Here is my latest essay on Psych Central. It has a content warning for death and dying.
Tonight’s lottery is 800 million dollars. My husband and I don’t play the lottery on a regular basis, but occasionally we will buy tickets so we can dream about what we would do with the money if we were to win. We have always said it is worth a buck or two just to talk about those dreams.
Yesterday was different, though. We bought four tickets, and when we started talking about it, we got a little scared. One of us asked, “Would we be the same people we are now if we won 800 million dollars?”
“No.” My husband said.
“What would we be like?” I asked.
“I’m not sure, but we wouldn’t be the same,” he said.
“What if we started fighting and wanted a divorce?” I asked.
“I don’t think we would fight over money. We have never fought over money.” He said.
“What if we fought over other things like projects, or who to help out?” I asked.
“800 million is too much. Going forward, we are only going to play the lotteries with 1-8 million dollars as a prize.” He said.
I realized while we were talking that I already won the lottery. I have my health, and it isn’t perfect, but it is fairly decent. My husband has an autoimmune disease that seems to be stable (so he is relatively healthy). I have a wonderful husband. We have access to healthcare. We have a savings account. My husband has a job. We are both educated. There is always more than enough to eat. We have a warm condo in the winter and cool condo in the summer. We live with many freedoms. We laugh every single day. We rarely argue or even disagree. We have a good group of friends. I could go on and on.
If we won 800 million dollars, I don’t know if we would still be happy, or grateful, or if the issues that kind of money brought would quiet our daily laughter.
I still have the four tickets, but I don’t think winning that money would be the best thing that could happen to me. I love my life now. Winning enough money for my husband to retire would be a dream come true, but winning 800 million may decrease my joy instead of enhancing it. With that much money, you have to consider what you might lose instead of what you might win.
Yesterday at the baseball game, it was the bottom of the ninth and the score was five to one. There was really no chance for the home team but they were up to bat, and they had two outs – they needed a miracle. When the batter got up to the plate, his first swing was a strike, and then he hit a fly ball, and then another strike. Many people in the audience started cheering for him to strike out. The crowd was loud, and they were cheering for him to fail.
Later that night, my husband, and me, my brother, and his friend were all talking about how hard it would be to be doing the thing you love the most, and that you are one of the best at, and have people yelling at you and hoping you do poorly. That is how it is in sports – there is always a group of people hoping you mess up, don’t play your best, or essentially lose to the other player or team.
Then we thought about our own lives. All of us had at least one person we could name in our lives that hoped we failed, or that treated us poorly when we succeeded, or acted like they were in competition with us. My brother’s attitude was that most people really are not happy to see you do well. My brother’s friend, Sam, said that one of her best friends recently wrote her a letter stating that she no longer wanted to be friends because she was so envious, and couldn’t be happy for the changes in Sam’s life (Sam recently fell in love, got a new job and moved to a great new area). Her friend preferred to end their longtime friendship rather than hear about Sam’s happiness and new adventures.
Sam also said that she thought there was always someone in all of our lives (she thought usually a sister) who we were generally happy for when they took a great vacation, or bought a new house, or got a dream job, but underneath we felt envy.
For me personally, I can’t think of someone specific that I am envious of, but occasionally I will meet someone who I think has suffered little hardship and I will think, “Why does everything always go right for you?” With people like that I feel a twinge of envy.
I think social media is used and in a way to try to make everyone feel envy – people only post their best pictures and often they are taken with a filter or Photoshopped. People take pictures of their drinks and their food, making it look like they are always having a party. People take pictures of every event they go to making it look like they are always having fun, and of course people take pictures of every vacation. Most of social media is an illusion, an image that people are trying to create and maintain. I don’t feel envious of people on social media, because I know most people are not authentic or real on social media – they don’t post the mundane, or sprinkle the good with the bad. Studies have shown that many people do feel badly about social media – it contributes to negative feelings about their own lives.
I struggle in other ways, but overcome it daily. I see writers every day that are writing for the magazines I want to write for, or I read their work and I know it is so much better than mine. When that happens, I tell myself, “You need to read more, and write more. You need more practice.” I tell myself to keep going. In other words, there may be some initial envy, but the other writer’s success usually pushes me to try harder. I think that is a good way to overcome envy, by bettering myself.
If you are the kind of person that is envious of beauty, or body shape, you can’t just try harder to make your hair thicker, or your cheekbones higher, or wish your wrinkles away. In those situations, you have to practice a form of acceptance. Somehow you have to know that you are good enough, beautiful enough, worthy enough, and I know it sounds cliché but it honestly helps to think of all you are grateful for.
I want to be the kind of person that is happy when others succeed. I want to believe that there is enough goodness, and good fortune for all of us, and that having someone be happy, or get their dream job, is a great thing, not something that hurts my chances of landing my dream job.
I don’t want to be the person in the crowd yelling for someone to fail, I want to be the one who acknowledges a good play when I see it even if it comes from someone on the opposing team – really, there are no opposing teams, just us, trying to live together- let’s cheer loud and hard for one another. The worst that will happen is we will all have a sore throat from cheering, and that hurts much less than envy.