Envy and Gratitude: Thanksgiving Every Day
One of my friends is now in Europe, all his expenses paid by his employer. (Oh yeah, did I tell you that he went with his wife and they are paying all her expenses too?) Another friend just released a book which is well on its way to becoming a national best seller (see Back to Normal: Why Ordinary Childhood Behavior Is Mistaken for ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder, by Dr. Enrico Gnaulati). I have two friends who just retired in their 50’s and will never have to worry about money again. So do you think I am happy for them? To be honest, the envious part of mind wants an all-expense paid trip to Europe with my family. I want to have a bestseller so I can retire and never have to worry about money again.
What do you envy? Do you envy your friend who can eat anything she wants and is still as skinny as a rail? How about the guy at work who used to report to you who was just promoted again? Or how about your friend who is (apparently) happily married and expecting her first baby and you have not had a good date in months (okay years)? Do you envy those people who have the Midas touch—everything they do turns to gold? We can envy anyone who has more (money, looks, happiness) than us; we can envy anyone who has less (body fat, bad luck, marital troubles) than us. The list of things that we can be envious about is as long as things in the world that we can possess or acquire or experience—but don’t. And the list is long.
Envy Happens! Envy is a basic human emotion—a state of mind to be exact. It is reflected in some of our earliest literature, for instance religious texts. In the well-known Judeo-Christian story of Adam and Eve, the author of Genesis writes that eating of the forbidden fruit would make the couple like God. Embedded in this narrative is a story of envy. They envied God and who would not?—Which of us would not want to be described as all powerful; all knowing? But what really seemed to piss them off was that they needed God. According to British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, we are prone to envy anyone on whom we depend. Why? Because we are not all powerful and all knowing and we do in fact need others.
Envy unchecked is very destructive. Envy hates. Envy wants to hurt if not destroy the envied. This is also seen in the Genesis story of Cain and Abel. If you remember the story, Cain envied his brother Abel and as a result murdered him. Sometimes the expression of envy is huge; many wars have been started because one group wants what another group has. However, more often the expression of envy is more “civilized” showing up as resentment, backbiting and passive aggressive behaviors. And when we envy, there are often serious feelings of inferiority lurking in the shadows of our self-concept.
The opposite of envy is gratitude. Envy wants what others have, what others do and what others experience. Gratitude “wants” what we, in fact, have, do and experience. (You heard the expression: Do you have what you want or want what you have?) Gratitude accepts and appreciates—the “AA” of a healthy mindset. We are most centered when we accept who we are and what we have. However, it is not easy to be content when there is so much feedback out there showing us what we lack. It takes a mature mind to transcend an attitude of scarcity to have an attitude of gratitude. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with wanting to have more. But if you cannot be grateful with the good you currently possess—and yes there is good in our lives—then you can never be truly happy even if you possess the envied things. (We all know of celebrities who apparently have everything most people would ever want but live seemingly unhappy lives.)
I have struggled with envy my whole life. I grew up in a very poor family and often heard my father talk about all the rich people who had it easy. I still struggle with being content with what I have and where I am in life. However, as I have worked through issues in my own personal therapy and lately in my mindfulness practices, I find myself more content and yes—even at times grateful—for my life as it is now. I want more and will get it. But gratitude is not about the future; gratitude is about the NOW. So I choose to be happy for my friends who are retired at 50, traveling in Europe, and a successful author. I am truly glad for them, as I am glad for all the good things in my life. And I hope that you find that quiet, sober place in your mind and heart that appreciates what you have NOW this Thanksgiving and for the other 364 days of the year.
If you have a moment, please share with us what you find yourself envying and/or what you are personally grateful for. Happy Thanksgiving!
