Misplacing envy

I’ve moved home into my Mum and Dad’s place. Again. And jeepers I am happy about it.

The last time I moved into the family home I was single, 32, recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital, recovering from an episode of a mental illness, and unemployed. I didn’t know how long I’d be staying. If someone would have told me there and then that I’d be staying for two years, it would have felt like they were pouring salt on my open wounds.

Things are very different this time round. I have a job. And this is a much more temporary arrangement than it was the first-time round. I’ve got some plans.

When I tell people that I currently share a home with my parents, there are two types of responses. One is pity. The other is an assumption that I am entitled princess who is unable to manage life responsibilities on her own.  

There may be some truth to the second response. But please do not pity me. Not at all.

I love getting to live with my parents. They are two of the best housemates I’ve ever come across in my decades of share-housing experience. Mum and Dad probably had a lot to do with my current hygiene tolerance levels and as a result they don’t seem to do anything that hypocritically grosses me out. There’s no massive debacle (ever) about not asking to use any of the contents in the pantry or contributing $6.35 for ingredients. And say I do accidentally commit a housemate crime, well I’ve got two peeps who have loved me unconditionally through much worse things, so I reckon it’ll probably turn out all right. They don’t judge me for binge watching Designated Survivor or for my enthusiasm for such a brilliant television concept. In fact, they get in to it with me. They don’t eat my yoghurts.

And I hope I make their life a little richer too. Last night we learnt about taking a screen shot on the computer (we regularly discuss issues related to information technology capacity building).

But most importantly, I get to live with two people I love. And two people I just really love hanging out with. We have in jokes. My friends all ask after them. I have housemates who know my habits (and are okay with them). And after 34 years, turns out you develop a few.

This is a very different place though to where I was the first time I moved home. The first time, I felt a bit ashamed. And I felt envious. Envious of all the people who were ticking all the right boxes on the ‘life list’. Boxes like ‘relationships’ and ‘mortgages’ and ‘children’ and ‘career’. Of which in comparison I was failing.

“Envy is ever joined with the comparing of a man’s self; and where there is no comparison, no envy.” —Sir Francis Bacon

Like probably a lot us, I’ve lived most of my life comparing myself to others. At first, it was school-related achievements. But as I got older, other metrics come into the fray. And it’s not just occupation and relationship status and current residential arrangements, there’s an infinite number of categories upon which we can compare ourselves and an almost infinite number of people to compare ourselves to. And once we begin the comparisons, where do they end?

When we begin comparing ourselves to anyone against everything, the opportunities for envy grow dangerously large.

Envy can be a really beneficial emotion at times. Whilst uncomfortable, it can be a good call to action about what we might want to do with the rest of our lives. Without a little bit of envy every now and then, we might not know who it is that we want to be. The issue is that sometimes the messages it contains are a bit confused and garbled.

When we compare ourselves to others and envy some of those in the process, a study of why this might be is most warranted. Perhaps we could look at each person that we envy as possessing a piece of the jigsaw puzzle depicting our possible future. Rather than notice that a friend from school has ticked a lot of the things off the ‘life list’ that I haven’t, maybe the questions is ‘What could I learn about here?’

Often though I fall into the comparison trap of envying individuals in their entirety. All the things on their list. When in fact, if I took a moment to analyse their lives calmly, I might realise that it was only a small part of what they had done that I actually resonated with. And that should be my guide. It might not be the whole of my school friend’s life I want, but really just their communication skills and their values that surround their relationship with their partner. I might not actually want to be a corporate lawyer that has to work 60 hour weeks.

What we’re in danger of forgetting, with comparison and envy, is that the qualities we admire don’t just belong to one specific, very attractive life. They can be pursued in lesser, weaker (but still real) doses in countless other places, opening the possibility of creating many smaller, more manageable and more realistic versions of the lives we desire.

Envy can also make us blind to an accurate picture of what the success of others depends upon. It’s entirely possible that these envied figures are not as much like us as they seem to be. When we meet the target of our envy at a party or see them in jeans in a glossy magazine, they do of course seem very ‘normal’ and dangerously like ourselves. But, they may in fact, they may have a highly unusual brain adept at synthesising vast amounts of financial data in ingenious ways. They might have a PhD in mechanical engineering. Or they might be working eighteen hours a day. Usually there are very real differences between oneself and the envied person. We’re not really equals. It isn’t just laziness, bad luck or some kind of persecutory force that explains our situation. We may arrive at the sane realisation that, when viewed dispassionately, certain accomplishments are truly beyond us. And this way we can become appreciative spectators, rather than disappointed rivals, of those who have accomplished great things.

But more importantly comparison and envy has the potential to suck the goodness and joy from our present. Life isn’t graded on a curve. How we measure up against others holds absolutely no importance in our life anyway. It simply makes no difference. Whether I knew of other people living with their parents in their 30s had absolutely no outcome or importance on what was actually going on for me at the time. Comparison was putting my focus on others. And I only had control over what was happening for me. It was preventing me from just possessing and experiencing my own life as it was.

And once I realised this, I figured out I was having a very excellent time. Finally, I allowed myself to enjoy myself where I was. Sharing a home with my Mum and Dad.

Many a contented life has been stolen by the unhealthy habit of comparing ourselves to others. Comparing ourselves to others can rob us of gratitude, joy, and fulfillment.

Comparisons and envy are tendencies as human as any other cognitive or emotional process. But last time I had the privilege of living with my parents, I let comparison and envy steal too much joy from the experience. So, I’m back. And I’m not going to misplace my envy this time. I’m just going to enjoy myself.

So, there’s no need to misplace your pity.

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