Thief of Joy

Do you find writing easy? Do you sit down at your computer, or pick up your pen, and find the words just flow? I can think of about two stories I’ve written where that happened, stories which almost seemed to write themselves, but otherwise it’s one hard slog.

My day job and demanding family mean that I don’t have that much time to write. So, when I do manage it, it’s discouraging to find it just won’t come. I’m not one of those writers who can sit down for ten minutes here and there. It takes time for me to get into it and, once I do, I like to get my teeth into it.

poison-envy-3When I hear about my friends’ successes, I want to be happy for them. But instead, I feel envy. And I feel bad about it. I try telling myself, well what do you expect? They have more time than you do, and more support. And then I feel bad about my own shortcomings as a writer.

If you believe that you are not worthy of what they have, or that – as in my case when I feel like this – you are incapable of ever deserving it then you are likely to resent the other person even more. Feeling envy can produce shame – what sort of a person wouldn’t rejoice in their friends’ success?

In Othello, the evil Iago plants doubts in Othello’s mind about his wife’s faithfulness, while advising him, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock  The meat it feeds on.” (Othello, Act 3, Scene 3). So here we have jealousy, making fun of the people it devours. Many people use the words jealousy and envy interchangeably. Indeed, there’s the expression “green with envy”, bringing us back to the conceptual metaphor of a destructive emotion as monster.

Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Proverbs 14:30 says “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones”. It’s true that envy can be an ugly emotion. Apparently, it activates a region of the brain involved in processing physical pain. It tells you that someone has something that you want for yourself that you currently believe you lack.

There are different ways to respond to this emotional response to someone or something you want. There is something called helpful envy, which motivates us to work harder to achieve our goals. If you believe that you are worthy of it, you can construct a strategy for gaining it. And when I think about my friends’ success in getting published, I realise that it’s not that which makes me envious. Yes, it’s lovely to see your work in print. But what I really envy is their ability to generate ideas. And that’s what I really need to work on, to get my envy to work for me.