My wife and I were discussing whether envy could be positive. She was of the mind that envy could be a motivator, that seeing what others have can spur ambition. I felt that the resentment inherent in envy undermined any positive outcome. After all, envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, not one of the Seven Really-Not-So-Bad Sins.
Studies have shown that social media can make people feel bad about themselves, and not just because they clicked on that post entitled, “She Dressed as a Stripper at an IODE Meeting And You Won’t Believe What Happened NEXT! But Then Again, You Might!”
The reason is envy. There you are, sitting in your boxers, eating leftover Kraft Dinner, when you stumble upon Facebook photos of friends frolicking in the tropical surf. They’re sipping vodka drinks piled with exotic fruit. And they’re not even wearing sunblock, because wherever they are, the sun is cancer-free.
You see that and you wonder, “Why can’t I be somewhere warm? Where’s my exotic fruit?”
I know several people who have escaped this relentless winter in this way. I don’t think I’m envious but I do wonder how they manage it. More to the point, I wonder why we can’t.
Deb and I make a decent income. Or at least I assume we do. Maybe I’m underpaid and don’t know it. It’s not like I can go up to my co-workers and say, “I make X-thousand. How much do you make?” It’s just not done. While we share almost everything about our lives these days, personal income is one of the bits of privacy we cling to. Why else do you think it was so titillating to learn, in the “Blurred Lines”/Marvin Gaye lawsuit, that this single song generated $16 million? $16 million! That’s X times more than I make a year!
Whether our income is above or below average, we nonetheless always seem to be just getting by. Without going into greater debt, there’s no way we can afford a getaway. Plus, the roof needs to be redone, the cars need repairs, the gutters are falling off, we need new kitchen counters, there’s tuition to pay, I need new glasses and probably a root canal, there are braces coming, and our ancient furnace – the furnace! It’s freezing sitting here in my boxers!
Just last week, we had two automatic withdrawals refused at the bank. The two companies that we owed the payment to charged us penalties, and the bank assessed us two service charges of $45 for non-sufficient funds. That’s right: the bank took money out of our account because there was no money to take out of our account.
I was thinking all this lying in bed Monday morning, the start of a week of vacation to coincide with Abby’s March break. Outside was snow and ice and unrelenting cold. There would be no frolicking this week, no exotic fruit. I wallowed. Wallowing is one of the Not-Very-Good-At-All Sins.
But once the sun came up and I got on with my day, I experienced the small thrill of knowing that I was lounging mid-morning while everyone around me was working. There’s something illicit about that, like faking a sick day. It felt a little like freezing time, but maybe that’s because I had just read a book about a man who can freeze time. Of course, he uses his power to remove women’s clothes, so maybe we should just forget I mentioned it, along with my reading habits.
There was something liberating in stopping what I was doing in the middle of the day and repairing a tuning post on Abby’s guitar. A little later on, I sat and played piano for a while, the first time in weeks. I ate a cupcake for lunch.
I realized that free time, not the destination, was the real vacation. Call it rationalization, but I could imagine myself in some tropical clime fretting about travel connections, what we were going to eat, what might eat us, what to tip, who to tip, worrying about our possessions, complaining about the (other) tourists, wondering what the cats were destroying back home.
Plus, I don’t even like exotic fruit that much.
I’m grateful to live in a solid house where everyone is healthy, eats well and sleeps soundly most nights. I’m grateful to live in a part of the world where, in the middle of a vacation day, I can put on my boots and go for a worry-free walk.
But just a quick one: it’s friggin’ cold out there!