It’s easy to explain why we feel jealous when someone else gets what we wanted. But, what about those jealous feelings that creep up on us when someone gets something that we didn’t even want?
A coworker gets a promotion. It isn’t something I was hoping or trying for. I know it is not the right season in my life to give more time to work or take on more responsibility. I am actually quite content with my part-time job. But I still feel jealous of the title and attention.
A friend buys a large, fancy home in an expensive area. She enrolls her kids in an elite private school. I live in a predictable suburban home and my daughter attends the neighborhood public school. Most days, I feel lucky to live where I do, love my neighborhood and am genuinely grateful for how much my daughter loves her school. But I still feel jealous of the exclusivity, the way her kids are destined for success.
A mom I know has three kids and volunteers everywhere. She is an endless well of serving. She makes things happen. And she is so happy about it. I only have two kids and rarely volunteer. While I struggle with whether or not I am living out my calling, I generally feel like I am living with purpose and that Volunteer of the Year is not me. But I still feel jealous of her selflessness, the way she is in her element while she is doing all of those Really Good Mom things.
This kind of jealousy baffles me. How can I feel jealous of things I don’t even really want? Why does someone else’s success, blessing or giftedness trigger a sudden burst of jealousy?
People say that jealousy is rooted in our own discontentment. I think that’s true – to an extent. But, when jealousy can surprise me into feeling inadequate right smack in the middle of my contentment and gratitude, I think it comes from something else: my belief in scarcity.
When my worldview is one of scarcity, I believe there can only be so many definitions of success in the world. And mine is not the right one. I believe that the right titles are in short supply and they are available for only a limited time: right now. But not to me. Scarcity says there is not enough success for everyone.
When I believe in scarcity, Successful Children is an exclusive club with a set number of spots reserved for the children who come from elite schools and neighborhoods. I believe in scarcity’s definition of unique: doing and having things that most people can’t afford. Scarcity says the competition is only getting stiffer, and there is not enough room for everyone.
When I believe in scarcity, there is a singular definition of Really Good Mom. Under scarcity’s spell, I believe there are only a few specific ways to make a difference in the world. Visible, tangible gifts that make an immediate impact are what the world needs. Scarcity says there is a certain way to be a _______ (mom, Christian, etc.); there is not enough need in the world for diversity.
Belief in scarcity shatters contentment with it’s not enoughs. And jealousy moves in quickly.
So, how can we protect our own contentment? How can we pass up scarcity’s competition and choose self-love and genuine happiness for others in the midst of their blessings?