Ah envy, of all the emotions, you are certainly not my favorite. You seem to suck out all of my energy. You sweep away my perspective until I am left with only bitter tunnel vision. Sometimes, I’ll admit, you allow me to see more clearly what I want, and maybe even the steps I might take to get there. You can be an uncomfortable but helpful kick in the pants. But other times, you only allow me to see the inherent unfairness of life: that other people get what I want, and I don’t and that’s that.
In our world, some are given extraordinary opportunities, and some are not. Some will be able to have their own children, some will not. Some have a natural talent for learning and performing, some do not. The uneven distribution of desirable things is everywhere, and many people — despite deep desire and persistent effort — have still not obtained what came easily or freely to another.
It’s painful. Perhaps it calls for gratitude for what one does have, for grieving, or even lamenting the injustices that are folded into this life. Probably all of these things. But along with these responses, I think envy calls for a change in perspective.
While envy can lead us to bitter tunnel vision focused on what we do not have, it can also open our eyes — if we’re willing — to an opportunity. Our unfulfilled longing invites us into perseverance and the development of a certain kind of character. That kind of character has always been, and will continue to be, something that shapes the world. It’s powerful. It allows the doer to do more intentionally, more wisely, and maybe more gently. It allows the artist to illuminate life from a different angle. It allows the thinker to put words to those things that would otherwise never have been realized. The point is, wrestling with an unfulfilled longing creates something. If we’re willing, it can create something good.
Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94391, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, MFT 50732. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging.