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When I returned from a two-week vacation in Aruba, I had a glow, not a tan. My friend Sandra asked me, “Why bother going to Aruba if you don’t get a tan? You used to.”

Sandra was right. I used to. Even knowing the sun would pre-maturely age my skin and might cause skin cancer didn’t stop me from rubbing baby oil all over my body and baking under the sun for hours to achieve a golden tan. Why? Because I used to compare myself to others, I defined myself in terms of them. In my mind, having a golden tan in the middle of winter amidst a foot of snow projected status, affordability, and knowing how to enjoy life. I measured myself on other peoples’ scale.

Ten years ago when my husband was doing well in his business, he wanted to trade our small, mortgage-free bi-level house for a waterfront colonel. I fought him and the idea for months. It was not that I was sensible, but the thought of taking on a $500,000 mortgage after a substantial down payment terrified me. “All our friends have bigger and nicer homes,” he had said, “and our house is too small for big parties.” But I would not give in, and my resistance eventually brought on the demise of his grand idea. Now every one of our empty-nester peers are praying for the housing market to improve so they can sell their huge houses. We thank God for our small nest.

With my son’s wedding plans in the works, I casually commented on his starter home, “It’s too small if you’ve got two kids.” To my surprise, he said, “Where is it written that each kid must have his/her own bedroom? What’s wrong if two girls or two boys share one bedroom? The Waltons did, and I know you grew up sharing an attic room with your grandmother.” And he added, “Instead of buying a bigger house, I prefer to save any extra money toward the kids’ college and my retirement.”

See, my thirty-year-old son is wise beyond his years. And as we two boomers mature and learn from our experience, we now only compare ourselves to ourselves, and we define our own success. Instead of “keeping up with the Joneses,” we look to keep up with ourselves. We try not to define ourselves by what we possess, but by the level of personal satisfaction we feel everyday. Look around us: there’s so much that needs to be mended for the better. Family in harmony brings prosperity, giving back to our community rewards us within, and exercising filial piety celebrates family values and sets a good example for the next generation.

To some people, having a golden tan, living in a McMansion, or carrying a Louis Vuitton bag is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural superiority. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s your own definition of success and happiness. As they say, to each his own. You like your scale and I like mine.   ●

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. ~Dr. Seuss