Weeding Out Envy

The Easter holiday is over and, though many people continue to celebrate the “Easter season” for another 40 days, many others have moved on and are preparing for summer. Similarly, for some teachers and students (namely my grandchildren) the “spring break” is over, while many others are only now in the middle of that post-winter respite.

This weekend I listened to my grandchildren lament the end of their spring break. I recalled similar days when I was a child attending Catholic school. Our “Easter break” began with Holy Thursday and we returned to school on the Tuesday after Easter. Some of my friends, who attended public schools, generally were out on “spring break” the week before or after us. I remember saying, “Those lucky ducks, they get off all week, while we only get a 3-day vacation!” My childish calculations ignored the fact that Catholic school students were often given a day off for the feast of the school’s patron saint or some other “holy day.” I’m sure public school students envied us on those Catholic-only free days. Those memories led me to think about the ways envy gets planted and ways to weed it out.

In our society, it is very difficult to escape those temptations. Daily we face advertising that plays on that emotion. Food, drink, transportation, housing, appliances, insurance, even particular medications are presented in a way that tempts people to obtain them or envy those who already have them. Athletes and movie stars are used in advertising to imply that you could live like a person you admire if only you purchase that shoe, cosmetic, cereal, vehicle, or medication.

For many years, I have endeavored to be content with the blessings I have and avoid the human temptations toward envy. I thought I was succeeding pretty well. After all, I had come to understand that the best medical care could not keep a person from getting cancer. I had seen the rich and famous leading lives of profound uncertainty and sadness. I knew that the most hyped medication could cause terrible side effects, which actually stole a person’s well-being.

Still as I entered my sixties, I envied the people who were retired. In my mind, those people could invest time in whatever endeavors they valued and not be bound by the requirements of employment. They had the ability to come and go as they pleased, without asking permission for “time off.” They could travel without trying to cram it all into only fourteen days per year. I believed that, when I retired, I would be free from envy. I expected I would be happier and more content and, on some level, that seemed to be coming true.

Then came spring break! I was enjoying the sprouting crocus and rejoicing in the fresh spring air. I delighted in holiday cooking, baking, and entertaining. I was looking forward to the green buds showing up on the trees. Instead, I got surprised by more shades of green popping up inside than outside.

Social media began to fill with photos of the Caribbean and warm, sunny vistas, as friends and acquaintances shared news of their travels and adventures. With the “heart-I-desire,” I clicked many “like” buttons and said to myself, “I am so happy for their good fortune.” Still, in my “Grinchy-green-heart,” very much like that little girl, fifty-some years ago, an inner voice grumbled, “Those lucky ducks, I wish I had the cash to go on that cruise…stay in that hotel…go on that tour…have dinner in that restaurant!” There I was, gifted with the free time I so desired, and my brain was still playing the lyrics of my youth, “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.”

It was time to seek out the wisdom of true friends because, as a wise man once said, “A true friend knows your weaknesses, but shows you your strengths.” Though I felt quite guilty to admit this old green nemesis was still lurking in the recesses of my psyche, I was glad to have friends to help me recognize that it wasn’t the emotion that mattered, but how I dealt with it. With their help, I began to focus on the love of my husband and family, the fidelity of friends, the comforts of my home, the beautiful places I have traveled, the blessings of my health, and the amazing wonders of each new day.

If this spring season, you happen to find seeds of envy sprouting in your internal garden, take a few moments to consider the people, places, and circumstances which have brought, and continue to bring, joy to your life. Remember, true happiness is not about having what you want, but wanting what you have!

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