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Envy and the Elements of Happiness
This month’s Out on a Limb started out as an exploration of what in some circles is referred to as one of the Seven Deadly Sins: envy. First, I got bogged down in the distinction between jealousy and envy. Believe it or not, Homer Simpson provides a perfect 17-second explanation here. As I continued to wonder what provokes envy, I sensed a correlation to the absence of happiness or joy.
I was reminded that a delightful person had given me a list of the Four Elements of Happiness which I carried around with me for years. With thanks and credit to some unknown author, they are:
Sense of competence and being recognized for it
Ability to spend time with people you like
Sense of belonging to something bigger than you
While it may be difficult to define what happiness actually is, I like this concise summary of the elements that might need to be in place. But then I made the mistake of doing a Google search of “4 Elements of Happiness!” Suddenly, there were a lot more than four!
Kulraj, a British fellow whose website states that he studies happiness, says he sees these elements or qualities in happiness: 1) Exhilaration, 2) Resilience, 3) Meaning, and 4) Transcendence.
Finally, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, studies both habits and happiness. She found an interview with psychiatrist Carl Jung in which he enumerated five elements of happiness:
Good physical and mental health.
Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.
Clearly, there is no singular expert on happiness! The most common threads I see amongst each of these lists are meaning and relationships, which call to mind the human need for affiliation. Could it be so simple to suggest that envy worsens if affiliation needs are not adequately met? If we could go to the doctor and get a magical injection of meaning or good personal relationships, would our envy ebb? I sure hope so. Too bad no such doctor or injection exists!
I am no biblical scholar so I will steer clear of a query into why envy is considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Is envy ever benign? If someone privately admits that s/he is envious of what some other person has (be it wealth, intelligence, job, physique or hairspray), does that really harm anyone else? Probably not. Does it harm the covetous person? Maybe? If envy gets expressed poorly, problems ensue. However, I cannot believe that suppression of envy is healthy, either. Such a dilemma.
What would it be like to acknowledge our envy WHILE we make an effort to celebrate the envied person’s good fortune? It would sound something like this: “Gee, I have to admit I am so envious of your current circumstance (or car, or jewelry, or whatever) and I am also just so thrilled for you.” This type of comment keeps us congruent with how we are feeling, even if it is a less attractive emotion, while we make a parallel effort to stay out of self-pity. Absence of self-pity: now there’s an element of happiness!
Your August 2015 Prompts for Joy
Click here to see a dog whose happiness seems to depend upon a new relationship.
(Thanks, Deb Clem!)
Click here to see a ceremony for two people that you might both envy and adore.
(Thanks so much, Claudette Bergman!)
All previous Prompts for Joy (PFJs) can be found at my website, unless the video url is no longer functional.
Joy-Gram for August 2015
Compare the various elements of happiness to your own. What is on your unique list, and what is missing from the lists above? I’d love to know!
Blooming Wisteria raises my “faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature,” an element of happiness I could not do without.
By no means
do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume
that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for
myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this
pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience
of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!
Martha Clark Scala, MFT · 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303 ·