Rat Races Everywhere
Travel to Belize and Guatemala and you'll see a lot of people living happily on what more developed countries might see as very little.
Upon seeing them, you may remark that people actually don't need much for contentment and that it's wrong for more developed countries to emphasize consumerism and the rat race. Envying what appears to be a simpler life, some people may even jump off the treadmill of their current lives and move there.
We're not giving the locals enough credit.
People in developing countries are not less driven by consumerism and advancement than people in more developed countries—and they're not necessarily happier, either. To say so is to consider them simple, which is rather paternalistic.
Yes, Belizeans and Guatemalans feel content with less than people in more developed countries. And yes, it's misguided to seek happiness in material goods.
Yet here's the rub: People from less developed areas want more, too.
Belizean locals don't compete with people in the United States—they compete with people in their towns. Similarly, you don't compete with the wealthiest neighborhood in your area—you compete with the people in your own neighborhood. It's not a competition between the "haves" and the "have nots"—it's one competition among the "haves" and another competition entirely among the "have nots."
The striving is called "keeping up with the Joneses," not "keeping up with the Rockefellers." Unless, that is, you're a Carnegie.
You can't claim stakes on the quality of striving and competing. You can't sigh and say that if you were just from another place and culture, your life would be simpler, less competitive, and less stressful.
The only way to live a simpler life is to resolve to live a simpler life. It's a head game. You choose to participate in the rat race. You decide to compete. (And before you call competition a basic instinct, I'll remind you that our brains have frontal lobes that give us self control, planning, reasoning, and abstract thought—unlike other mammals.)
You can rise above it. You can choose to focus on what makes you happy--and not on what other people have.
You can opt out of the rat race.