President Russell M. Nelson stated, “My heart goes out to conscientious Saints, who, because of their shortcomings, allow feelings of depression to rob them of happiness in life. We all need to remember: men are that they might have joy—not guilt trips!” (“Perfection Pending,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 86).
We often feel a pressure in our lives to keep up with the Joneses. We may feel that we need to have a nice car, a big house, a big family, magnify our callings, be perfect like the Bishop’s family, or any number of other pressures in life that make us feel guilty for coming up short. There are all sorts of pressures in life that make us feel like we need to keep up with the Joneses.
I find it interesting that the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” actually originated from a comic strip by Arthur R. "Pop" Momand in 1913. The comic strip ran in newspapers for 26 years, and was eventually adapted into books, films, and musical comedies. The "Joneses" were neighbors of the strip's main characters, unseen characters often spoken of but never actually seen in person.
The Jones’s Bank Account
If we are going to keep up with the Joneses, let’s first look at the Jones’s bank account. In the first quarter of 2002, the total U.S. credit card debt was $660 billion. By 2005, the total U.S. credit card debt had increased to $735 billion. American's average credit card debt in 2007 was $8,400 per household. By the end of 2007, consumer debt in the U.S. had risen to $2.5 trillion. So the competition to keep up with the Joneses is on and you are going to have to accumulate a lot of debt to keep up.
So what are the Joneses spending their money on? The Joneses have the newest smartphone, the cable provider with the most channels, and the television with the biggest screen. Oh yeah, add in computers and high-speed internet access and you've created a list of the Jones's (i.e. American's) growing "necessities". According to a 2006 survey entitled "Necessity or Luxury" by the Pew Research Center, 33% of Americans now view cable or satellite TV as a necessity. In 1996 that number was only 17%. Also, 51% of Americans now cannot live without a home computer, up from 26% in 1996. Additionally, according to the study, the Joneses/Americans claim that a smartphone, High-speed internet, a Flat-screen TV, and an iPod are the necessities of life.
Even huge sport utility vehicles are now being justified as a “necessity” of life under the guise of safety. There are so many huge sport utility vehicles, it feels like the only way to be safe in a crash is to make sure you are driving one too. Weekly maid services, private contractors and landscapers are clearly not necessities, yet they have become quite common. Pleasure boats, McMansions, restaurant quality kitchen appliances, professional quality home gym equipment, and second homes are a few items that still qualify as luxuries in most people's minds, but that has not hurt their popularity. How long will it be before these items make the jump to the necessity category, too?
The Joneses are also Active Church Members
The Joneses do not just own a lot of stuff, they are also very active church members. Take for example, the Word of Wisdom. While the Word of Wisdom includes a few basic health laws in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Joneses have decided to add a few more things to the Word of Wisdom. They suggest that eating white bread or refined white sugar is a violation of the Word of Wisdom. They also suggest adding chocolate to the list of no-nos in the Word of Wisdom. Oh yeah, the Joneses certainly have added caffeinated drinks as a sin in the Word of Wisdom.
The Joneses also magnify their callings. Mrs. Jones makes sure to have the best centerpiece for her relief society lesson and Mr. Jones makes sure the Young Men’s high adventure activity is the best activity the ward has ever seen. The Joneses also never missed a family home evening, never watch television on Sunday, and always follow the prophet’s teaching that we should read the scriptures for at least half an hour each day.
So what are the Joneses Really Like?
So the Joneses are highly in debt and cannot afford all their things they are so proud of. They also work so hard at their callings that they forget about their kids and spouse to ensure that they are the best Relief Society president, Primary president, Bishop, Elder’s quorum president, and so forth. On the outside, the Joneses are perfect, but more often than not, the Joneses are falling apart on the inside.
Why do we want to be like the Joneses then?
There are many reasons why we try to keep up with the Joneses. We may have a desire to show off our success. We may feel like we deserve to have what other people have. There is a proliferation of advertisements and product placements telling us all the things in life that we “need.” A society that favors instant gratification over hard work.
However, if your real goal is true happiness, keeping up with the Joneses is not the way to get there. There are two standards we can live up to, the Lord’s standards and society’s standards. If we choose to live by the Lord’s standards rather than society’s standards then our best efforts are enough.
In the 2008 October general conference, Elder Neil L. Anderson shared a great talk titled “You Know Enough.” In the talk he shared that, “Challenges, difficulties, questions, doubts—these are part of our mortality. But we are not alone. As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have enormous spiritual reservoirs of light and truth available to us. Fear and faith cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time. In our days of difficulty, we choose the road of faith. Jesus said, ‘Be not afraid, only believe.’”
Another great article to read when we are wondering if we are good enough is shared by John Huntinghouse in LDS Smile on February 25, 2014, titled “Who You Are Is Enough.” In this article, John shared that “Don’t you ever forget how amazing you are and your divine potential. Don’t let Satan deceive you of how much good you are to this world. Not only do all of us have value, you specifically have value.”
When we feel that the only way to have value in this life is to keep up with the Joneses, we need to consider who we are, who are heavenly parents are, and why we are here. We certainly do have divine potential and Heavenly Father loves us. He accepts our striving to become like the Savior as “Enough.” So let us stop keeping up with the Joneses and start following the Lord’s teachings. If you are feeling like you are not measuring up, then follow the admonition of the Savior when he said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”