Not too long ago, I had to say it. I found myself in a situation in which the only mature, responsible, appropriate thing to do was to grit my teeth, swallow my pride, and let the tissue-thin words slip from between my lips: “I’m happy for you.”
The phrase felt bitter and metallic against my tongue, like an aspirin chewed up before swallowed. All I could think was how long I needed to stand there and bathe in my false empathy before I could leave and rip out my hair at the injustice of it all. All I longed to do was to scream at the top of my lungs, “How dare you be happy! How dare you get this when I can’t! You will never appreciate this like I would have. You don’t deserve this–I do!” I longed to rip the achievement, the love, the warm sense of complacency out of his hands and cram it hastily in my pockets–this should have been mine.
And the moments of thinly-veiled jealousy can range from the mildly irritating–finding out a lazy acquaintance got ahead at work because of family connections, to the unbearable–finding out the one we love finds it so incredibly easy to get along without us. They each feel like tiny stabs at our dignity, tests put in front of us to find out how much disappointment, how much envy, how much rage we can conceal.
But the big ones, the ones that truly ask of us to put our instincts last, are made all the more difficult by the little battles of senseless jealousy that pepper our lives along the way. We see someone walking by who has so much–a pair of shoes ten times as expensive as our own–and think of all the assumptions we make. That person must be ten times happier, ten times more well adjusted, ten times more satisfied with life. Here we are, eating noodles out of the pot and struggling to make rent; there they are, taking 4-hour lunches and drinking cocktails with sentence-long names at bars we can’t get into.
Who are these people? Who gets to run off Happily Ever After or find their dream job at the age of 22? Surely they must exist, we see them and feel a tiny sweat break out on the back of our neck, a knot in our stomach. Because at these moments, when the happiness of others is paraded thoughtlessly in front of us–and worse, we are expected to curl our lips back into a forced, empty smile for them–we can only see happiness itself as a zero-sum game. There is only so much to go around, and we must scoop as much of it as we can and squirrel it away, lest somebody else get to it first.
And while that may not be true, while the moments where we feel like a child who has to share a toy we just want to run into the corner and have all to ourselves may simply be irrational human flaws, it’s hard to feel any different. How can we accept that life is most certainly unfair, and that the only time we’re inclined to think it is just or right is when it is fair in our favor? How can we accept that sometimes we may deserve something in every objective sense of the word but just not get it because, screw you, that’s the way it is?
Perhaps I will cross some invisible threshold in my life one day, trip some magical wire after which every happiness experienced by someone that I so wanted for myself will only inspire in me a calm, selfless warmth of spirit. Perhaps one day I will become that “adult” I’ve heard so very much about and be able to not care that someone is running off into the sunset with all that should have been mine. Perhaps one day I will not be forced to think of the best way to convey sincerity for something I’ve never felt less sincere about. But for now, if only occasionally, I’ll be turning my knuckles white resisting the urge to rip that shiny new toy out of his hands.