Recently, I asked one of my teenaged clients, “What do you think almost everyone I see has in common?”
“They’re all crazy?” he replied.
“No,” I said. “They all compare themselves to someone else who has something they don’t.”
“Even you?” he asked.
“Yes, even me. I would love to be young and strong again, like you. But I have to remind myself that I already was young and strong once. Now it’s your turn.”
I have clients in their 60’s who still envy their siblings; men and women who starve/surgically alter themselves to resemble Instagram photos; and others who want to be anywhere but ‘here’ because ‘over there’ looks infinitely better. It turns out that envy is physiologically bad for your health. Neuroscientists say that envying others stimulates the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with both physical and mental pain. In the 2018 journal of Social Science & Medicine, scholars studied 18,000 randomly selected individuals and found that their experience of envy was a powerful predictor of worse mental health and lower well-being in the future.
Ordinarily, most of us become psychologically healthier as we age but envy can stunt this trend. Although some studies have shown that a little envy might briefly spur our ambition, ultimately, it just makes us sad, anxious or depressed to be who, what and where we are. Here’s the problem for my clients: because they don’t want to be where they are, they expect me to teleport them somewhere else. Unfortunately, no drug or amount of talk can do that.
So, in this season of giving and getting, let me encourage you to be happy with whatever you get even if you don’t want it. Try to find peace wherever you are even if you don’t want to be there. Experience has shown me that there is someone out there who wants exactly what you have. Whatever you do, don’t emulate the 70 year-old client I had last year. She rushed into my office highly distraught and said:
“I feel so guilty. I’ve been dating this man for over a year. He wants me to move in with him and I don’t know what to do.”
“Do you love him?”
“Oh, yes,” she sighed. “He’s kind, warm, affectionate, super supportive and the sex is amazing.”
“I, see,” I replied. “So, the problem is?”
“He’s 15 years younger than I am!”
“Go home,” I told her. “Enjoy what you have while you have it and don’t come back.”
So far, she hasn’t.
Merry Christmas to her wherever she is. . .and to all of you!