It is a feeling I can barely admit to my closest friend — the rush of resentment that washed over me when I saw the pictures from my friends’ recent vacation. Several families and their kids had gotten together and taken a cruise. But not my family.
Even if we had been able to afford it, the five cruise fares for myself, my husband, and our three kids, we wouldn’t have been able to take off the days from work. We wouldn’t have been able to afford the expense plus the loss of income. Neither of us have vacation days built into our jobs. Not to mention kenneling our two dogs or paying someone to stay with them.
And yes, I felt resentment. Envy. Every time I saw a new album filled with happy faces surfing fake waves on the giant, gleaming-white pool deck pop up in my news feed, a new rush of that ugly feeling filled me up from toes to scalp. Must be nice, I’d think, and then, Wow, I am an awful person. Why shouldn’t they have their fun? It’s not as if they went on vacation to spite you. I squash the feeling down. I’m embarrassed by it. But it keeps coming up.
My friends’ kids all got accepted into the same accelerated program for high school — everyone’s kid but mine. I couldn’t help but feel that envy. I’m happy for my daughter’s friends, but damn, she wanted into that program. Everyone is celebrating and congratulating each other, and we are over here on the sidelines trying to pretend to be positive while we make other plans.
I know there is no rhyme or reason to the way the universe hands things out. And I know it’s not true that we are somehow worse off than everyone else, at least not in the sense of having enough. We do have enough. Enough to keep the lights on, enough to put food on the table, give our kids decent holidays. More than many people, really. But in these moments, it’s so hard not to look at the smiling faces of my friends and their children, so jubilant with all the abundance in their lives, and not feel a little tinge of resentment.
We’re working so hard every day just to scrape by week to week. A special treat for our kids is renting a movie from Redbox and popping some popcorn. And these are special moments for our kids, but I just wish I could give them more. It’s almost impossible not to compare. Why do our kids get left out? Why is it that everyone else seems to get every promotion, every school application accepted, every scholarship won? We are working hard too, and sometimes it’s a lot of work to pretend like I don’t feel at least a little resentment having to stand here and watch others succeed with such seeming ease while we bust our asses to barely scrape by.
It’s not that I begrudge my friends or their kids any of their successes. I keep telling myself my envy is petty. I check it, and I really do count my blessings. We are healthy, we have shelter and food, and we love each other. I know that is much more than many have. I try to be grateful, truly, I do.
But it is a feeling that keeps coming up, and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t exist, or at least, not to myself. Psychology Today says that when we feel envy, we should practice self-compassion. “Being self-critical, by telling yourself you are a “bad” friend or that you’re being overly sensitive or ungrateful, only makes the situation more difficult. It also creates room for other uncomfortable emotions, like anxiety and shame.”
But it’s also important to recognize that our feelings of envy aren’t about our friend who has the thing or situation that we don’t have — it’s about our own fears or feelings of inadequacy. So, my husband and I are busting our asses every day trying to get ahead, and I guess sometimes it just feels like we’re hamsters on a wheel, making a lot of squeaky sounds but not actually getting anywhere.
Psychology Today recommends accepting envy and using it to spark motivation. That sounds great, except I don’t think I can get any more motivated than I already am. I already work 50+ hours per week. They also recommend I can use envy as a means to practice gratitude — I’m doing this too, and it does help to remind myself of the things we DO have. And lastly, we can look at envy as an opportunity for growth. Okay, so maybe I’m a little petty. Maybe I need to “grow” a little. But also, I’m normal. Envy is a feeling we all experience from time to time.
So I guess I just want you to know that if you’ve ever felt envy like this, you’re not alone. It happens. It happens especially when you’re going through a hard time, whether financially or emotionally, and it’s almost impossible not to compare your hardship to others’ successes.
But it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person any more than my private envy makes me a terrible person. I would never take out my resentment on my friends. I know my envy is a me issue, not a them issue. but it is what it is, a real and valid feeling. Life is a struggle right now. I am in a season of struggle. I believe things will get better. And in the meantime, I’ll keep outwardly cheering my friends on, even if, deep down inside, I’m feeling a little left out.