Hula Hoop

I Want The Red One

On a nice summer evening after dinner recently, our two-year-old was in our backyard working a blue Hula-Hoop with a level of skill far beyond her years.  Her face was the very definition of joy.

But then it all took a very sudden turn for the worse.

Her five-year-old brother had gone into the garage and emerged with a red Hula-Hoop.  Just walking past her with it in his hand was enough to twist her happiness into frustration.  “I want the red one!” she yelled, her blue Hula-Hoop lying lifeless on the ground.

It didn’t matter that the red one had a kink in it, whereas the blue one was perfectly round.  The red one looked better to her, especially in the hand of her brother, and she wanted it.

She yelled again: “I want the red one.”  And then she cried.

The Envy Instinct

I’m no child psychologist, but envy doesn’t seem to be a learned behavior.  It seems to come very naturally.  And it doesn’t seem to be something we outgrow.

I’ve coveted what others have plenty of times in my life.  Homes, cars, vacations, and golf swings are just a few of the things I can recall someone having a better version of what I wanted.

I’ve had plenty of blue ones when I wanted red ones.

How about you?

It’s embarrassingly easy to get caught up in the comparison game. Researchers call it social comparison. You and I know it as keeping up with the Joneses. Today we may be satisfied with our five-year-old Toyota. But tomorrow, when our neighbors show up in their new Lexus, with its leather seats and concert quality stereo system, the old Toyota just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American, points out that we may not even be aware of the comparisons we make with other people. “It may be as simple as the fact that exposure to their latest ‘lifestyle upgrade’ plants the seed in our own mind that we must have it, too—whether it be a European vacation, this year’s fashion statement, or piano lessons for the children.”

Thanking Envy Away

Here’s what I’ve discovered about envy.  We can’t will it away, guilt it away, or ignore it away.  But there is one thing that seems to help, and that’s gratitude.

I don’t know when or how I developed this habit, but I begin most mealtime and bedtime prayers by giving thanks for the day followed by a simple statement: “Every day is a gift.”

If I’m really honest about it, I say the words so often that there are times when they come from habit much more so than from my heart.

But those words have become a helpful, often-needed reminder to myself that no matter how bad things get there is much to be thankful for.

Regular Weeding Required

Recently I found myself lying in bed wide awake feeling irritated.  A couple of clients were way overdue on several sizeable invoices, and I had gotten a call that morning from another client saying his organization was having financial problems.  Great.  Another one for the overdue-and-might-never-pay pile.  Last year a seemingly successful company had hired me for some video work only to go bankrupt, leaving me unpaid and having to eat all the travel expenses for which I was supposed to be reimbursed.

I used up way too many minutes envying those who get a steady paycheck.

That day I had also driven to an appointment in our van, along the way seeing several vehicles I’d much rather have been driving.

It had been a day of owning blue ones while wanting red ones.

But in the quiet of the night I got up and looked in on our three sleeping kids, and I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude.  I love my family and the work I get to do.  And yes, I even appreciate our van. It’s amazingly reliable, hasn’t needed any major repairs, and it’s big enough for our family of five – attributes that work really well for this stage of life.

As I took inventory of the many things I’m grateful for, the irritations of the day started to fade away.  Without even thinking about it, I found myself saying a silent prayer and meaning every word: Dear God, thank you for today.  Every day is a gift.

How do you deal with envy?

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5 Responses to I Want The Red One

  1. Piya July 20, 2011 at 2:48 AM #

    “Our favorite attitude should be gratitude” which very true and works well to keep the negative thoughts away

  2. Scott July 18, 2011 at 7:07 PM #

    Great Post !!
    Considering we just traded for a red van , I had to laugh a little !
    As I have been taking the axe to everthing we spend money on , our (1999) Suburban was sure to take a big chop. At 10 MPG it had to go. I actully had a neighbor who needed a big Suburban, and had a (2005) Dodge Caravan which they were willing to trade. We traded even , so we also avoided sales tax. Our gas budget is now reduced by 55%.
    I think the envy thing is rooted deep in our heads. Marketing has to play a role in this. With no TV , we avoid a lot of the sales pitches , yet we too struggle with seeing others have newer , bigger , or fancier things. We refuse to use credit to purchase , so that too has helped curtail envy , as there really is no sense in wasting time wanting something we cannot have !
    Another “trick” we use for curtailing envy is to renew or refurbish an item. A tune up , some wax and a new set of wheels can make that old mower run great and look great again . Sharpening the cutlery set gives me appreciation for the charcter of the old knives.Nothing like some polish or oil on a pair of shoes to give them a great “new” look agian.

  3. Lindsey July 18, 2011 at 2:20 PM #

    Thank you very much for this reminder Matt. I hate how we have so much but still can be discontent.

  4. Dave July 18, 2011 at 1:57 PM #

    Great post! Keep beating the drum of developing a grateful spirit … it really is the secret of avoiding that constant desire to have more. True gratefulness is the furtilizer of generosity.

  5. Dennis July 18, 2011 at 10:37 AM #

    There are huge dangers in comparing ourselves to others, but it is profitable to learn to compare ourselves only with others who have fewer blessings and greater trials than we. As an example, I’m in a long, slow physical decline because of spinal stenosis and peripheral neuropathy, but we have a friend who’s in a more rapid decline due to Parkinson’s disease. A month and a half ago I experienced breathtaking back and leg pain, but it was successfully treated by back surgery. Our friend has recurring severe pain and diminishing vision, both resulting from Parkinson’s, and the only treatments available to her are pain medications, pain management, and eye moisturizers. I use a cane, but she must use a wheelchair or a walker. I REJOICE with all of our friends who are arriving at retirement age in vigorous health and with excellent mobility, but I COMPARE my situation with that of our friend with Parkinson’s. Because of such comparisons, I recognize how blessed I am and I’m often overwhelmed with gratitude for all I’ve been given. The choice between envy and contentment is ours to make. I choose contentment, and I encourage others to do so, too.

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