IAIN MACLEAN

 

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Here are my mutterings and musings mainly on art.

The house that inspired the phrase, "Keeping up with the Joneses" is crumbling...

By themaclean, Apr 15 2016 01:52PM

In 1853, New York City socialite, Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, a relative of the Astor family, had a mansion built in Rhinebeck, New York, next to the Hudson River.


Called Wyndcliffe, this enormous house was the finest in the neighbourhood.


The. Writer Edith Wharton was a frequent childhood visitor to the house and is believed to have coined the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses", based on her experiences of Wyndcliffe.


It was abandoned after 1950 and is now derelict.


So all those social climbers out there can relax and be happy with their lot. They don't have to keep up with the Joneses.


Does "keeping up with the Joneses" create unhappiness?


It appears so.


When the United Nations conducted their annual Worldwide Happiness Survey, one country, Denmark, yes, Denmark, came top in 2016. They were also top in 2014.


Why?


It is considered to be one of the most egalitarian societies in the world. It's expressed in a word, "Janteloven", which essentially says ‘you’re no better than anybody else. It was identified and named by the Danish-Norwegian author, Aksel Sandemose, in 1933. It wasn't a new phnomenon. It is now acknowledged that this has been part of the Danish and Norwegian psyche for many centuries.


There are ten rules in the law as defined by Sandemose:


You're not to think you are anything special.

You're not to think you are as good as we are.

You're not to think you are smarter than we are.

You're not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.

You're not to think you know more than we do.

You're not to think you are more important than we are.

You're not to think you are good at anything.

You're not to laugh at us.

You're not to think anyone cares about you.

You're not to think you can teach us anything.


According to Visit Denmark, "No one judges your choice of career or lack of ambition, if you are happy with what you do, then enjoy. This lowered expectation, you could say, makes it far easier for Danes to obtain happiness, low expectations equals less disappointment. Simplicity and small are Danish buzzwords and might be underlying the low expectations and fast-train to happiness as well. Danes really enjoy simple things and simple life, Danish design and home decoration reflecting this."


The other Nordic countries, who also follow Sandemose, are in the top ten. What about the seriously driven

society - the USA? They come in way down at number 13.


And Britain? A surprisngly unhappy, 23. Why? Are we still riven by class?


Having arrived in England in 1969, I've noticed a change over the years. Class is by birth is breaking down, but, unfortunately, is being replaced by money and power. Perhaps that too will, like Wyndcliffe, crumble to dust.


I hope so.






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