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Envy: Controlling the Green Monster

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With a triple-barreled Irish name like Aidan Donnelley Rowley, you’d think I have grand plans today in honor of St. Patty’s Day. Not so much.


Actually, that’s not true. I do have grand plans. It’s just that they are no different than any other Wednesday plans. I will spend exactly nine hours solo with my girls. (Not that I’m counting.) We will play newly-acquired board games. (Hungry Hippos rocks. Fact that Baby threatens to swallow those little white “snack” marbles that are meant to be fodder for plastic hippos and not human children does not rock quite as much.)


After Husband takes Toddler to Preschool, Baby and I will hang in our pajamas for a bit. Then we will attend gym class where she will show up all the big kids with her tumbling skills. Then we will kill some time bond at Starbucks. Then we will pick up Toddler from school where the girls will insist upon using the water fountain in the hallway and then spill copious amounts of water on the threshold of the Head of School’s office door. And then we will head to the diner where I will dutifully order mac and cheese and dinosaur nuggets from the kids’ menu and then bribe Toddler with chocolate ice cream so I can finish my salad (and her fries). And then we will high-tail it home for one nap and one quasi-nap. And then we will do everything in our power to destroy the living room, play ceaseless games of Hungry Hippos and wait until Daddy comes home from work. At which point, it is bath, bed, and beyond. Takeout. TV. Night night.


Aren’t you glad you asked? Wait, you didn’t?


My bad.


The point here is that, no, I have no wild and woolly plans for this special day, but I wanted to include the word “green” in the title. And that is not illegal. I checked.


Alas, this is where my post turns more serious. You ready?


ENVY.


It is an ugly beast that lurks in the dusty corners of our homes and heads and hearts. None of us is immune to envy.


What amazes me, what truly amazes me, is that there are good chunks of time where I (consciously) feel zero envy. One friend loses her baby weight in three-point-five days? Good for her! One friend lets it slip that she got a raise and now makes a million a year? Bravo! She so deserves it! One friend’s three-year-old is reading chapter books? How fabulous! What a tiny braniac!


But then.


Then there are some days, soggier days, existentially creaky days, when I’m not so chipper. One friend’s husband whisks her away on a surprise trip to Europe? That’s so cheesy! Whatever is he compensating for? One friend runs a marathon in under three hours? She is ruining her joints. One friend has that fabulous new Chanel bag? Gross! Material things do not make us happy.


One cyber-colleague has a bazillion comments on her blog post today? Whatever. Comments mean nothing.


No, wait. Comments mean everything! I am just flailing in a corrupt pool of competitiveness, a toxic sea of envy. Lovely. Just lovely.


Recently, I read two wonderful and relevant blog posts on this topic. First, Rebecca of Diary of a Virgin Novelist penned a very honest and compelling post about the shock of envy she felt when a friend of hers quit her job to write fiction. Rebecca confesses her initial bitterness and admits her first thoughts, She is going to beat me to it. She is going to show me up. Second, Celeste of Perusing Celeste, opened up about joining this blogosphere and feeling periodic surges of envy when reading others’ well-written blogs. In her post, she explains that when she reads an exceptional piece of writing, a dreaded feeling swoops in: “Never in a million years could I have found the words to say it that well! Why can’t I write like that? I will never be able to write like that.”


And so. It occurred to me—and occurs to me now—that this envy thing is universal ergo worth addressing. My utterly non-expert take?


Insecurity breeds envy.


Insofar as we are all insecure from time to time, insofar as we all have our fair share of not good enough moments, we also feel envious of others from time to time. When in the throes of insecurity and doubt, we often can’t help but bemoan the seeming successes and perfection of others.


And here’s the interesting thing: I think envy has little or nothing to do with its object and everything to do with us, the feelers of it. When we are down and out and floundering, it is possible to be envious of almost anyone. But when those insecurities wane, when our confidence resumes, we are more apt to celebrate the good fortune of our peers.


Do you buy this decidedly unoriginal hypothesis? Because I do.


And having this trusty hypothesis in my arsenal is helpful on days like today, when sweet little girls run the show, bossing their well-meaning mom around, making her sweat and plead for justice and order and quality naps. Yes, theories, sturdy psychological theories, come in handy on these days when insecurities rise to a boil and envy—of people with an ounce of control over the trajectory of their moments or people with moderately tidy living rooms—becomes a distinct possibility.


A man whom I have never heard of named Saint John Chrysostom once said, “As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man.” And I agree. Envy is no good. It eats away at the edges of our goodness. It leaves holes in our happiness.


But can we control envy? Can we limit its impact? Can we keep it from consuming us?

I don’t know.

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