The Toxic Irony of Envy
Sometimes I catch myself wanting things that others have. People do this. It’s called envy.
The problem with fantasizing about what others have, is we tend to cherry-pick specific traits or possessions, and glorify them in isolation of the entire package. I think it’s healthy to admire, even strive to achieve and acquire what others already enjoy – but envy is a toxic irony that can leave us feeling deflated, rather than inspired to purposeful action.
Sometimes I wish I had a skin type that tanned a warm bronze in the summer sun. Instead, I’m a sticky, sunburned mess. On hot sunny days, some people radiate a soft golden brown just by stepping outside. If I’m not slathered with sunscreen or shaded from head to toe, I break out in a fever and wilt like hot, pink, sweaty cheese. Sometimes I look at the radiant glow of naturally tanned beauties and think, “Yeah. That would be nice.”
Sometimes I wish I had just enough money to pay off all of my families’ homes, fully fund the their health care, medical and educational expenses, buy the empty lot behind my house, and take a year off now and then just to travel. Sometimes I see what others can afford and think, “Yeah. That would be nice.”
Sometimes I wish I could play the piano like Cyrus Chestnut or croon like Martin Sexton. They both have a depth of range unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I’ve got a little keyboard I like to tinker with and I’ll sing along in the car when I’m by myself, but listening to that kind of raw, soulful panache has the power to move my body and lift my spirit. Sometimes I hear musicians like Walk Off the Earth, with so much raw talent and think, “Yeah. That would be nice.”
Sometimes I wish I could surf. I mean, really surf. I live in the Colorado high country because I’m terrified of sharks and I figure they can’t get me way up here. I love the ocean and I’m happiest in the shallows on the apparent safety of a boogie board. On a surfboard, I’m about as coordinated as a rhinoceros on roller skates. Nothing seems cooler to me than paddling out, catching a sweet wave and flip flopping your way through that sun-kissed cliché surfer lifestyle. I see those guys and I think, “Yeah. That would be nice.”
Just below the surface of what seems nice, we all have flaws and challenges that make us uniquely human. I would never trade someone else’s six pack abs if it meant having to endure their abusive childhood. I’d never trade my bank account for someone else’s if it meant taking on their private struggle with depression or substance abuse. If I could snap my fingers and become an award-winning musician, I wouldn’t do it if it meant trading someone else’s family for my own. If I could hang with Kelly Slater himself, I wouldn’t do it if it meant trading my talents and struggles for someone else’s.
No matter how great something appears on the surface, pining for what we lack should give us pause when we stop to consider what else comes with it. We have the capacity to instantly shift our mental outlook with a little gratitude. There’s so much I’m already grateful for, I wouldn’t give those things up in a minute – not for anything in the world. When it comes to intentional living, we get the best results when we feel inspired to take some purposeful action towards something we can achieve through hard work and commitment. Envy all by itself is just a foolhardy waste of time.