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We Reference What We Desire

We're not so blind that we believe our studio apartments are servant-filled mansions, but we see people in similar situations on television who live in a way we couldn't afford. Take the show Friends, for example. Rachel and Monica shared a gigantic apartment in Manhattan despite Rachel working, for some time, as a waitress and Monica as a chef. Collectively they enjoyed a lifestyle they couldn't afford. This is one example of many in which you'll find TV characters living outside their means with no consequences. Entertainment shows us average people living a better lifestyle than they can afford without many monetary concerns. And then we're shown advertisements, compelling us to buy the lifestyle depicted in our favorite shows. According to David M. Carter, a financial analyst and graduate of the master of applied positive psychology program, this is called referencing:

Experts in the field call it "referencing". We reference, either intentionally or otherwise, to lifestyles represented to us (in the media or in real life) that we find attractive. We create a vision of ourselves living this idealized lifestyle, and then behave in ways that help us to realize the vision. The problem with this process is that the lifestyles most often portrayed, and ultimately referenced, are well beyond the means of all but a very small percentage of Americans. We aspire to something that the vast majority of us cannot possibly achieve. And, in this attempt to realize our aspirations, we borrow heavily, feel poorly about ourselves because we just can't seem to get there, and become addicted to a way of living that gradually and inexorably separates us from the things in life that bring us the most joy.

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