Envy Can Be a Good Thing

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Feeling jealous of someone else, whether it’s their career, their spouse, or their hot new handbag, isn’t an emotion most of us care to cop to very often. It points out something painfully lacking in our own lives, and feels utterly wretched and greedy. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with jealousy after reading People magazine, certain that I should try to start my life over as a terribly thin blond with a good publicist. Then I remember that although I do have fabulous blond highlights, I’m also fairly middle-aged and loathe the spotlight. So if envy feels bad most of the time, why am I also making the statement that it can also be a really good thing?

Years ago, I was at a parent meeting at school when another mother walked into the room. She had clearly just come from the office, and her smart outfit was capped off by a smashing designer purse. The envy I felt for that purse was almost physical—an instant, overwhelming craving. Like a cigar is sometimes more than a cigar, the feeling was about more than just a purse.

As a stay-at-home mom, I made peace with my choice to earn less than my friends who continued on in the work world. Although occasionally I envied them the perks of their labors, what I really envied was the self-esteem they brought home from the office, and the internal – as well as external – validation they received for a job well done. For me, that designer handbag was a symbol of all of those good things, and one that carried a great deal of weight.

After parsing this out, I went to the mall and bought the same purse. Yes, it was a little more than we could comfortably afford, but the psychological payoff was tremendous. Having that handbag made me feel like I had a seat at the table; that my accomplishments were worthy of reward. Although it’s more important to have internal validation of your life choices and accomplishments, sometimes it’s just awfully nice to have something so emblematic of your success, too. So the next time the green monster creeps up on you, take a moment to listen to your gut. It just might be pointing the way to something you really need to make you feel happier, and more complete.


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