“Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.”
Envy is tricky.* Sometimes it hits you over the head. For example, whenever one of these ’30 under 30′ or ’40 under 40′ lists gets published and you are not on it, envy kicks in. In these cases, it is easy to see envy rear its ugly head. Sometimes envy can get funneled into productive action. Other times it just burns. Heather Schwedel at Slate.com writes:
When envy is working as it should, in other words, it may be a signal that we need to step it up.
Essentially, when people get hostile in situations where it isn’t possible to measure up—you’re already over 30!—they become less likely to take envy and turn it into lemonade.
One of the great ironies of these lists is that they make it appear the people on the list have their stuff together. By design these lists present a idealized picture of a successful life. None of these profiles highlight an honoree’s penchant for a glass (or five) of wine after work. You get the picture.
Last week, Shane Parrish of the great site Farnam Street was glowingly profiled in the New York Times. Something just about anyone who is a creator would die for. Shane noted on Twitter that even he faces challenges and that talking about the ‘messy middle’ is essential if for no other reason it gives us some better perspective.
I think it’s important to talk about the messy middle … because we all go through it. And when we do we feel alone. Well, you’re not alone, I’m right there with you.
— Shane Parrish (@farnamstreet) November 16, 2018
In that light it was interesting to read this post by Khe Hy where he talks about the challenges of trying to make a living off of content. He goes into some detail on how difficult it is to generate revenue off of, what I think, is great, thoughtful content. The point being that what you seen online may or may not be real. A podcast or a blog need not be a source of great wealth.
Envy can be a real problem when it comes to our personal finances. Maybe envy isn’t the right word. Maybe social comparison is more appropriate. It is not a coincidence that, depending on where you live, many people live in similar sized-homes and drive similar cars. This is not really an issue if that lifestyle choices are appropriate for your financial situation The problem lies when there is a mismatch.
Ben Carlson at A Wealth of Common Sense noted how big SUVs and pickup trucks are now a feature of middle class life. The issue is that these vehicles are pretty darn expensive. Carlson writes:
Buying an expensive car or SUV can be an enormous savings killer for those who aren’t putting enough money aside for the future.
If you’re maxing out your retirement accounts, saving for your children’s college fund, and have a nice emergency savings backstop, by all means, enjoy your expensive gas guzzler if you have some money left over. There’s nothing wrong with guilt-free spending when all of your other bases are covered.
A couple weeks ago the $1.5 billion Mega Millions lottery was won by a single (unknown) ticket winner. You can imagine that when the winner is announced it will engender a wave of envy. The same could have been said about the owners of Stanich’s in Portland, Oregon when it was touted by food writer, Kevin Alexander as the ‘best burger place in America.’ Alexander writes about how the publicity was a factor in Stanich’s closing. Winning the lottery need not always make for a happy ending.
Envy is a deadly sin for good reason. When we face it head on we can, if we are lucky, comes to terms with what it driving our emotion. At its worst it can gnaw at us. Having some perspective isn’t always easy. Sometimes we need to be reminded that even the most popular and successful among us are dealing with the same stuff we all are.