Saturday, November 22, 2008


This is going to be fun. The "V" key on my computer is being finicky. Please bear with me.

Wikipedia has this to say about envy:

Envy (also called invidiousness) may be defined as an emotion that "occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it."[1] It can also derive from a sense of low self-esteem that results from an upward social comparison threatening a person's self image: another person has something that the envier considers to be important to have. If the other person is perceived to be similar to the envier, the aroused envy will be particularly intense, because it signals to the envier that it just as well could have been him or her who had the desired object.[2][3]

Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness.[4] It is a universal and most unfortunate aspect of human nature because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but also wishes to inflict misfortune on others. Although envy is generally seen as something negative, also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and must be endured in order to achieve a more just social system.[5]

Hmm. I think envy could be considered to be one of the most potent causes of unhappiness, but I think it is rooted in something deeper - personal insecurity.

Envy is when I want something that someone else has - the bible calls it "coveting" while others would be more base and say "lusting after" something.

I think envy is not just wanting what someone else has, whether it be material possessions or talent or skill or opportunity or whatever. I think envy is when I compare how I feel on the inside to how others appear to me on their outsides.

Others have more money than me, that is true, but it comes at a price I am not sure I am willing to pay. I never have to doubt whether my friends are my friends because they like me or because I have something they want. I'm broke. If you're my friend, it's because you like me.

Others have more ability or talent than I do in some areas. To feel insecure about that is just silly. I cannot play a musical instrument, and I would like to, but others tell me that they wish they could build things or they could cook like I do. That is the nature of the world. As my aunt says, "We all have our gifts." It is true. I have gifts that some do not. Others have gifts that I do not have. Would it be cool to be able to play the piano or the guitar or the bassoon? Sure, but I've got plenty to do with the skills I have now. I don't have time to do half the stuff I'd like to do. I'd like to play golf and I'd like to hike and I'd like to write more and take more pictures and cook more and all kinds of things, but there are only 24 hours in a day and there is only so much of me to go around. I'd like to understand internal combustion engines, though. That would be wicked handy.

I get envious sometimes when I see others who seem to have an easier time of life than I do, but I must temper that envy. Yes, I know people who have a more "comfortable" lifestyle than I, but it carries a very high price. I know a family that has some money - real money, of the very old and inherited kind - and I can't think of a member anywhere in that mix who does not bear the scars of deep dysfunction. Some are still very ill and do damage to those around them. My family isn't the greatest, but our little unit is relatively healthy and happy, all things considered. I go to meetings, as do some members of my family. We try hard not to hurt each other, we do our very best to be honest and work hard and be real.

Envy I think is a polite package for the unpleasant concept of personal insecurity. I think jealousy is closely linked - closer than cousins, definitely siblings, perhaps even a fraternal twin. It all boils down to a fear of loss - losing face, losing worth, losing dignity, losing self-worth. Envy and jealousy are about insecurity, and the closer I am to a healthy spiritual state, the less that stuff hangs around.

Yeah, there are people who have more things than me, but I have knowledge and understanding that can only be achieved by living what I have lived. No money can buy what I know and what I feel. Blessed be.


Robin said...

I think I've gotten less envious as I've gotten older. Perhaps that's one of the benefits to compensate for the wrinkles and the graying hair and the sagging boobs, a matching rise in my ability to be comfortable in my own skin, aging and decrepit as it may be becoming.

A Spot of T said...

Great post. Like Robin, I rarely feel envious of others and I know age plays a huge role in it. I just don't think about what others have any more because no one knows to what depth...or sacrifice...they had to go in order to get them. I love my simple life and wouldn't trade it for the world.

Queenie said...

I am incredibly envious of your writing skills and your focused ability to ponder these topics in such a meditative way.

MRMacrum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MRMacrum said...

Sorry about the deleted post. I punched "publish" before I was ready.

Good post. I read it twice. But I do have one thing that I think Betrand Russell was misleading us with.

"envy could be considered to be one of the most potent causes of unhappiness"

It's not that I disagree so much. I guess I feel this statement is not complete in some way.

There are an infinite number of character imperfections that can trigger unhappiness. Envy is but one of way too many to even count. What causes unhappiness in my opinion is our tendency to allow outside influences make us unhappy. The "cause" is not envy, jealousy, or hate. It is our own self image that drives most of how we interact with others.

Your follow up about "Personal insecurity" I think is actually closer to what is the trigger for unhappiness, not the variety of manifestations that insecurity is exposed through. That we cannot accept who and what we are is the source. Envy is one of the tools. One of the ways we reinforce the negative image of ourselves.

dana wyzard said...

I used to take every opportunity poke myself in the eye with envy, but back then I was envious of the wrong things as young people are prone to do.

Now, I don't envy anyone's talent. I realize that I "could have been" whatever I had been determined to be. I just never had any determination to be anything more than invisible. And now I am paying the price for my youthful insecurities.

Stickthulhu said...

Nothing really to add, but the post and all-round discussion is very thoughtful. Don't think envy has played that big a role in my life since I was a kid, but I have plenty of other avenues that my personal insecurities have manifested themselves in. I have to say, now that we're 7 days from done, your theme for NaBloPoMo is excellent.

Distributorcap said...

like robin said, as you get old (and gray) envy is less important

unless you work on Wall St -- where the envy and greed ran amuk and put us in this mess.....