Envy is one of the ugliest of all emotions, and I often feel like I’ve got it bad. What’s awful about envy is that it seems to affect us most just when we should be most happy for people around us. We should be happy for those around us when they do well, even if our own lives happen to suck at the time. If we do feel deeply jealous, if their misfortunes just make us feel worse about ourselves and if, God forbid, we kind of wish that some people wouldn’t have such happy, perfect lives, it means you are a terrible person.
Last year, I was unhappily single and no less than thirteen of my friends got married at a time when I couldn’t even afford to give all of them wedding gifts. (Yeah, I still haven’t done that.) Two of my friends had babies. Meanwhile, I was living on grad student money, working three jobs to make under $20K/year, 20 pounds overweight, and crazy for a man who didn’t want to be in a relationship with me. I deeply empathized with Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids. If one more of my friends announced an engagement, I would genuinely have gone bat-shit, cookie-smashing, colonial-woman-on-the-wing crazy. I was happy for some of my friends in their success, but I have to admit to not being happy for all of them and that made me feel a bit sick about myself.
This year was supposed to be the year things turned around. If I’m honest with myself, things have gotten a little better. I’m in the very nascent stages of going out with a couple of nice guys who I consider “prospects,” my dissertation has been progressing, I’ve stuck with some healthy resolutions and lost a lot of weight. And yet, the envy is still there. It was there today when I got a fancy invitation (sans butterflies) to a very dear friend’s June wedding. It was there yesterday when I found out that I’d been rejected, without further explanation, from receiving a major work-related opportunity that my friends were accepted for. It’s there every time my friends post pictures of their new houses and new babies on Facebook.
I’m not sure what to do with envy, but I’d at least like to talk about it. The Buddhists would say that my envy stems from attachments, and of course they are right. It’s my attachment to wanting love, to wanting a home, to wanting financial security that creates these negative emotions. It’s the pressure I put on myself to live a very idealized life. I think Buddhism would say we are not supposed to judge ourselves or those around us for being envious, because it is a natural emotion and it’s one that brings suffering and inner conflict to the person who has it. But can envy and its attendant attachments ever be overcome? When I look at my future, the ideal outcome is to get the things I want. To have an “enlightened” future where I don’t have a home, a significant other, a successful career, or a child and I’m just going to be content with that? It seems unrealistic and unfulfilling. It runs to a basic question of human nature: What do we live for? Do we live to pursue progress, success, to love one another and create something for the next generation? Or do we live for personal growth, to see beyond lesser qualities that always leave us sad and confused and mired in the mud? I’ve been stuck on these questions a lot lately. It bothers me tremendously that I can’t come up with the answers.