Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I’ve been stuck on the question from the scriptures, “Are you stripped of envy?” This, combined with my current e-audiobook by Wayne Dyer, has got me convinced that my life would be much more peaceful, creative and satisfying if I could permanently eliminate envy from my life. Just since I’ve started pondering this, I have been astounded at how much of my thinking is focused on what I don’t have. I want to commit myself to a zero-tolerance policy for envy. So this post is my farewell to all those old envies.

Things I will no longer envy:

People who are extremely healthy, and people who are very strong. People who can run like antelope instead of plodding along at a half jog like I do. People who can stay up late watching TV with their spouses (and by late, I mean after 10:00).

Women with thick hair. Women with skinny little girl bodies. Women who have the money and lack of guilt to make their faces look 25 when they are actually 55.

People who are out of debt.

Amazingly gifted writers. Writers with amazing work ethics who are determined to succeed. Writers who know how to trust their subconscious. Writers with great agents. Writers with great book deals. Famous writers. In fact, I envy anyone who can answer with ease the question I get too often, “So, what books have you published?”

People with really close best friends that they never feel insecure about.

People with beautiful solo voices.

People who can knit sweaters while holding conversations, and who know how to pick the pattern and the yarn just right. People who can spin.

Vegetarians. But not really. However, I do envy people who eat very well because they enjoy it.

Women who know how to shop, and women who know how to dress. Women who can wear hats or scarves and look great and confident in them. Women who, even when they’re a little heavy, know well enough how to dress that they look nice all the time. Women who know how to pluck and color eyebrows.

Women who come alive in the afternoon and evening hours, so that their kids get their very best.

People with the ability to memorize easily.

People who got to go on Study Abroad during college.

People with the desire to keep their houses really clean at all times and the enjoyment of such.

People with the ability to cook, and the enjoyment of such.

People who love being with other people’s kids and are easygoing with them. Also, parents who constantly have fun with their kids.

People with really great laughs.

Funny people.

Those women that people refer to in Relief Society when they say, “I have a friend who is always there for me, who never judges, who silently serves.” (I don’t think anyone would say this about me. I feel like I’m always eager to serve, but never know how. I’m constantly bungling around. I want to be one of those elegant servers who know when to show up and how.)

People who know how to meditate and do it well.

Ah, man, I could go on. As I look at this list, I realize a couple of things.

First, I’m most susceptible to envy when it involves something I want but which I’m simply not willing to commit to getting. The ability to memorize, for example. Or knit, or spin, or meditate well and often. All these things I could get if I wanted them badly enough. Obviously, I don’t. So why do I waste mental energy envying people who have them? In some cases, I’ve done pretty well at making peace with my decision not to invest. The clean house, for example. It only bothers me mildly when other people have cleaner houses than mine. (The fact that it does proves that it is envy at work, not simply admiration.) But for the most part I’m willing to let that one go. If I could get used to letting other things go, like wanting to be a passionate writer, I would have more peace.

Second, envy isn’t the recognition of good things that I lack. Envy is the slight resentment towards the people who do have them. Envy is more about how I feel towards the other person and less about how I feel about their gifts. Which is why I made myself write “People who . . .” on the list instead of “the ability to . . .” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with recognizing that something might be valuable to have. The evil of envy is when I let it separate me from others because I feel inferior to them.

My goal, then, is to make my peace about the things I’m dedicated to seeking in my life, and the things I’m not going to invest in or simply can’t have (thick hair, for example). I may not have a natural gift with children, for example, but I’ll waste no more energy on wishing I were someone who does. I can use my energy to try to teach myself to be more in the moment, more loving, when I am with them. But wishing I didn’t have to work at it just wears me down.

I think that in conjunction with my decision to renounce envy, I also should commit to noticing and enjoying the things/gifts I DO have. So maybe I’ll make another list to that effect in my next blog. (Bet you’re on the edge of your seat for that one.)


Jennifer B. said...

Well said. I want to do this too! Thank you for sharing your insights.

Michelle said...

this is a fascinating list. You are one of the few people I know who will admit to envy--- and I really admire that about you. And it's interesting to see that I HAVE some of those qualities and that I also envy some of them.

I should make a list of what I envy about you!

Anonymous said...

I don't think I was feeling envious *before* I read that list. (But maybe I'm not now feeling envious; maybe I'm just feeling futile.)

Obviously, you weren't meaning to put me in an envious mood, though. And I agree with what you said, and have also heard it said that envy is not just wanting to acquire for one's self what someone else has (which wanting could also be described as righteous desire, healthy ambition, or "seeking after every good gift,") but envy is wanting to obtain our object by taking it away from the other person. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure I agree with that definition--I think it might be possible to envy even without wanting to take away from the other person--but in general envy does always have elements of spite or covetousness or ingratitude or unhealthy competitiveness. I once knew someone, who, every time she complimented me, couched it in terms of rank or status: "You're better at that than I am," etc. That made it hard for me to receive her compliments, because I didn't feel like I could just say "Thank you," without admitting to some sort of superiority in myself or some lack in her. Even if I was in fact better at that particular thing, I was very uncomfortable with having my talent framed as being in competition with her--I didn't develop the talent so I could be better at it than her, I did it because I was interested, and I assumed she would purue her own interests, too, which wouldn't, couldn't, and shouldn't all be the same as mine. I don't really think she actually thought I was generally better than her, but I do think that she tended to, well, judge others and herself based on accomplishments, and also perhaps mentally rank people by their abilities, which sometimes made me feel insecure around her.

I'm not sure envy is one of my biggest challenges, but I can think of times that it does distract me from pursuing my own best path, so this is a good reminder to find ways to let go when it creeps up on me.

I just re-read this before posting it and decided that a key component of what's wrong with envy is that it does imply futility, and a belief that we can't have every good gift, we can never have what will make us happy, life isn't fair, we'll never be good enough, and God is more stingy with us than the other person. The opposite might be gratitude, with faith and hope that Heavenly Father and Christ will, eventually, provide absolutely everything *we* need for happiness, fulfillment, and salvation, and that there WILL be enough of every good thing to go around (and then some.)

P.S. You should definitely not feel envious of people who miss their chance at a shower by writing too-long blog comments. (Well, but, that was kind of fun, though, even if I don't now smell very nice.)

Travelin'Oma said...

I have way too much envy going on. And after reading your list, I've added some more people to envy. But it can be paralyzing and erodes my efforts to be better. You're committed to being better. I envy you!

Anonymous said...

So what do you do if your read a friend's blog and see something you can do (in my case, knit while talking and spin--though I'm still learning that) on a list like this?

I want to say that if I were to make such a list, it would include you as someone who writes and appreciates poetry and actually gets it published, and you as someone who does not let certain other people (who shall not be named, but if you know who I am, you can guess who some of them are) bother them as much as I let certain people bother me.

We all have things which we have to work on, and we all have things that we have worked on and that now come more easily to us.

We also all have things that we might like to have/do/be, but we can only pay the price for some of them, and the others will have to wait until the eternities--I'm really counting on that.

Darlene Young said...

Thanks, anonymous, for your nice words--a little lift that I really needed today. Yes, I know who you are and there are many things that I admire about you, in addition to the knitting and spinning.