October 22, 2013 by Julia
Envy thrives on the glittery bits and pieces of other people’s lives. It shines a spotlight on their pretty stuff and presents it to you with jazz hands, leaving all the less desirable aspects of their lives in the dark.
Envy focuses on a neighbor’s perfectly lean body while ignoring the fact that she’s only lost weight because she’s going through a painful divorce. That guy has a great, dream-fulfilling career, and heck yes, you’d trade your dead-end job for his in an instant. But would you also trade your home and weekends with friends for his lonely one-bedroom apartment across the country? We don’t get to pick and choose only the good stuff out of other people’s lives, any more than we can have only good stuff in our own lives. Everyone has crap. Envy just tries to make you forget it, in the face of all that beauty.
I keep wondering if I should even write about this – it’s not as though envy is a huge personal issue for me. And it’s not as though I am an expert in the field of envy. It’s kind of annoying to me when bloggers write “teaching” posts rather than “sharing experiences or opinions” posts. I don’t want to do that! Really, the subject just interests me. Human nature + digging through lies for truth + social interactions = fascinating. (Hopefully, you feel the same?)
I do have some experience with consuming envy. As an adult, it only strikes in passing twinges, here and there. But in high school, when I often felt paralyzed by my own quietness, I went through periods of extreme envy of the outgoing kids around me. They seemed to talk so easily, without even thinking about it. Their feelings translated into speech; they not only could communicate their insides to others, but they were the center of attention at a party, they could charm their crushes, they were the winners.
I despised the competitive social games…but, really, I wanted to play the game, too. I just didn’t know how. So I resented them for their abilities (of course). Like many a socially awkward teenager before me, I tried to feel superior to the apparently happy, popular masses.
But finally, very gradually (sometime during college), I began to trust myself, and just spoke when it felt natural, rather than trying to force things. I began to accept my own quietness – even value it. And now, sixteen years out of high school, it’s no longer a struggle. I don’t feel shy or even uncomfortable in most settings. I like parties, I just can’t go to them TOO often or I’ll be exhausted. My sister recently said I’m a social introvert, which I thought was a charming description. I’ll take it!
But! In certain situations those old high school feelings haunt me. I feel envious, insecure, like I’m disappearing. When there are a bunch of women holding court at a table on girls’ night out, and we are all interrupting each other to try to get a word in edgewise, for example. Now, my first reaction is: I hate that. I hate it when no one is really listening to each other, or one person is monopolizing the entire conversation and turning everything back on themselves. The flip side is, though, when I start feeling that hatred, I can now recognize it as need. I realize that maybe I’m hating the grabs for attention because I need attention, too.
It’s better to wrestle my way into a conversation to share my own point of view than it is to sit back and resent others for ensuring that their voices be heard. If I can sit and genuinely listen without those feelings of resentment, great. But if I’m bothered, that means it’s time to speak up.
As a teen, I was obsessed (obsessed! more sentences were underlined than not) with this book called Care of the Soul written by Thomas Moore, a therapist and monk. I told you I was a weirdo. (Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With the Wolves was a similar inspiration to me.)
One of Moore’s patients was utterly debilitated by feelings of envy. She resented the entire world for having it better than herself. But gradually, Moore helped her to listen to the envy, to figure out what it was trying to tell her. The envy was her guide to what she was missing in her own life. Once she could take action to fill those gaping holes, her emotional wounds began to heal.
My envy usually tells me that I could probably spend more time on my appearance, whether it be through losing the extra fifteen lbs I’ve been carrying around since Jack was born (but I don’t believe in diets!) or shopping somewhere other than the thrift store (but I don’t believe in spending too much money on clothes!). Maybe I do want to feel pretty, and it might be worth the extra ten minutes in the morning to do my hair. (Ugh! Ten minutes?!) (You see what I’m dealing with, here.)
My envy also tells me that I need to write or create something for an audience, that I need to seek out connections and maybe even acclaim. That’s a hard one for me to admit, too. I’m so afraid of trying too hard, or doing it for the wrong reasons (to borrow a phrase most commonly used on The Bachelor/ette). But I do envy the success of other writers. I envy the English majors, who got to do this stuff all day, and actually know the technicalities of grammar that I only guess at intuitively after having read a million gazillion books.
I also envy non-parents their freedom. I envy the ease with which they travel, or spontaneously meet up for drinks. I wish Dennis and I could see more movies together. Go to California to visit our friends for a long weekend.
I don’t believe the envy, though, when it tells me others have it better than me, or that they don’t deserve what they have. Maybe they’ve paid their dues in ways I can’t even imagine. I am not in a position to judge who deserves what, and life isn’t fair, anyway.
So I follow that green trail back down into my own soul, and I listen to what it’s really asking for. If I’m up to it, I fight the voices of doubt that I can’t have what they have, and I write or I dress nicely or I plan a weekend getaway from the kids.
And bitterness fades away, and life becomes a bit fuller, and I become an ever slightly more generous, less judgmental person.