When I'm not doing freelance writing work for clients or being a mom to two kids, I'm writing a book about joy. I've been quietly working on it for a while, keeping it to myself — mostly writing in the wee hours of the night when the rest of the house is asleep. But the book is really coming along, and I'm getting very excited about it, so I'm starting to mention it more in conversation with people outside of my close friends and family. And it's been so interesting to see how they react when I tell them I'm writing a book about joy.
I seem to get two main reactions: either a wistful response like, "Yeah, I really need to work on finding my happiness too, but I just never have the time." Or I get a reaction of clear, unapologetic discomfort in which the other person looks away and/or changes the subject abruptly. The second reaction in particular puzzles me so much that I finally decided to ask a friend about what she thought. "Am I boring?" I asked her. "Or maybe they think I'm a bad writer?" I continued. My friend shook her head: "No!" she said assuredly, "they're just jealous of you."
Her explanation totally took me by surprise. I couldn't step outside of myself enough to consider why anyone would be jealous of me. She listed my marriage, my kids, and, unsurprisingly, my book about joy as at least three reasons that others might be jealous. "If I didn't love you so much I'd be jealous of you, too," she concluded.
Still I resisted. Sure, my marriage is great now but we've gone through some really hard times. Of course, my kids are beautiful but they're also completely exhausting. And my journey to joy has not been easy! I grew up in poverty, most of my life I've suffered from anxiety, depression and lots of physical ailments. Believe me: if people really knew me, they would not be jealous of me.
And that's when it hit me. We never know the full story about the people that we're jealous of. We compare ourselves to an idea we have about them and feel worse about ourselves because of this bogus idea. But somewhere, without us knowing it, there are always people who are jealous of us. They see something in us that they wish they had. And even though jealousy isn't usually considered an enlightened emotion, it can be indicative of admiration: when someone is jealous of us, they are giving us a compliment.
Jealousy is really a form of research — information-gathering for the things we want in our own lives. And as much as we all see qualities in others we we’d like to have ourselves, others are looking at us and thinking the same thing. And if we can recognize what we want through this research, we can take action to create what we want in our lives. I believe that action is most effective when it begins with appreciation for what we have.
Basically, I think it's time we start being jealous of ourselves! I recently saw this great TEDx talk called Meet Yourself: A User’s Guide to Building Self-Esteem by Niko Everett, and it totally inspired me. She talks about how she was always feeling jealous of other women — their looks, their jobs, their husbands — and then one day her friend Julie told her she should meet herself. That she has the very qualities (and more) that she was feeling jealous about in others.
I think we should all get out a pen and paper right now and write a list of all the things we have — qualities, possessions, relationships, assets, jobs and so on — that someone else would be jealous of. Include the secret stuff that people would be jealous of if they only knew — like how deeply you sleep (from someone with insomnia, believe me, this is a jealousy-inducing quality) or how quick your metabolism is (lots of constipated people would be jealous if they knew how regular you are!). I think we should make these lists and look at them whenever we feel jealous of someone else, or down on ourselves.
This exercise is a strange twist on a common gratitude practice of writing down all of the things you are grateful for, but maybe it's the strange twist that some of us need to help us see how awesome we really are.