You're bored at work and decide to take a break. You pull out your phone and start strollin' through the 'gram, Facebook, twitter or whatever other social media accounts you have. One of your acquaintances (they aren't your friends if you don't speak to them in real life) just went on this amazing trip to Australia and posted a pic of her with a kangaroo. Another one just bought the cutest boots. Someone else has the perfect make-up, or just put a down payment on a new house. Now you are thinking you want (or need) all of these things. Sometimes what you see on social media isn't even material and you want it. Maybe someone just got engaged, decided to go back to school, or had a baby. This break has turned into a full on envy-fest for all the things you think you need to be happy in life.
To be clear, it isn't just social media that sends us these messages. Advertisements on T.V. or online, books, movies and even the news can make us feel like we aren't getting all we should out of life because someone always has something more than what we do. I'm sure many of you have heard the expression "keeping up with the Joneses." Wanting all of these things you see gets you primed and ready to fulfill that expression to the fullest.
I'll share my personal example of this. At my first full-time job, I would often browse through Facebook (aka procrastinate) and see what my "friends" were up to. A lot of them had wedding photos, or engagement posts. Or they were buying houses and new cars, embarking on exciting careers and traveling the world. I was always left with a "why isn't that me?!" feeling. I was so discontented and couldn't see all of the stuff that I had going for me. Once I realized that I spent too much time thinking about what other people had, and that social media played a huge role in that, I cancelled all of my accounts. As I mentioned, social media isn't the only way to see what other people have, so I still find myself falling into the "why not me" mindset, but it happens considerably less.
Now, I am not saying that you should cancel all of your social media accounts. Maybe you use yours for work, or have a healthy relationship with social media rather than a destructive one. But if you find yourself thinking more about what others have, it may be wise to take a step back and look at what is causing that way of thinking.
I bring this "keeping up with the Joneses" or "why not me" mindset up for a few reasons. One is that this is often the biggest driver of us making unnecessary purchases. We decide we need something because someone else has it, and that is enough justification for us to go out and buy it. We haven't taken the time to think about whether that is something we really need, or want for that matter, or if it is something that will be burdensome in the long run (like buying a house when you know you aren't financially ready for one). Our society supports this way of thinking by designing ads that convince you that you need a specific product if you want to have the lifestyle they portray. Or by telling us you won't be successful if you don't have XYZ by a certain age. Credit cards aid us in this endeavor by allowing us to get things instantaneously rather than thinking it through first.
Another reason I bring this up is because this mindset blocks us from thinking about what we really want or need. For example, a lot (and I mean a lot) of my social media friends were getting engaged. I saw it all the time, and was going to a lot of weddings at that time. I wanted to be engaged too! I wanted the ring, and the fancy wedding and all the bells and whistles. But when I disengaged from social media and had time to think about it, I knew that getting married at that time in my life was definitely not something I wanted or needed. I wasn't mentally or emotionally prepared for committing to someone for the rest of my life. That clear thinking was possible because I stepped away.
Yet another reason is that when we constantly consider what everyone else has (that we don't) we aren't able to appreciate what is right in front of us. The ability to be truly happy is directly tied to the ability to be grateful for what you have. I am not saying that you shouldn't strive for more, but I am saying that while you are striving, take the time to appreciate what is already here. Maybe you want that promotion at work. Great! Still be thankful that you have a job to be promoted from. Or maybe you want a home. Awesome! But don't discount the fact that you've been able to afford that apartment for some time. Thinking about what we lack makes us feel like what we have isn't enough. Remembering and consciously thinking about all we do have helps combat the desire to purchase things we don't need.
Lastly, what we see on TV, movies and social media is either a) not real (such as TV shows etc.) or b) a small snippet of someone's life. I know that we all intuitively know this, but it is certainly worth repeating. Social media shows a small part of someone's full life, and most people choose to showcase their life in the best light possible. We don't actually know what else is going on in that person's life (unless you really talk to them), or what circumstances led them to that photo or video. Advertisements are similar. Those people are paid to look that good or that happy with that product. Most of them probably don't use that stuff in real life! Keeping in mind that these images are only a small piece of a bigger picture helps us mitigate our desire to have them.
Now, sometimes seeing what someone else has can be an inspiration. It can make you think "I can do that too!" If you have that thought (after you've really thought about if you want or need that thing) then go for it! We are social creatures and inspiring and taking inspiration from one another is something we should do. Inspiration can be extremely motivating when it encourages you to make some positive changes in your life. Coupled with this inspiration is usually a positive feeling for that person too, such as "I'm so happy s/he is succeeding/crushing her/his goals/achieving what s/he wants in life." If you have feelings of jealousy or envy toward that person, and a woe-is-me attitude, whatever you're seeing is not inspiring you; it's tipping you into the "keeping up with the Joneses" mindset.
We need to consciously and intentionally think about the things we want and/or need in life, while simultaneously seeing and appreciating(!) what we already have. This makes us lighter in our bodies and in our spirits, happier for ourselves, and more willing (and able!) to be happy for others. When we apply this way of thinking, rather than a "keeping up with the Joneses" mindset, we are smarter and more strategic with our purchases, and able to work towards a specific (financial or otherwise) goal with better focus. Just like may be trying to keep up with the Joneses, they are probably trying to keep up with you! Instead, focus on keeping up with yourself and you (and your wallet!) will be much happier.