Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Road Not Taken

Living a fairly frugal life and voluntarily simplifying our consumption makes our family feel a bit out of step sometimes.  Everyone around us in the 'burbs seems to constantly grab lattes on the go, play with their smart phones and get periodic mani-pedis.  ...Ok, the last one is typically only done by the women in our community.  Technically, not "everyone" indulges in that one.  But you know what I mean.

Our family doesn't miss indulging in those sorts of things.  Honestly, we don't.  But even at church, where one might think that mammon is worshipped less, we seem to be surrounded by people who live a more pampered lifestyle than we do.  It does at times make you feel a bit odd.  It can even play with your mind at times: "What is wrong with us?!"

It reminds me of the famous Asch psychology experiments in the 1950s, which demonstrated the influence of peer beliefs on an individual's own beliefs and conformity to group norms.  The experiment involved a group of college students who were asked a serious of questions.  Unbeknownst to the real test subject, the others in the group were all working in conjunction with the psychologist who was conducting the experiment.  Those other people had been told to answer the questions in the same way.  Sometimes they all gave the correct answer, but other times they all gave the same incorrect answer.  Some of the real test subjects tried to resist the peer pressure and give correct answers--even when all the others in the group gave the same incorrect answer.  However, they couldn't keep it up.  Eventually, about 75% of the test subjects gave up and purposely gave incorrect answers simply to conform with the others in the group. 

I first read about the Asch experiments several decades ago in an undergrad psychology course, but it really impressed me and I think about it not infrequently.  How strong is our human desire to conform to the group and to not be different.  No one wants to be a weirdo!

I'm convinced that is what underpins the "Keeping Up With the Joneses" mentality, which keeps us on a treadmill of overwork to afford our over-consumptive lifestyles.  It is important to recognize what is going on and to get off that treadmill.

And in the 'burbs where pretty much everyone else is on that treadmill, I know that is so hard.  But I want to encourage you that it is worth it.  Our family spends less money now on our needs and luxuries than we have in a very long time--certainly in the adult years of my husband and my lives.  But we are happier than ever.  We cook together, watch movies from the library, and play in local parks.  These are good times.

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