Personal Growth - Count Your Blessings
by Monica Fernandes
Smita Prabhu is going through a depression, and she finds herself in a constant state of envy. She envies everyone who seems to be living normally, and bitterly rues her own melancholy.
Arun comes from a traditional lower middle class family. An intelligent boy, Arun has been given admission into one of Mumbai’s most prestigious colleges. He envies the flawless accent with which the others speak English, and the fact that many of his friends have cars, mobiles, and designer clothes. He is embarrassed by his own clumsy command of the language, and wishes that he had learnt how to use a fork and knife.
Perhaps none of us is free of envy, but most of us, fortunately, experience it only fleetingly, or at certain stressful periods in our lives.
William Shakespeare coined the expression ‘green-eyed monster’ to describe envy’s darker sibling, jealousy, in his play, Othello. Othello wrongly suspects his wife Desdemona of infidelity, and kills her in a fit of jealous rage. He eventually commits suicide when he discovers his Himalayan blunder.
Envy is a negative force that prevents positive forces from entering into our thought processes. Psychologists believe that when we are envious, we perceive ourselves as lacking another person’s qualities, wealth, or achievement. We also wish that the other person be deprived of it. When unchecked, it often leads to hatred, anger and resentment. This gives rise to various psychosomatic illnesses such as hyperacidity and increased blood pressure.
The greener grass on the other side
Psychotherapist Uma Ranganathan says that envy stems from the feeling of insecurity we all have of living in a highly competitive world. It’s all about one-upmanship, and only a saint could truly say that he/she is above envy. According to her, envy sometimes originates when parents thoughtlessly compare one child adversely with another. Teachers are also unwitting culprits when they compare a dull child to a clever one. The result of these comparisons is that the child craves for the parents’ or teachers’ approval, and is envious of those who get it.
Prem Nirmal, an electronics engineer, founder director of the Thane-based Tao Anand Spiritual Centre, and visiting faculty for stress management at IIT, Powai, narrates an interesting case. Neha Gupta (name changed) was a student in a computer college. She exhibited a deep-rooted, uncontrollable, and illogical behavioural pattern of envy. A classmate was showing off her new acquisition – a fancy mobile phone. Neha surreptitiously took it away, and threw it somewhere, because it was a possession she herself lacked. Further investigation revealed that she followed this behaviour pattern at home as well, and had thrown her sibling’s prize-winning painting into the dustbin.
Nirmal first set about bringing self-awareness in the patient. The next step was to remove the old negative behavioural pattern, and replace it with a positive one, through Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). This lengthy process is called repatterning. After many sittings, Neha’s story had a happy resolution. She was taught to replace envy with appreciation. She began to appreciate her sibling’s artistic talent.
Janis Joplin belted out a rather amusing song where she asked God for a Mercedes Benz because all her friends drove Porsches. Psychologists term this behaviour as a comparison complex. Nisha Singh (name changed) has to go through the daily grind of rushing to office, and doing the housework at home. Despite slogging, a bigger house is a pipe dream with real estate prices constantly going upwards. She envies her school classmate Asha Sachdev (name changed) who does not work, and lives in the lap of luxury. She thinks, “Asha is a lucky woman. She stays in a posh flat.” This is a one-sided view. Asha is unhappy in her gilded cage where she is totally dominated by her in-laws, but Nisha does not have a sympathetic thought for the hapless Asha. She fails to see the complete picture. Class envy is the product of man-made differentiation. The poor and less powerful criticise the rich and powerful. Have you noticed the perverse pleasure urchins derive in scratching a swanky car?
Uma feels that envy is not a disease that can be cured. Though envy is happening all the time, everywhere, society frowns upon an envious person. Hence we tend to go into denial mode, and refuse to admit that we harbour this emotion. What the psychotherapist does is bring out the demon lurking inside. He/she tries to find out where and how envy originated in the first place. She then gradually starts building up the person’s self-confidence so that the insecure feelings gradually diminish.
What if we are the object of envy? This is not an enviable (pun unintended!) situation. We have to listen to veiled and direct insults. This robs us of some of the joy of achieving something, or possessing qualities such as good looks or talents. However, we should not permit others to take away our happiness. Why should we take on the burden of another’s lack of self-confidence?
Adopt a proactive approach
Uma advocates against getting into a tit-for-tat situation, as it leads to unpleasantness and unnecessary tension. She recommends that we do not react to someone passing snide remarks at us. If the comments are vicious, then we should respond in a cool and rational manner, by telling our tormentor that his/her remarks are uncalled for.
It sometimes helps to try and understand why an individual displays envy. I once attended a party where my rendition of a song was appreciated. Celia Lobo (name changed), a teacher, was envious of the fact that I was the centre of attraction, so she criticised my clothes! I have known Celia for years, and was aware that the loss of her parents when she was quite young, had affected her adversely, and therefore I did not take her remarks to heart.
At times, a genuine friend could grudge us our happiness or accolades, while maintaining concern for our well-being. Fatima Machado was getting on in years, and was yet a spinster. Her colleagues were often at the receiving end of her sharp tongue, but, strangely enough, she would lend them a helping hand whenever needed. To her good fortune, and that of her colleagues, Fatima did eventually get married. She was a far more pleasant person after that. It is pertinent to mention that while we have little or no control over the emotions of others, it is possible to control the monster within.
At the outset, we should cultivate a sense of pride in ourselves – our appearance, our talents, our material possessions, our faults, and our good attributes. Why should Terri Pinto be concerned because, unlike her friend Sweta Lalwani (names changed), who is a successful model, she lacks the height? Terri is, after all, intelligent and proficient in her studies. We should accept qualities that we cannot change. We are all differently abled, and have a role to play in society in our own unique way. The managing director of a company has the overall responsibility, and has to ensure that the company is a profit-making venture, but the company also needs the worker on the shop floor to do his bit. We have four fingers and a thumb on each hand. Each is differently shaped and sized, yet all are needed in order for our hands to function effectively.
Be grateful for your blessings, instead of constantly counting the blessings of others. My friend Adeola Omotosho, a business woman in Nigeria, is a happy person, despite the severe pain she is in sometimes after having met with a bad accident. She once wisely said that we take so much for granted. Even such a simple act as holding a glass of water, and drinking the contents, is something that the disabled are not able to do. Are we not courting unhappiness by constantly envying those we perceive to have more than us? Once we shun envy, we will find that we are able to sincerely compliment even a competitor when he/she has performed well. We will discover that our circle of friends has expanded. As our envy quotient reduces, our happiness quotient increases.
Be grateful for your gifts. Cultivate self-esteem. Confront yourself with all that you dislike in yourself. Change what you can, and learn to accept what you cannot. This is not easy, but persistence pays. Practise affirmations daily, telling yourself that you are whole, perfect and complete. Learn to love and cherish yourself. Remember that you are a child of God, and are deeply loved. Over time, your feelings of envy will drop away, and you will feel complete within.
We welcome your comments and suggestions on this article. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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