I recently had a talk with my five and eight year old children about happiness. As young children, they notice the clothes their friends wear, the vacations they take and the number of siblings their friends are lucky to have.
Thank G-d, my children aren’t lacking in any of these areas, but it bothered me, as a mother, how often they comment on what their friends have. So we spoke about it. As someone that works with many adults, I told them that very often, I encounter people who have a lot going for them.
Yet, they are so busy looking at everyone elses houses, pockets and belongings that they don’t stop to look inside themselves and be grateful for what they have been given. It truly darkens a person and can turn them into a bitter human when they are constantly looking at everyone else.
The concept of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is definitely not a new one. Making sure your children are dressed to appropriate community standards dates back many years. Lately, though, I feel like we have taken it one huge step further. Not only are people doing their best to “keep up” but are totally okay with commenting (in public forums, mind you) on other peoples successes and gains. These comments often scream JEALOUSY and ENVY.
I wonder if there is something I am missing when I see grown adults freely talk like this. How does being angry or despising someone for their purchase of a new home (Mazel Tov!) help you in any way? Will being mad about it help you land a plot of property? Will it magically make a house come your way faster, if you are on the market? What good does it to you to your current situation?
In no way have I ever really lived a luxurious life – not when I was growing up as a child, or now as an adult. One thing that was drilled into me, and that I hope to pass on to my children, is that CHOOSING happiness as a way of life, starts with looking in myself: there are things that I, and only, I have been blessed with. Focusing on those blessings will bring me joy. Focusing on what I lack or wish for, will bring me self-pity, envy, and jealousy.
It’s interesting to note that out of all the commandments that G-d could have chosen for His top Ten – jealousy was one of them – yes, it’s on the same levels as murder, keeping Shabbos and stealing.
Taking it one step further: I recently heard a renowned psychologist speak about children leaving the fold (aka OTD). One of the things that he mentioned was raising your children in a HAPPY home: ensuring that laughter, joy and comfort were all prevalent and in existence on a daily basis.
As much as we think that, as adults, we are pros at masking our feelings or not letting our children in on all the details; children are smart and notice everything. They too will copy your behaviors and actions, as that is what is familiar to them. They overhear voice notes, Shabbos conversations and murmurings between you and your spouse.
So, think about it – what is the gain here? Choose joy, choose happiness, choose to find the good in your life, regardless of what your neighbors, friends and childrens Rebbis are able to afford.