There is a cure for envy (and your toddler knows it), says Samantha Wilde.
Here is one specific downside to writing a book about envy: it makes you think about envy all the time. The danger of thinking about envy all the time? Becoming envious. Of course the real problem with feeling envious comes in the after effects. If you want what she has and you can’t have it no matter how hard you try, you can make yourself miserable. Real envy, as opposed to the playful stuff (“oh, I envy her pretty shoes,” “I envy that thick, wavy hair,”) is a serious downer.
I don’t think of myself as an especially envious person. In fact, I like to think of myself as a grateful person. I have my own gratitude practice. I also practice with the children using an idea adopted from a friend. We talk over the dinner table about “one rose, one bloom and one thorn.” The rose, clearly, pertains to a happy event from the day, the bloom to something growing, soon to come, and the thorn, ouch! We all know about thorns.
I have a fun time hearing the children come up with their roses, blooms and thorns. In our house, the rose is something we feel grateful for from the day or something that brought us joy. Blooms tend to relate to birthdays or holidays or special trips much anticipated. My children rarely have a thorn. In fact, we almost never even get to thorns. How can this be? I know they have struggles and frustrations. At six, four and two, they have a hundred little thorns littered throughout their days. But because they are six, four and two, so blissfully young, so quick to forgive, so alive only to the present moment, they don’t collect the irritations of the day like we adults do.
Have you ever read a novel by a four-year-old? Optimism is a wonderful thing, but too much makes for a bad story. Novels, by design, have to possess conflict, trouble, thorns by the dozens. In my second novel, I’ll Take What She Has, the one about envy, the desire to have what she has, creates a serious rift in a friendship, but more importantly opens up the two main female characters, Annie and Nora, to an awareness of the thorns they keep carrying with them day after day, thorns dragged from the past to the future like Linus pulling along his blanket.
In my research for the novel, I looked into studies about the experiences of envy, and while I don’t think a human has walked the planet who hasn’t at one point envied, there is a cure for envy (maybe even several). My children, quite possibly, have a corner on the market. I see them envy all the time. One has a toy the other wants or a cracker or a hug from Mama or an extra library book. The list could go on indefinitely. The children want what someone else has so many times a day, that even if I wanted to keep a tally, I doubt I could. Perhaps if we paid attention to our own envy, we would discover a similar level of frequency—in the small things.
The difference between adults and children doesn’t come out in the envy, it comes out in the reflection on the envy. When one of my kids wants what his brother has, desperately, achingly, screamingly, tantrumingly wants, and can’t have it, he throws a fit and an hour later doesn’t remember the problem or even want the toy. However angry, annoyed or enraged the children became at one another, and they certainly squabble a lot, their ability to forgive literally amazes.
Children, especially little children, don’t carry their grudges into the new day. My toddler can’t even remember the toy he wanted ten minutes ago. He’s on to the next thing, which is always the thing in front of him. All of them can so fully give themselves to the activity of the moment, and it’s this quality exactly, such a lovely taste of Zen-ness, that cures them of any of the ill effects of wanting what someone else has.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could forgive a million times? If we could wake up in each new day forgetful of what we envied the day before? If we got so consumed in what we were doing that we forgot about what she has? Am I saying that the cure for envy is to act more like a child? I guess I am. In the end, in my novel, Annie and Nora have to go back to the original thorns, those ancient ones that have been poking them in the flesh for years. You know the kind. Thorns we long ago should have removed — if only we’d known how. Take out the prickles from the past, and what you have may not be so bad after all — at the very least, if you take the old thorns away, you can finally hold the rose of the day and enjoy it for what it is.
Nora and Annie have been best friends since kindergarten. Nora, a shy English teacher at a quaint New England boarding school, longs to have a baby. Annie, an outspoken stay-at-home mother of two, longs for one day of peace and quiet (not to mention more money and some free time). Despite their very different lives, nothing can come between them — until Cynthia Cypress arrives on campus. Cynthia has it all: brains, beauty, impeccable style, and a gorgeous husband (who happens to be Nora’s ex). When Cynthia eagerly befriends Nora, Annie’s oldest friendship is tested. Now, each woman must wrestle the green-eyed demon of envy and, in the process, confront imperfect, mixed-up family histories they don’t want to repeat. Amid the hilarious and harried straits of friendship, marriage, and parenthood, the women may discover that the greenest grass is right beneath their feet.
Samantha Wilde is the author of I’ll Take What She Has and This Little Mommy Stayed Home (both from Bantam Books). The at-home mother of three young children, she moonlights as a minister and a yoga teacher. She’s the graduate of Smith College and Yale Divinity School and lives in Western Massachusetts.