(& Other Tales of Overcoming Envy. Plus, a vocabulary lesson! You’re welcome.)
“Your ex is married,” my friend told me, running back from the tailgating tent where she’d spotted him amidst the crowd of blue-and-orange painted football fans. He was standing by the barbecue, she said, one hand wrapped around the blonde at his side, the other around a can of Bud Light, when she noticed a glint of gold reflecting from his left hand: a wedding band.
My jaw dropped.
Less than five months ago, we’d broken up amidst rumors of unfaithfulness.
Less than three months ago, he’d moved in with the blonde.
And now this?!
I felt physically ill, seething with envious hatred and dreaming of the day I could blissfully witness the demise of their relationship.
The truth is, I wanted him to be miserable — like, horribly, terribly, insanely miserable.
And lonely. And cold. And broke and alone.
Schadenfreude (German: [ˈʃaːdənˌfʁɔʏdə]) is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.
Now, listen up: this post is actually about more than just exes, because exes aren’t the only ones who turn us into envious, Schadenfreude-prone b*tches — in fact, there are lots of people who do that.
You know, like your friend who posts on Facebook like 20 times per day about how awesome her life is:
“I want that!” you moan to yourself like a whiny 8 year-old.
Or like your friend who just got a major promotion at work, while you’re still stuck working in the crappy, life sucking position you’ve been in since 2008.
“I want that!” you bemoan from your cubicle.
Or last but not least, like the blogger you follow who’s all, “I reached 400,000 Facebook fans today! All my hard work over the past three months really has paid off!”
“I WANT THATTTT!”
(Ok, so maybe that’s just me, but whatever.)
There are plenty of envy-inducing situations and circumstances and people in the world that can cause you to covet thy neighbor, leading you to want to punch them in the face because if only their lives could become a bit more miserable, I’ll bet yours could finally be happy!
But wooahhhhhh there, Nelly.
Why the desperate Schadenfreude?
Slooow down for a second. Hold your horses.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my days of jealous Schadenfreude, it’s that knocking the wind out of someone else’s sails will not fill your own.
Believe me: it just won’t.
You know what will, though?
That’s right: The more you can fill the sails of others, the more you realize how much you already have.
And the more happiness you realize that you already have, the more you begin to understand that joy, unlike a bag of Peanut M & Ms, is not a finite resource. You don’t have to take it away from someone else in order to get your own.
He can be happy — you can be happy, too.
Your friend can post about her ah-maaazing life on Facebook all she wants, and you can still be happy as a clam.
Life doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, and your happiness (or lack thereof) need not be dependent on that of another.
Rather than bemoaning someone else’s happiness or good fortune, the answer lies instead in more joy, more Mudita, more loving kindness.
Mudita (Pāli and Sanskrit: मुदिता) means joy. It is especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.
You know how I knew I was over my ex? It wasn’t when I witnessed his new relationship deteriorate or once I got my “revenge.” It wasn’t when he ended up cold and alone and broke — those things never happened.
Instead, it was when I began to feel this really weird feeling — compassion? — flowing out from my chest.
So maybe it was a faint feeling, a flutter as soft as a butterfly’s wings (err, moth’s — ok, so maybe more like a fruit fly’s) — but still, it was there.
Oh yes, that micro-flutter was there.
Somehow over the past year I’d stopped wishing for the demise of his new relationship, the destruction of his happiness, and the amputation of his you-know-what.
In fact, somehow I’d stopped caring much at all, until one day the strangest words escaped my lips and radiated from my heart: “I hope they can be happy.”
And I meant it.
I was finally able to separate myself from him and from the hurt he’d caused me enough to realize that we are all one.
Separate from him.
We are all one.
(How’s that for paradox?)
I felt Mudita again when, months later, I was a bridesmaid at a good friend’s wedding.
That night I swayed solo in the middle of the dance floor, surrounded by a sea of twirling couples, when a tear began to softly trickle down my face.
But unlike so many weddings I’d been to in the past, it wasn’t a tear of frustration or loneliness, not of envy or bitterness or sadness. I wasn’t crying for what was missing — not for the love I didn’t have or for the hole I felt in my heart.
Instead I was crying for what was already here — for the fullness of my heart and for what my friend and her husband had found together: Love, joy, deep connection.
I was crying tears of pure, unadulterated joy. Her happiness had become my happiness, not my downfall.
Mudita: Delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.
The green envy monster had de-reared its ugly head, leaving in its place a compassion, a joy and a fullness I had never known before.
Sometimes I sense the monster coming back around for a visit, but these days I know just what to do: I pause and I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with air and my sails with wind.
I remind myself that there’s more than enough to go around: Enough love. Enough money. Enough time. Enough smart & sexy, honest men (wink, wink ;-).
Enough, enough, enough. This world is filled to the brim with enough.
And I bring to mind a Buddhist prayer that goes something like this:
“May all beings experience happiness and the root of happiness. May all beings be free of suffering and the root of suffering.”
I want that.
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[Image by bark]