Fighting Material Envy – or how to be happy with what you have

I have material envy. Yes, I do.

In a boom state like WA, where the gap between the rich and the poor just got a lot wider in the past few years, where FIFO mine workers are crowding everyone else out of the rental market with their massive salaries and the cost of living has gone up by enormous amounts, it’s hard not to.

Let’s face it. In most cities, it’s hard not to have material envy. In fact, it seems that the bigger and cooler a city is, the greater the propensity towards material envy suffered by its citizens. It’s known as the rat race, keeping up with the Joneses. It’s something a lot of us struggle with, especially Generation Y. Most definitely, Generation i.

We’ve been ingrained with the sense that we should have it all – the dream house, the dream job, the dream salary package that will allow us to have an overseas holiday at least once a week, buy that plasma TV, the iPhone, the designer clothes, that new car, facials, spa visits, books, Playstation games, nights out to the new trendy bars and restaurants, cinema nights, weekend get-aways, rock climbing membership, gym membership, the list goes on and on.

But the reality is that most of us don’t earn that much. Often we have to give up some of these things. And usually that’s fine. We can’t expect to have everything and re often than not, what we have right now is enough to meet our needs, plus a bit left over to cover a few ‘wants’.

However, it can be hard not to dispel the Great Green Giant of Material Envy when you’re surrounded by friends, family members or neighbours who earn way much more than you do, who are always going on shopping sprees or that spontaneous visit to Tahiti or trying out the latest funky (and expensive) restaurant. Or reading the paper and finding out that, though you’re happy with what you’re earning, it seems that your pay check is way below what the average professional twenty-something year old single should be earning (yup, this happened to me this year).

Sometimes, it’s more a case of feeling that we have to keep up with our peers. Keep up with those Joneses. And their SUVs. And their beautiful new designer clothes. And those endless rounds of expensive cocktails at that trendy new bar. Sometimes it can be a case of feeling guilty that we can’t afford to be as generous or as spontaneous. You feel guilty, because you’re the ones counting the pennies and cringing because you don’t dare to ask a friend to pay you back that twenty dollars you lent her the other week because you’ll feel like the El Cheapo of the Universe. You feel like a drag when you’re the one in the group who has to nix that spontaneous weekend trip or expensive spa trip or suggest a change to a cheaper, less trendy restaurant that you just can’t afford at the moment. You might feel like a failure because you aren’t making as much money as our friends, like your job or skill or profession isn’t as important.

But at the end of the day, you need to take the time out to remember not to compare yourself to others. If you must compare, compare to an earlier version of yourself. I still remember the days of unbelievably low wages, when I was struggling to make ends meet, when I was earning below minimum wage, and then earning minimum wage, then when I was out of a job, struggling to find a new job, sending out endless resumes, feeling my stomach sink even lower with each new form rejection, and always thinking, “If only I had a decent paying job, I’d be so happy. I’d have everything I need.”

Well, now I do. The pay still isn’t as much as what many of my friends make. In fact, a lot of them would be horrified at the amount I earn to make a living. But it’s enough – in fact, it’s more than enough. I can pay my rent and my bills and my insurance rates and still afford to go out most weekends and treat myself and even plan overseas trips, as long as I’m careful to budget rather than go stir-crazy every time my pay check comes in. But it’s enough. In fact, it’s more than enough, and what I need isn’t more money – what I need is to remember what I didn’t used to have and be grateful for what I already have.

photo credit: the|G|™ via photopin cc

Yes, there are those who make more than I do, there always will be. But there are others who make so much less than what I do. And for now, I have sworn to myself, I will not look a gift horse in the mouth. I will appreciate what I’ve got, love what I’ve got. And know that I am one of the lucky ones.

About the inspiration poster at the top of the post: Just recently, my boyfriend was showing me some text messages he got from a friend when I spotted an inspiration poster picture that the same friend had sent him. I immediately got all excited and insisted he forwarded the poster to me as well. It’s such a good poster – I don’t know who first created it (if it’s you, please let me know so I can credit you!) but I just had to share it with the rest of the world. It really helps me to keep things in perspective any time I get a dose of material envy.

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