Oh, such a negative title!
I know nobody likes to talk about envy, but envy is real, and because we would rather avoid it, it is all the more reason to look at envy in the face, especially when we are about to set goals.
The other day I was reading through CNBS when I glanced over a little story about a 29-year-old girl making 2 million a year working 4 hours a day teaching Excel online. There were lovely pictures of her dream home's view, a 270-degree panorama of the Red Rock Mountains.
I am not proud, but since we are being honest, that silly article occupied a good two hours of my morning while I walked the dogs and cleaned the chickens. I am a huge fan of red rocks; my husband and I have a love affair with the landscape of Southern Utah; we love the beauty of stones so much we got married among the red stones.
So, looking at this young gal as she glances out of her pool, gazing at God's/Nature's creation, my heart paused. "Oh, this stupid world, I am just as smart and pretty; why can't I make it on TikTok."
Even worse, I felt resentment and a bit of dislike towards this talented young woman just because I was envious of what she had. This is the most horrible part of envy; when unconscious, it leads to anger, resentment, blame or even hate. Why? Because we all know envy is not a nice emotion, so we feel shame about feeling envious. Still, for most of us, shame is so uncomfortable that instead of investigation, we choose an emotion that reflects responsibility, so we turn it around and make up a story about how the thing or the person we are envious of is really not good. C'mon, I know you know; we have all felt it. It is human. But this is why it is so important to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness does not teach us to feel better, mindfulness trains us to tolerate discomfort longer so we can investigate and navigate to healthier thoughts.
So that is what I did; I went down that rabbit hole of being envious, blaming the world, and comparing my ability to others, then I caught myself and burst out laughing! I hate spending time on social media; posting "catchy images" is my most dreaded moment at work. I love teaching; I love deep conversations; I love writing. But I really don't like making things catchy. So I quickly noticed my resentment, took inventory of the limited facts that I knew from the article, and concluded that based on what I read, I actually respect Miss Excel, she is very good at what she does, and people benefit tremendously from her work. She uses social media in a way that is smart and beneficial to the public, unlike many others who benefit financially from posting rubbish that is degrading and harmful to society. So Missexcel tamed the monster...
I also know that my quick reaction of envy is not unique. Because of social media, envy is the most prevalent emotion in our society that nobody talks about. I would go as far as envy is driving our current world. It is envy and comparison that drives most of our decisions.
What do we need to look like?
What jobs do we need to have, and are we successful?
What house do I need to have?
What car? Spouse....
Because of social media, our society is envious more than ever, and because of envy, anger, depression, and unhappiness follow. Oh, I know, none of this is very pretty. We go about trying to feel good and friendly and sit and meditate and play make-believe "I am nice," but as long as we are not willing to take a long look in a mirror and look envy in the face, we cannot fix the anxiousness and misery inside. One does not become nice by acting nice. One becomes nice by cleaning up the harmful emotions and thoughts. Just like one cannot clean up the kitchen by putting a clean tablecloth on top of dirty dishes and leftover food. It just does not work. As you have seen from my short confession above, we create not only conflict within but also conflict and hate towards people that, if clearsighted, we would respect.
Back to my confessional, I was jealous of Miss Excel, I was jealous of her panoramic views, and as a result, I spent a good many hours thinking about how I could be "Miss Mindfulness."
And here is when I started laughing even more! I remember being the most miserable in life when surrounded by folks who pushed me to be more popular on social media. I tried and tried, but mindfulness is a tricky topic; the second you try to make it catchy, the second you try to make it something to covet, it stops being mindful. It is unlike Excel, which is a skill to learn; making small videos about topics is beneficial and good. Mindfulness stops being mindful the second we break it down into its components. By definition, a thing cannot be mindful if it is oversimplified, catchy, and something to adore and covet. So the more I tried to "make it" in mindfulness on social media, the more miserable I got because I was acting against my conscience. Pop-mindfulness is harmful, and I hold lectures on the topic.
I also reflected on the fact that I have a lovely home that I love, I miss absolutely nothing in life, I have good food to eat, good books to read, a beautiful house, and a garden that my husband makes even more beautiful by working relentlessly on projects inside and in the garden. We may not have a multi-million dollar house, but everything in my 270-degree panorama was touched by love. My husband built a tiny self-sustaining pond and mini-river oasis over the years. Every year, we get better at sustaining the ecosystem.
We also fixed the house, room by room, year by year; the yard and the house turned from a fixer-upper to a memory of our life creation. Who could ask for a better view? And we visit the red rocks as often as we want. Every five years of our wedding anniversary, we go back to our wedding place, hike, and relax, watching ions of geological time bathed in sunrise and sunsets.
So why was I envious? Because she made more money, and her house looked at Red Rocks? How silly, I don't need more money, and I love my house. For me to make more money, I would have to do something that I don't like, thus having less time to enjoy my husband and our home!
Oh, thank goodness for the RAIN principle in mindfulness (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Navigate). Suppose I did not investigate where envy comes from. In that case, I could not have navigated to the conclusion that making the goal of becoming popular on social media and making more money was not going to make me happier.
But I know I am not alone. We all feel envy, and that is OK. Envy is a perfectly normal human emotion. The problem is when we act out of envy. This is why all religions and philosophies warn us against envy.
Do not covet - as in the Bible.
Aparigraha - no grasping - as in Hinduism and Yoga
Phtnous or Zeus was the personification of jealousy in ancient Greek mythology
Irsya - Buddhism - a state of mind in which one is highly agitated to obtain wealth and honor for oneself but unable to bear the excellence of others
So as you make your New Year's Resolution, reflect on why you want the thing you want.
Do you want to get in shape to be healthy, or are you jealous of people who look a certain way and believe you will be happier if you look the same?
Do you want a promotion or a particular job? Or are you envious of the social standing that you think comes from a new title or job? Will you like all the extra responsibilities? Will you like the everyday work that the job entails?
Do you dream of owning your own business? Or are you envious of people who own their own businesses? Are you envious of social standing, perceived independence, or income? Not realizing the endless work and responsibility, not to talk about the very real financial risk that owning one's own business brings.
Get clarity for the new year. Look envy in the eye. Get comfortable with the fact that we all have envy. That is normal. But acting out of envy will bring harm to you. Acting out of envy harms others because your goal is not to serve; your mind is not on the quality of good.
No decision, be it personal, professional, or governmental, is beneficial when it is driven by envy.
Remember, being envious is a shameful emotion. Your ego will do everything not to have to deal with shame. So we avoid feeling it. But what you are not aware of, you are not in control of, rather it controls you. So most of us are blindsided by envy, and if we are unfortunate enough to reach our goals that came out of an envious state, then we realize our foolishness. Sadly, we waste a lot of time and resources this way.
So this year, I hope you take time to investigate your emotions and set smart goals. Do the very hard thing; it is the right thing; notice if envy brought conflict into your life, and see if you can find a more constructive, peaceful perspective into the future. None of this is easy; being OK with envy and shame is very hard work, but working through and understanding shame and envy is the most important work we can do to achieve personal growth and peaceful personal relationships and society.
If you are interested in learning how to set smart goals, work with emotions, and manage stress, look into my 40-Days of Mindfulness and Nutrition training online starting January 12th