I’ve lived in a variety of neighborhoods. I grew up experiencing the yin and yang–everything from rural farming communities to skid row districts where fairgrounds tend to be located to the well-to-do suburbs of quiet old money in Education-Prioritized States to old houses/apartments along gang-ruled streets, to middle-class apartments where older people go to live when the yard work of owning a house gets to be too much to handle but they’re not ready for the retirement home. I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen everything from winos to yuppies, and plenty in between.
One might assume that the most desirable areas to live are situated along the upper end of the socioeconomic spectrum, and the most stressful places to live are clustered at the lower end.
In my experience, not exactly. I experienced the most obvious stress when living near the bottom of that spectrum, but that had more to do with what was going on in my life at the time and less to do with the neighborhood itself.
Interestingly enough, it’s actually been the more exclusive areas in which the stress has been less obvious but more palpable.
What’s so stressful about being surrounded by nice homes, low crime rates, good schools, and luxury cars?
Surprisingly, it wasn’t some instinctive drive to keep up with any Joneses (who the hell are the Joneses, anyway?).
For most people, that’s where their stress would come from: driving the “right” vehicle, following the current trends, constantly remodeling their homes in order to keep up with the latest in interior decorating styles, sending their kids to the “right” schools, shopping at the chic-est boutiques, wearing the “right” clothes in the “right” way, making sure their designer purses and high-end briefcases (and their kids’ in-style backpacks) are well-equipped with all the best of electronic gadgets, and working long enough hours at a fat enough salary to pay for it all. They may not ever bond with their neighbors (they usually don’t), but they sure as hell put a lot of effort into impressing them.
As I said, for most people, that’s the stressor. And that is indeed stressful.
Personally, I see no need to keep up with the mythical Joneses. They’re a has-been by-gone mascot of the American dream, eroding away as diversity and gentrification and hipster movements move in. The Joneses were airbrushed into society as an excuse for one-upmanship. Except that nobody seemed to get that memo; they continue to chase the Jones Ghosts. I never bought into that. So, their stressor never became my stressor.
Want to know what my chief stressor is when traversing through (or living in) these neighborhoods?
I’ll answer that with a question: what kind of person feels the need to engage in contests with strangers? What qualities must someone possess in order to want to live in the kind of neighborhood that exerts this kind of pressure? What type of person subjects themselves to insane amounts of stress, just to accumulate More Stuff?
I’m not a socialist (I’m more of a free market thinker, which differs from both capitalism and socialism; it’s what got co-opted and corrupted in order to form capitalism), but jeez. When is enough, enough?
Far be it from me to claim to have the right to make that decision for other people. I don’t begrudge anyone the fruits of their labor (if the labor was honest and ethical), nor do I judge them for their enjoyment thereof. It’s not that I’m playing the Sour Grapes Riff (“if you can’t join ’em, beat (criticize) ’em”). It’s not that they suck because I’m not eligible for membership.
It’s the fact that I suspect that they’re not actually enjoying the fruits of their labor. Given the attitudes I can practically palpate due to the strength of which they’re projecting them, I highly doubt they’re enjoying much at all.
Because the attitude is rife with…attitude. Rife with all things negative. Such as pretentiousness, entitlement, snobbery, rudeness, inconsideration, self-absorption, and aggression.
“I’m better than you,” sneers the Mercedes emblem.
“We rule your world,” state (flatly) the elegant monuments etched with the name of an exclusive homeowners association.
“I have to win, even if it means screwing over my mother,” brags the Armani suit.
“I’m a spoiled gold-digger,” clucks the Gucci purse and the stroller the size of the SUV parked in the mall parking lot (despite the fact that the kid in the stroller, perfectly able-bodied, is seven years old. Already seven, and he still can’t be bothered to walk on his own).
It’s not the pressure to keep up with any Joneses that I despise; it’s being surrounded by the snippy, demanding, holier-than-thou voices of those who have elected to catch themselves up in such a trap.
These people seem to have everything! Why the ‘tude?
I think I know.
Earlier, I asked the question of what sort of people engage in the financial arms race and the incessant collection of Stuff. And I’m going to combine that with the most recent question: why are they still unhappy?
There are the usual suspects: the stress involved in working long hours, impressing a boss, tweaking their lives to illusory perfection, constantly running the kids from one extracurricular activity to another, sitting in hours of rush hour traffic, and paying down the credit card balance.
I don’t doubt any of that. And I have another answer, which is purely theoretical: because they’re still empty inside.
They always have been. Nothing has changed except the job title and the higher salary and credit limit that came with it.
I suspect that they’re searching, subconsciously, for some sort of fulfillment that either life has not yet given them, or perhaps a more wholesome metric that they could have achieved had they not factored it out and refused to measure themselves by it. Apparently they missed that memo.
In short, they’re still empty inside. Deep down, in a layer of their onion so close to the quick that they don’t dare tap it for fear of drawing blood.
They’ve tried to fill this inner void with the wrong material. They’re missing the feelings of contentment, gratitude, and self-worth, hence the need to collect and accrue. It’s like an episode of Hoarders, except the Yuppie Edition, involving higher-priced designer-brand stuff and a housekeeper to keep it all looking spotless.
But it’s hoarding just the same. Hoarding stuff. Hoarding worth. Hoarding image. Hoarding status. Hoarding socioeconomic underlings as they themselves move up the ladder.
And the reason they’re still unhappy despite their success is actually due to their failure–or the failure of their success to be the Holy Grail, the ultimate antidote. They thought that moving up the socioeconomic ladder would fill that void, and it didn’t. Because it was the wrong filling in the first place.
There is indeed emptiness in abundance. Sometimes (certain) material actually worsens a (certain) vacuum.
The unfortunate part is that they don’t realize this (and they would probably reject the idea if it were presented to them), and they tend to air their frustration out on everyone else in the World At Large Ocean. They’re stuck in fight-or-flight mode, an unnatural place to be for longer than a few minutes. The rest of us have to put up with their ever-more-desperate attempts to (over-)compensate for their persistent lack of fulfillment.
Ironically, the very activities likely to start to solve this issue (like cultivating human bonds, spending quality time with family and hanging out with compatible, supportive friends) are the lowest priorities on their to-do list and the first ones to get knocked off said list. And of course, the strategies that they’re more likely to use to alleviate the issue are those that will only dig them deeper in.
Indeed even yuppies are human underneath. They still need everything a regular human being needs. Their systems are still wired for relationships and relaxation and connection with nature. They’re still built to be in a state that does not involve fighting or fleeing. They’ve simply gotten caught up in the rat race so intensely that they’ve abandoned and forgotten about that concept.
Something’s gotta give, eventually. One cannot continue to treat a soul sickness or a spiritual starvation (which is not necessarily a lack of religion) with physical items from the material world.
If there’s emptiness in abundance, then maybe there’s contentment in balance.