START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x

Why ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’ is for Pessimists

Why ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’ is for Pessimists

Many years ago, while I lived in India, I discovered that misery—and the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is quite often a relative issue. It pained me to see the poor women with babies begging at the traffic lights in New Delhi. There were just too many of them. You could help one, a few, but never all. In my frustration I used to think that The Netherlands was a great country because it had a social security system that would prevent such painful begging.

Then I would travel back to The Netherlands and in public transit I would find jobless men and women supported by that very social security system looking as sad and frustrated as the poor women in India. Sometimes there even seemed to be more smiles at the traffic lights in New Delhi.

I concluded that the way we feel about our lives is greatly influenced by the way we relate to our environment. To a beggar in India, social security in The Netherlands must be heaven. To an unemployed person in The Netherlands a job and the social standing that comes with it is heaven too. Both are struggling, trying and not succeeding to keep up with the Joneses.

The best way to improve your life is not to compare yourself with others. Such comparing is at the root of a lot of pessimism.

In the 1940s, the American theologian Rienhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer that has since been on many walls. He asked for the serenity to accept what can’t be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to differentiate between the two.

Niebuhr’s inspiring words direct us to ourselves. It’s about what we can and cannot change in any given situation. That’s an empowering perspective and that’s surely the shortest way to a better life. A lifestyle of optimism begins where we are able to choose our own response to the challenges that life deals us.

A friend once told me about a talk by a professor in psychology who had therapy practice. The man said that all therapy ends with self-acceptance. “I consider therapy a success when the consultation room is empty and when it’s just my client and me. In the beginning the room is full with others, parents, siblings, lovers, employers and colleagues…”

In other words happiness flows from the acceptance that we lead our own lives and create our own experiences. And that we can under all circumstances choose the optimal response available to us. I’m sure there were optimists among the begging women in New Delhi—those were the ones with the smiling faces—and they have since found a better future for themselves and their children. Similarly, the unemployed people who find a new job sooner are not just lucky. It pays off to be an optimist. It’s the way to more success and happiness and better health. Give it a try.

Related
The World is a Better Place Than You Think
Do You Belong?
Are You Threatened By Other People’s Success?

Read more: Blogs, Intelligent Optimist, Mental Wellness, , , , ,

have you shared this story yet?

go ahead, give it a little love

Jurriaan Kamp

The Intelligent Optimist is a community centered around a magazine, a website and online events and courses. We focus on the people, passion and possibilities changing our world for the better.

68 comments

+ add your own
9:50PM PST on Jan 5, 2014

agree completely

3:45AM PST on Dec 10, 2013

Thanks! :) I enjoyed reading this. I have noticed too that, at least in Western society, comparison to other "successful" people is practically encouraged. And we wonder at our depression rates! I feel like people have also lost touch with the simple pleasure of helping others and stepping outside your personal bubble. But all things can change :)

11:34AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Thanks

9:22AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Sadly, pessimists, egotists and the like are all around. It would be good to remember that we give life to negative, pessimistic ,unkind and envious thoughts This can become a way of life-ergo- everything in this life sucks.Money provides for the basic of life, but it can not buy happiness , love nor honor. If people can not count their blessings and start the day with an attitude of gratitude, of course they are stuck in their own mire.

8:29AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

We should all judge ourselves by our own standards & refuse to treat life as though it were a competition.

5:15AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

thanks

4:14AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

This story reminds me of the reason why I eventually tired of a sport I used to enjoy - showjumping. People with a string of horses to ride plus horseboxes to travel around in - a luxury I could never aspire to when I had just one horse - were as miserable as sin if thier horse knocked down just one pole.

A few months later I was in Nepal, one of the poorest countries on earth, and meeting people whose lifestyle could hardly have changed since the middle ages, and they seemed to me to be a great deal happier than the showjumpers!

4:09AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Dave, no we don't entirely create our own experiences. Our experiences depend to a certain degree on the cards life hands you. Can you turn lemons into lemonade?

I'm not sure I like the quote that ends with 'the wisdom to know the difference' because people patronised me with it when I was trying to recover from post traumatic stress disorder by the non-standard remedy of activism. But my activism succeeded! I really could not find the artificial distinction between looking after myself and helping other people!

3:55AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

thank you

3:00AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Some people have a lot more to accept than others. Life treats each of us differently, from birth onward, regardless of our attitudes.

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

Good enough to eat...

"Currently, a “generally recognized as safe” determination is made when the manufacturer o…

Very interesting! Thankyou for sharing :)

Story idea? Want to blog? Contact the editors!



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.