Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Green-Eyed Monster

Shakespeare called jealousy the green-eyed monster. I use the same term rather loosely, to describe the malevolent beast who chews on my heart when I'm jealous or envious. Officially, though, jealousy and envy are different things.

Jealousy is what you feel when you fear that something or someone (like your spouse, or the job that you and a coworker named Debbie are competing for) will be taken away from you. Envy is what you feel when you want something or someone that another person already has: their weight loss success, their bank account, their fancy car, their 9-bedroom home.

In my experience, both jealousy and envy get me on a never-ending, tiresome treadmill of comparison and criticism. It becomes an obsession so blinding that I can't see any of the good things happening in my life. I compare myself to others, like my ex-husband's beautiful and devoted female lab assistant, or Debbie's MBA degree that I'm sure will earn her the promotion I want, or Marcia's 148 pound weight loss which is 100 pounds more than mine. Adding up my skills, talents and accomplishments results in a negative number every time, and those flashing red numerals reinforce my often unrealistic concept of all the pluses on Debbie's and Marcia's side. I hate them for it. I hate myself. Instead of making a new plan, I end up planning an appropriately painful and extremely unlikely demise for my rival.

Hearing me say that I hate myself may surprise you. I'm well aware that I have the reputation of being a Little Mary Sunshine, or the relentlessly cheerfuyl storybook heroine, Pollyanna, who triumphed over every adversity with a smile on her face and a "thank you" on her lips. Am I telling you to deny that you're envious, to smile even as your rival receives a round of applause at the Weight Watcher's meeting when she reaches her weight goal? After all, I've implied that you're suspicious of successful people and bear a grudge against them, as if you're the child who didn't win a prize playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey at your sister's birthday party...your evil sister who not only won the prize but also received hundreds of marvelous birthday presents and the first piece of birthday cake, the big corner piece with all the extra pink frosting roses on it. Your evil sister who deserves to get food poisoning from that cake and die a horrible, slow, painful death. Am I saying that you should just grow up and get over it, or that you're weak and spineless for feeling something as unworthy as envy?

No, actually, I'm not. I'm just suggesting that this one time you try stating your wish plainly, preferably out loud, and framed as intent instead of as secret longing. Give up the "I wish Jean wouuld gain 500 pounds and have to be transported with a crane." And no, saying, "I wish I were as successful as Jean" won't work either, though it's certainly better than devising cunning punishments for me. Try something more like, "I will lose another 62 pounds and celebrate that next year just as we're celebrating Jean's success today." Tell that to your reflection in your mirror and to a friend who'll be sure to say, "Go for it!"

I'm an analytical as well as an optimistic person (I choose to see that as a felicitous if conflicting combination of my parents' strongest traits), and when evaluating myself, my past, and my prospects for the future, I tend to get stuck on the "Why? Why am I this way? Why am I acting like this?" and on and on and on. But as the old Budweiser commercial said, Why Ask Why?
Don't torture yourself by asking, "Why am I so envious? Why can't I let it go and be the positive, optimistic person Jean says I should be?" The asking probably won't get you very far. The answer could just be as simple as, "Because you're a living, feeling human being." Nothing wrong with that! Although I do like art museums for an hour or so, it's boring to spend a lot of time with inanimate (if beautiful) marble statues. I want friends who are flawed (like me) and capable of both deep feeling and high aspirations.

On the other hand, don't spend too much time with the loyal, well-intentioned people who feed your envy by saying, "You're so right, she doesn't deserve that success, she hasn't worked nearly as hard as you have, and did you know she has six toes on her left foot and even worse halitosis than my poop-eating dog?"

Oops! Did I say "poop-eating dog"? Indeed I did. Which brings me (finally) to my final point. Try to see the humor in the situation. Admit it, if Tracey Ullman were up on the stage acting out the part of an envious character and using your words, you'd be laughing your a** off now.

1 comment:

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