I commit one or more of the ‘seven deadly sins’ on a daily basis (at least mentally) and I’m generally humble enough to admit my failings when they’re pointed out to me. At least if the inherent problem lies with Greed, Lust, Gluttony (mmmmm Chocolate), Wrath, Pride or Sloth.
I don’t know if I can say the same for Envy, particularly when it is directed at my (wonderfully talented, beautiful and witty….damn them!) friends.
Even old Ben Franklin commented on this phenomenon of ‘friend envy’, stating, “To find out a girl’s faults, praise her to her girlfriends.”
There have also been a slate of articles written on the topic in magazines such as GQ http://www.gq.com.au/life/editors+pick/dealing+with+friend+envy,13051, and O (for Oprah) magazine http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Benefits-of-Jealousy-Envying-Friends . So I know I’m not alone when I say I have been envious of friends as well as strangers, and probably more so of friends, knowing them better and hearing more about their undertakings.
There was a particular episode when my reptilian brain came to the fore a few months back when I discovered my sister was fooling around with her flatmate. My sister happens to also, as luck would have it, be my friend and had up until this point, been single like me.
Single was the status quo! And despite the single part still officially applying to her (the whole affair is entirely secret and stinks of the forbidden- in the cloying but enticing way these things do), I felt envious, horribly so. Being beaten to the gate, so to speak by your younger sibling is never fun, but it becomes a little more difficult when the sibling is beloved by you and is telling you a secret, not only that no one else knows (cue feeling a bit special) but that is causing her some emotional distress/embarrassment at keeping the secret (your jealousy is unfounded in the eyes of the person and it would be inappropriate to even mention it).
The most difficult part of being the friend who envies may well be the necessity of hiding this unpleasant emotion from those nearest and dearest. To calm ones thoughts and laugh with glee at the exciting story about the new guy they met, or the paper they are about to publish, or the country they are about to visit. It’s a tough thing to put another person’s emotional well-being ahead of your internal shrine to the green eyed monster, but it does over time give you something vital in return, self-control (one of the most important traits to have for success, in relationships and life) and ambition (to do as well for yourself as the envied person has done for themselves-or even to go one better).
This causes the envy you are feeling to be classified as ‘benign’ envy as opposed to ‘malicious’ envy, which is what all of the baddies (yes, these are all technical terms used by psychologists) have. Meaning it is able to be used productively as a powerful motivational force. Maybe the force behind important discoveries in science, beautiful novels and works of art is more often an emotion, perhaps unfairly, banished to the confessional, than we would like to admit.
I may never be a world changing scientist or a model or an astronaut, but I may know them, and experience worlds I might never otherwise have had an inkling about, through them. It takes all sorts to make a world and there will inevitably be a person, smarter, prettier, wealthier and happier than you are. Maybe the best solution is to just be grateful if that wonderful person likes you enough to call you friend. And work your ass off to be worthy of their respect.
‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.’
-William Butler Yeats