In my hip hop class, we dance to a Meghan Trainor song whose lyrics are:
“If I was you, I would wanna be me, too.
I would wanna be me, too.”
People perk up during this song. We’re more likely to strut, rather than slump while dancing. For about three minutes, we don’t feel lumpy, dumpy, frumpy or grumpy. We picture the hordes of people who’d want to be us. We feel enviable.
Feeling enviable is a much nicer experience than feeling envy, that is, wanting someone else’s life. Nowadays, we have many opportunities to covet. People spend hours on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat viewing images posted by family and friends. A picture might show life exactly as it is, but just as likely, that post may portray life as the person wishes it would be. Regardless whether the photo reflects reality, the image may evoke a feeling of yearning in the viewer.
Recently, I gazed longingly at a photograph on Facebook. My friend and her husband stood by the ocean next to their adult children. Everyone beamed at the camera, oozing congeniality.
“How lovely,” I thought, “I wanna be her.”
When I complimented my friend, she replied, “That was a weekend from hell. The kids complained about being with us. They fought with each other and us. Next time, I’m going away with my friends, people who enjoy my company.”
Being misled by appearances is not a new problem. Centuries ago, Plato quoted an Athenian named Phaedrus, “Things are not always as they seem…” Phaedrus understood that we all tend to be fooled by what we see.
Folks who post images on social media don’t necessarily set out with the intention of being deceptive. It’s natural to want to show our best selves. We want to memorialize pleasant events and want to forget the bad.
For example, let’s say your friend posts a picture of her family of five standing happily in front of the Disney World castle. That’s the image she wants to you to see and that is the image she wants to remember. She would like to forget the 700-mile drive to Florida during which her sons sat in the back seat shouting, “You shut up.” “No YOU shut up!” She won’t post a video of that event, although most of us would find it far more entertaining than any Magic Kingdom shot.
The second half of the Phaedrus quote reads, “…the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.” These are words I should tape on my computer monitor. Comparing myself to others only leads to trouble. When I compare and consequently envy another person, I am conjuring up what I believe that person’s life is like. Omniscience is not one of my many superpowers, therefore I am not dealing with reality. I am dealing with imagined reality, which, of course, is not reality at all. As many people have said, comparison is the thief of joy. I’m never going to be content with the goodness in my life if I’m always comparing it to someone else’s life.
Meghan Trainor’s song contains great wisdom. What is the antidote to envy? Gratitude. So, let’s practice up our hip hop moves and sing along to the chorus:
I thank God every day
That I woke up feelin' this way
And I can't help lovin' myself.