Over the last few months, I have been letting go of the things that no longer serve me—and sharing my journey on this blog. The road has been long, and it hasn’t always moved in a forward direction. Sometimes I take a few steps backward or long detours along the way. I think it’s important to share the missteps as much as the victories. Today I want to talk about my battle with envy.
My earliest recollections of feeling envious date back to when we moved from the Bronx to the New Jersey suburbs. My new friends had all these things that I didn’t, and I envied them terribly. They rode around our neighborhood on their really cool ten-speed bikes and watched cable television in their bedrooms. They celebrated amazing coming-of-age rituals like first communion, holy confirmation, and bar mitzvahs—rituals that came with fancy new clothes, acknowledgement of their maturity and nice presents on top. When we moved into high school, my friends were very popular, especially with the guys. They were invited to lots of parties and had one boyfriend after another, while I spent most nights and weekends at home alone. I put up a tough exterior, but inside I envied them a great deal.
I wish I could say that everything got better when I went off to college. In fact, it worsened. I grew up in a blue-collar, working-class community in Central Jersey. My college friends came from much more affluent backgrounds and access to more stuff. The daily comparisons between their clothes, homes, families, and backgrounds and my own left me feeling deprived. At one point, I even contemplated leaving its ivy-covered buildings to attend a school with people who were from my same race and socioeconomic background.
The turning point came one day when I compared myself not to my campus and high school peers but to family members and others who were less privileged than me. I had been spending a lot of time volunteering in Trenton, and came across children and young adults whose life opportunities had been circumscribed by poverty and a lack of a quality education. I began to realize just how blessed I was to attend such a great university. I slowly stopped comparing myself to my classmates and invested my time and efforts trying to benefit those less fortunate than me.
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another.
Ten years later, I found myself mired once more in envy. When I looked at the jobs, money, husbands, and children that my friends had acquired since college, I was filled with longing for the same. I wish I had the wisdom to ask myself why I wanted the same things. Was it because I genuinely wanted a husband and children, or was I afraid that I wasn’t measuring up? If I wanted to travel and go on vacations, why wasn’t I doing anything to make that happen? I could save more money, get an extra job, or charge the trip on a credit card. But I didn’t. I just felt sorry for myself.
Envy nearly destroyed my life. Despite being blessed with amazing talents and opportunities, I didn’t do much with my gifts. Envy kept me focused externally, looking at what others had and feeling sorry for myself for not measuring up. It also cultivated a scarcity mentality, in which I believed that others were more deserving of the world’s limited resources and I was less deserving. Since I didn’t deserve anything, I wasn’t motivated to pursue my dreams and goals. For the better part of a decade – from ages 25 to 35 – I had little ambition. I was content to go to work, go to church, and spend time with friends. I didn’t think much about the future or what I wanted it to look like—or the special purpose for which God had created me. I just went through the motions of grinding out an existence.
I still struggle with comparing myself to others. It is a bad habit that I have cultivated over forty yeas of living. Discontentment is still a very real part of my life. But every so often, when I take my eyes off others, and think about how far I have come, I am filled with gratitude. I have found being grateful to be the best antidote for envy.
‘Have you eaten to contentment?’ This seems a powerful orientation to satiating hunger, be it for food or anything else. It calls on us to shift our focus from filling an emptiness to experiencing contentment. With this shift comes the possibility of practicing nongreed. When we seek contentment, or what Patanjali calls samtosha, we are closer to experiencing our own wholeness. In book two, verse forty-two, he writes, samtosad-anuttamah sukha-labhah, or ‘Through contentment unexcelled joy is gained.’ (Judith Lasater, Living Your Yoga)
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.