When I was 10 years old or so, the oldest of my cousins bought his siblings and a couple of other cousins some remote controlled toys. This was the first time I ever felt envy. Alright, alright… I might have felt it before, but this was the first time I analyzed it. I remember asking myself if my cousin didn't love me as much as he loved the others. After all, he and his sister babysat me when I was a baby. I was their baby. So I wondered what I had done and why I didn't get a toy from him that Christmas. Mom, being the intuitive mother that she is, noticed what I was feeling and explained to me that I had more “stuff” than my cousins did. (I really did. I had a ton of toys.) She also explained to me that I had other “stuff” that was more valuable than toys, like the love of my parents, my good grades in school, and my friends. Still, being the ten year old that I was, I felt left out.
Later on, once I was in college, going to parties was not something that I enjoyed doing. I felt completely left out because everyone was loud, got drunk, and their idea of fun involved things that didn't jive with me. So I would stand in the corner, talk to a few people I knew, and then would get out and go home. Dozens of people in the same room talking at the same time really, really give me a headache. Once again, I felt left out. My friends would be having the time of their lives, or so it seemed. All the while, I was having a hard time trying to listen to all the conversations going on at the same time.
From those experiences in college I learned to just stay home and watch movies or read books. If I really wanted to be distracted and got cabin fever, I'd go play soccer or, eventually, go out for a run or a hike, or something. But parties? No, not for me. As left out as I felt, this would be a blessing in disguise. My wife confessed to me early on in our relationship that she detested loud parties. She would rather stay home with a book, or go to a party where the adult-to-child ratio was high, including the adult-to-adult-acting-like-a-child ratio. And it was then that I didn't feel left out any more.
It was those experiences and a few others that really toned-down the feeling of envy or jealousy over things that I didn't have. A quick assessment of what I do have quickly removes any feelings of being left out. Ugly guy with a beautiful woman? All I have to do is think of my lovely, professional, smart, and very pretty wife. Guy with a nice car or truck? All I have to think about is how much money I'm not paying for a car like that and what I've been able to buy with the money I saved. A better athlete than me? I just remember the things I can do with a soccer ball. People with more friends? I just think of my own friends, who are awesome and who are loyal as heck.
Unfortunately, not everyone takes inventory of what they have when confronted with something that triggers their jealousy response. They want what others have, and they want it bad. How bad? Bad enough to do some bad, bad things. Knowing how to take inventory of what you have, and putting what others have into perspective, is a coping mechanism that comes with maturity. Lucky for me, mom triggered that coping mechanism early on. I remember that every time I see a parent immediately give the child the toy the child wants off the store shelf. I remember it again when I see a high school teen driving a very expensive car. Instant gratification in pursuit of one-upping each other is the source of so many evils.
So, if you find yourself seething on the inside over what someone else has that you don't, get a grip of your feelings and think of the things you have that they don't… Especially the things and people in your life that are not in anyone else's. It will keep you out of trouble, I promise.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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