this? Simple. Because I write about things I see. And I see this everywhere. I hear about it, too, constantly. It’s certainly not relegated to just Marblehead but since I don’t write for the Denver Post, here I am. And Marblehead’s what I know best.

Happiness is relative to who we are, what we have, and what we need. And I just think the baseline of what we all really need to be happy tends to get skewed by what’s around us.

Earlier this summer I read an article by New York City freelance writer Martha McPhee where she talks about how much of the quality of her life she felt she lost by trying to keep up with the Joneses. She talked about how she acted “as she thought she should act and wasn’t authentic to who she was or what she wanted to be.” Then she talked about how she changed herself and the quality of her life simply by letting go of all the preconceptions of what she thought would make her happy and concentrated, instead, on what she already had. It changed everything.

The last line in her article was a Latin phrase that she saw stenciled on a friend’s wall: “Omnia quae cupio iam habeo.” Everything I want I already have. Now a version of that sign is hanging on my dining room wall because I don’t want to forget it.

Think about it, then take the Joneses off your speed dial.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn OR read her blog at https://itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com.

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