In my 20s and early 30s, envy would rise up like bile in my throat whenever I opened another calligraphy-covered, heavyweight envelope inviting me to yet another wedding. In my 30s and early 40s, envy weighed on my shoulders when I saw others’ careers progress and salaries increase beyond my own. I now throw up my hands in exasperation when other small businesses seem to grow with little or no effort on the part of the owner.
The reality is that these responses are likely fueled by misconceptions. Being married certainly doesn’t make your life perfect. Having an impressive-seeming career and a big paycheck doesn’t make you happy or satisfied in your work. Though building a business may seem easy on the outside, it rarely works that way from the vantage point of the one doing the building.
Another very problematic assumption also provides kindling for the envy fire: the assumption that if someone else gets something that means there is not enough for you. In other words, we tend to believe in scarcity more than we believe in abundance.
In Heather McGhee’s brilliant book, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Us and How We Can Prosper Together, she names this belief system the “zero-sum game.” She writes in terms of public investment in people and communities following desegregation in the United States in the 1950s and 60s. When whites-only swimming pools were confronted with the court mandate to desegregate, she explained, many of them opted to close and fill in the pools with cement instead. Nearly everyone suffers from this decision, but it was better in some minds than sharing the pool with everyone.
In the example of the public pools, the shutdown was fueled by the incredibly racist notion that if these public places were shared between white people and people of color, they would be tarnished or ruined. But the envy impulse, even when it arises in more personal circumstances, is fueled by the same scarcity mindset. The irony is that we create even more scarcity when we refuse to share than we had when we started.
“We are all living in a drained pool now,” McGhee wrote.
To begin to climb our way out of the drained pool, I’m suggesting a practice: Whenever you feel envy rise up in your throat or weigh you down, pause to feel the discomfort of it. Then recall something that you received that you didn’t ask for or necessarily even deserve. Take a moment to feel grateful for it. Explore this practice more through my recent #MindfulMonday video:
As McGhee wrote, an antidote to this mindset will be the recognition that we all need each other. Nothing we do is achieved without the help of other people and public investment. Gratitude helps us remember our mutual need and celebrate it.
Grateful for YOU: I am grateful to you, my readers, clients and supporters. Join me as I practice gratitude at my upcoming Birthday Month of Abundance Happy Hour Event from 3-5 PM ET, Tuesday, Aug. 24, via Zoom. Everyone who registers and attends will receive a special gift from me!