The lucky, er, devils who won £161 million on the Euromillions last week stoked a whole load of feelings of envy right across Britain, not least in our house where my wife is working her derriere off to keep a roof over our heads and I am struggling to find a way to rub two pennies together so that I can contribute to our household outgoings.
All of this put me in mind of a column my wife wrote for her magazine last year on the subject of ENVY. I present it to you as food for thought.
Head: I’m so envious…I want her clothes…her hair…her LIFE!
At the school gate, talk had turned to our plans for the weekend. There was my friend with her gardening. There was me with the swimming lessons and the laundry pile. And then there was Sally.
‘Paris!’ I spluttered. ‘For the weekend? But you’ve only just come back from holiday!’
‘I know!’ trilled Sally. ‘Lucky me, eh?’
‘Yes,’ I sighed. ‘Lucky you!’
Now, I already knew Sally had more money than me and that, with her mum and a small army of babysitters on hand to help her, she enjoyed the kind of freedom I could only dream of. But this was something else!
As she went on about her weekend away – the posh hotel, the plasma screen TV in the bathroom, the new shoes she’d bought to take with her – I did my best to look excited for her. I told myself I was pleased for her. I told myself she deserved it. But I didn’t believe a word of it. And, by the time I got home, a little devil had taken up residence on my shoulder and was whispering to me.
As I made the kids’ tea, the little devil said: Sally will be on her way to Paris with her new shoes…
As I cleared away the plates, it taunted: Sally will be soaking in the bath with a glass of wine watching that plasma TV…
And, as I set up my ironing board, it mocked: Sally will be slipping into something new and sexy and on her way to dinner….
I pressed the iron down hard on a shirt collar and grumbled: ‘I really can’t stand that Sally.’
I hadn’t meant to say it out loud and The Partner Who Is Not My Husband looked up from his newspaper.
‘Sally?’ he said. ‘Who’s Sally?’
‘Sally from school,’ I said. ‘Blonde hair, expensive tan, fancy clothes.’
‘Hmm,’ he said, no wiser. ‘And what’s this Sally done to you?’
I took a deep breath.
‘Oh,’ I said, ‘she’s so spoilt. She’s being taken to Paris for the weekend. Paris! She’s only just had two weeks in Greece. As if she needs a break! She’s never done a day’s work in her life. And she doesn’t do her own cleaning. And her mum looks after the kids…’
The Partner laughed.
‘Sounds like you’ve got a touch of the green-eyed monster to me,’ he said.
I put down the iron.
‘Me?’ I said. ‘Jealous? Don’t be so daft!’
But the moment he’d said it, the genie was out of the bottle. Jealous? Of course, I was flippin’ jealous! I was seething and twitching and writhing with jealousy, or to be more precise, envy. Sally had something that I did not – namely a life of luxury – and I wanted it.
It seemed to me that while she had stepped into the limousine of life, I had caught the bus going in the wrong direction. While she had her nails done, I chipped mine scrubbing floors. While she was whisked off for swanky nights out, I made beans on toast for the kids. And while she lived it up in Paris, I ironed underpants at home.
It simply wasn’t fair.
Of course, from time to time most of us have felt the grass on our side of the fence was not as green as it might be. You only have to flick through a celebrity magazine to feel envy.
You think to yourself: ‘There’s Angelina who’s got Brad – and that pout. There’s Kelly Brook with her body to die for. And look, there’s Cheryl Cole who’s got it all, the lucky cow…’
Envy of the rich and famous has caused a surge in the number of young women going bankrupt as they spend money they don’t have in order to ‘keep up’ with the WAG lifestyles of their idols. But it’s not just bank balances that are affected. Those who feel eclipsed by the success of others are more likely to suffer from stress and, as a result, have heart disease, diabetes, ulcers and high blood pressure. And that’s because envy has a dark side.
Shortly after my epiphany over the ironing board, I was out shopping when I spotted Sally. As usual, she looked stunning. As usual, I looked like I’d just gone ten rounds with a garden hedge. And, as she walked towards me, something strange began to happen. All of a sudden, I felt I wasn’t good enough. I felt inferior and unattractive and I was overwhelmed by a desire to run away and hide.
And then, as I skulked in a shop doorway, the little devil on my shoulder made me do something terrible.
I wished for something bad to happen to Sally.
Please, make her have to work for a living. Make her have to scrub floors. Make her know what it feels like to struggle. Please, please, make her miserable…
It was pathetic and childish and I was immediately ashamed of myself. How had I turned into this hate-filled ogre?
Psychotherapist and writer Susie Orbach says many of us struggle to deal with our feelings when a friend achieves something we want.
‘Our culture increasingly pushes women to compete with each other,’ she says. ‘Yet we often don’t have the emotional equipment or communication skills required to deal with the consequences. The crippling shame, resentment, feelings of disloyalty and ill-will conjured up by envy can lead women to act in ways they later regret.’
I’ve been a victim of this myself – sent to Coventry by a group of women I worked with simply because I’d been given a promotion – and it was far from pleasant. With this in mind, I decided to do something about my own feelings for Sally starting by taking a long, hard look at myself. But before I had a chance, a letter dropped on to my doormat.
I made a cup of tea, sat down, opened it and began to read.
I have been reading your articles in Take a Break and I just had to write to you. My only daughter had one son who was idolised by both her and her husband.
One day, he was out playing hide and seek with friends when he collapsed. He died instantly. Apparently he suffered from a rare heart condition which should have killed him by the age of two, so it was a miracle he lived to 13.
Oh, how I wish I could wipe out the last few months of my life. Never take your children’s love for granted, give them plenty of hugs and kisses as all we have left now are our wonderful memories of our laughing, smiling boy.
I put down the letter and suddenly I saw how foolish I had been. I had so much to be grateful for – a family, love, friendships – and yet I had allowed myself to become dissatisfied.
But the letter was not simply a reminder of how lucky I was. It also revealed how every life – no matter how fortunate – can be shattered in just a moment. None of us knows what lies around the corner so why do we waste precious time on something as petty and as futile as envy? Why don’t we instead celebrate all that is good about our lives?
I went downstairs to where the kids were playing and scooped them on to my knee and – as the letter instructed – showered them with hugs and kisses.
‘Ooh, I do love you all,’ I told them.
The seven-year-old eyed me suspiciously.
‘You feeling all right, Mum?’ she asked.
‘More than all right,’ I replied. ‘I’ve just been reminded of how lucky I really am.’
And, with that, the little devil on my shoulder went poof and was gone.