I spent a lot of time in my early twenties playing hide-and-seek with the idea that my life was inadequate. I knew it wasn’t true intellectually, so I developed coping skills to avoid it and found solace in quieting my mind, looking around me and feeling joy for what I had. Eventually though, my desire for more won out and lead me to make some hard decisions about where I was, what I was doing, who I was with. They were good ones that I’m glad I made.
We often experience envy as a passive, involuntary emotion. We witness some external trigger and let it wash over us and sit heavy on our shoulders. It’s a shitty thing, to feel small and wrong or both. It makes sense, then, that we’d urge each other to shut off our phones, delete Instagram, try gratitude journaling. Escape the cultural stimuli that reenforce the toxic notion that we aren’t enough. Because we are.
But the nature of envy can also tell us a lot about our hidden inner selves. Mark Twain famously once said, “Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.” That is to say, the stuff we can’t help but feel can tell us something about ourselves, too. It just might even help us.
During an MR roundtable last year about the euphoria of cancelled plans, I remember being surprised when Amelia said she felt envy for people who were relaxing. “I would check Snapchat [and] these people would snap stuff like, ‘Staying in!’ with like their fucking candle burning and a cup of tea. THAT’S what I get FOMO for.” It made me laugh because at the time I often felt the exact opposite. I instead felt envy for people who were adventuring while I sat by my fucking burning candle.
So maybe our fleeting moments of envy — like for a celebrity’s mansion or ability to get a massage at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday — aren’t worth honoring. But the deeper envy that gets us right in the gut? It might reveal what it is we truly want and help guide us towards it. Which is why I want to ask you: What is it that truly makes you most envious? A person unbridled by a 9-to-5? A woman with utmost confidence? Someone who’s publicly vulnerable or the opposite? What hits you the deepest? Do you care to listen?
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