In my early 20s, in a conversation with a wise friend who is 20 years my senior, I started whining about the life I didn’t have. When I finished, she patiently pointed out that envy and jealously weren’t my most attractive traits. Then she said: If everyone in the world had to put their troubles in a suitcase, then had the opportunity to throw that suitcase out on the street, to grab a different one—once the suitcases all started popping open, we’d run back as fast as possible to grab back our original suitcase full of problems.
I’m still not immune to envy and I’m not sure I’d believe anyone who said they were. There will always be something we see, want, imagine, covet or dream of that somebody else seems to have.
But when I find envy creeping into my heart, I try to see it as an impetus to kick-start a new plan of action. If someone’s got something I think I want, I should be celebrating! It means that whatever that is—if I’m alive, we both have the same 24 hours in a day—so maybe it’s attainable for me as well. Instead of wasting time being envious, I try to determine a new pathway—although admittedly, sometimes as I think about the effort necessary, the attraction fades because I realize it might be “nice” but it’s really not so important to me.
Steve Jobs had less time on Earth than I’ve had to date. During his Earthly visit, he made Apple products must-haves for many, making gazillions in the process. Do I envy that wealth? Not at all. Hey, money is better than no money—but I’m still alive and full of possibilities; he’s not.
Unhappiness comes from undervaluing what we have, while overvaluing what we think others have. As Thomas Brown said, “Let age, not envy, draw wrinkles on thy cheeks.”