Why ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’ is for Pessimists

Many years ago, while I lived in India, I discovered that miseryóand 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 canít be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to differentiate between the two.

Niebuhrís inspiring words direct us to ourselves. Itís about what we can and cannot change in any given situation. Thatís an empowering perspective and thatís 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. ďI consider therapy a success when the consultation room is empty and when itís just my client and me. In the beginning the room is full with others, parents, siblings, lovers, employers and colleaguesÖĒ

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. Iím sure there were optimists among the begging women in New Delhióthose were the ones with the smiling facesóand 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. Itís the way to more success and happiness and better health. Give it a try.

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


Magdalena J.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you!

Susan T.
Susan T4 years ago

agree completely

Holly D.
Holly D4 years ago

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 :)

Kathleen R.
Kathleen R4 years ago


Bonnie M.
Bonnie M4 years ago

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.

Kate R.
Past Member 4 years ago

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

Autumn S.
Autumn S4 years ago


Rosemary H.
Rosemary H4 years ago

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!

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H4 years ago

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!

Georgina Burns
Georgina Burns4 years ago

thank you