Wow, Sam, You defininetly have a way with words and express what you want to get across so well… Your little narrative flowed, and had a meaningful message, but because you were vulnerable and shared transparently about your own self/life and tendencies to envy, it wasn’t preachy…it was authentic, powerful and came from your life experiences. Hey maybe these little postings can form your next upcoming book!…I for one, would read it, and also many of the other busy people, who are running too fast to read a book or an article even…but a one page soulful perspective on life? well, that for sure is doable…
I believe we have one thing in common, you and me…we are tortoises…plodding steadily along, searching for truth about ourselves and the world and yes, holding heartfelt dreams…thus, the therapy, the workshops, etc… we hold fast to our dreams and goals, but unfortunately, the breaks that seem to come to some in our friendship circle often seem to pass us by … and thus the opportunity to envy appears…Now for a more vulnerable sharing of some real examples in my life.
• experiencing most of my fam & friends who meet a pretty good significant partner along the way (with little effort on their part), and are able in time to purchase a house and raise a family … and I’m still at the train station waiting for my train to come in. This has been a real heartache thru most of my life and fueled my tendancy to play victim; all along, i’ve struggled to make some sense of it…(as i try my best to try to make it happen myself, but thru therapy in the past few years and some sharings of my astrological friends, i’ve come to to a deeper understanding of some of the why’s and I’ve come to peace about it all. • friends who have retired early in their 50’s and don’t have to work anymore…Me? retiring when I’m 63 but still need to work part-time for at least 5 years or more. • a brother who never has to worry how to stretch this months income to the end of the month, and is able to afford to go out to din, ski, take trips to wherever whenever he wants. • teacher friends who enjoy their job generally, making more $ than I, and who haven’t experienced the torment of being let go twice from the best jobs (& highest paying) and being skapegoated by 3 principals. • having a couple friend (past teachers) who retired early, own 3 houses, including a house in New Zealand, and who travel for extended periods to at least 3 different countries a year (Bali for their birthdays, Ireland for a family trip for the summer, a Turkey sailboat cruise w/friends, etc. etc.)
I could go on, but would rather say that a real healing has taken place over the past few years, as awareness has grown of my cup half full and that deep hole has been filled with love and deep connection with my true essence and others…Those chances for envy don’t seem to bother me nearly as much – rarely on my radar screen (except for those occasional moments)…instead of playing the victim (which i have done so well for many years) I’m filled with a sense of gratitude and awareness daily over how rich my life really is… all the countries/experiences i’ve gotten to have (with very little effort on my part), all the variety of people who have been on my path, my passion for photography & helping others, my two “little sisters”, my family (who generally are very caring, even tho most are conservative republicans LOL), my few deep meaningful friendships (so rare these days), in which we can be our authentic selves…and some are in India!, my real heartfelt connection with a loving God, etc. etc. etc. What’s the reason for this metamorphisis?…I can deeply say the gentle guidance of Spirit bringing certain situations, people into my life, when I was ready, and it probably didn’t hurt that I was a seeker, open to growing and learning all along … Why did it take so long for me to get here?, I ask …I think i experienced all of what I did to get me to this place, and I go back to trusting that, since time is a man-made thing, and God is more about infinity, my journey so far is just a drop in the bucket when I put it in perspective….
Wow, I didn’t mean this to go on and on…my little fingers just got carried away…that happens sometimes when I sit down to type…I often don’t know what will emerge or how much! I hope this hasn’t been too long or indulgent of me…Just thought I’d share with you…Hope to talk more about change when i see you and fam next…maybe during Christmas vaca? I’ll be in L.A. from the 31st to the 4th …
Appreciate you being in my life all these years and all the ways that you are that very special drop in the ocean!
“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.” Mother Teresa
Forgot to include on my envy list:
recently two different friends of friends (who aren’t too self-aware) go on match.com and after 2 coffee dates, meet “the one” who continue tobroaden and enrich their lives (I’ve tried various online dating services off and on for 6-7 years or 50 or so 1st coffee dates…but not enough connection for a 2nd one…go figure) moral? Me and online tech dating services are NOT a match! lol
Thanks for keeping it real Sam. Happy Thanksgiving to you and the family.