Envy vs. Contentment


My alarm goes off at 5am everyday, Monday through Friday. I get up, make coffee, and chop vegetables for lunch. I find some clothes, brush my teeth and put on makeup if I’m feeling really ambitious. I check the weather app to see if I need a jacket and by 5:40 I am driving across town to a 4-bedroom family home in East Nashville. I sit on the couch, watch Good Morning America and occasionally feed/change/rock an 8-week-old baby. I make breakfast with the same three worship songs that keep me sane humming in the background and I listen to podcasts that remind me how out of reach my dreams feel at this moment.

Every day is like opening the same pristinely white box and stepping inside. I know how to effectively rock a newborn back to sleep and have developed a comprehensive understanding of the daytime television schedule, but I am not creating. I am not writing or going to perform my songs at bars or taking walks around my favorite trail that clears my mind and helps me focus. I get off at 1 o’clock and the rest of my day seems to get eaten up by small groups and grocery shopping and eye doctor’s appointments. I have to cook and workout and, obviously, watch three episodes of Friends. This is not at all what I envisioned for this season of my life, and I can’t help but compare my eventless weeks to the rock star lives everyone else in Nashville seems to be living.

I started the month of September doing two different fasts. One was Whole 30—a fast from sugar, gluten, dairy, alcohol, anything processed—and one was a fast from social media. What is interesting about cutting out both food and social media at the same time is that they’re really not all that different. The heart behind both of these easily addictive things boils down to envy. They both feed these green monsters lurking inside of us that constantly crave something better, sweeter, flashier than what we presently need and have been given. One addiction (food) is giving into the every desire of the monster and the other (social media) is illuminating the craving to have a perfectly filtered life that Instagram convinces us is just out of reach. These monsters rage fiercely inside of us and they are impossible to satisfy.

I am reading a book right now about Whole 30 called It Starts With Food. There is a part in the book that talks about highly processed, artificial food—that was created to mirror the food (but better!) that we biologically crave to survive—being like the Las Vegas Strip. They are flashy and enticing and much, much less boring than all that kale, and so we give into it because we are a people who need to be constantly entertained and convinced that life is just one big montage of mountaintops. Social media is like this, too. I am not kidding, if I get on social media before noon, inevitably I will see someone else’s coffee and inevitably I will think their coffee looks so much better than mine. I will have to go to a local coffee shop and get a latte that has a pretty foam leaf on it because HEAVEN FORBID my coffee be ordinary. Do you see how envy turns into greed turns into gluttony? I NEED this now, now, now.

Both me and my Enneagram number (4) will tell you that my most talkative struggle is envy. It is one of the reasons it is so hard for me to be in this mundane, ordinary routine right now—I get hooked on the idea that everyone else is doing it better. Everyone else is more successful; less tired looking and holding better foam-art lattes than me. And if I concentrate on it long enough, which I always do, I start feeling my chest tightening and anxiety screaming in my ear that I AM FAILING.

I am convinced that the opposite of envy is contentment, and the bridge between the two is a mixture of repentance and gratefulness. We have to acknowledge that our desire to live a life that is not ours is the work of brokenness within us and instead turn our attention to the joy of what we’ve been given. In a lot of ways, I have been given the gift of time. My job gives me the space to write and send emails and read books, but instead of doing those things, I have just been throwing a pity party and crying over a Good Morning America segment…again. What is vital about contentment is that it leads us to be present to these lives we’ve been given, which in turn allows us to drop the time-consuming act of wanting to live everyone else’s lives and actually be productive with our own.

I am not saying that you can’t have feelings about where you’re at in life right now. Feelings of sadness or anger or loneliness often give voice to desire and our desires are valid. As someone who is creative and thrives off a little chaos, I probably don’t need to be in a routine job for the rest of my life, but there is a difference between listening to the voice of envy and listening to the voice of desire. Desire enables good change while envy makes us resentful and stagnant. Envy often kills motivation and drowns us in shame while our authentic desires pump life back in our blood and convince us to work harder and be—outside of comparison—better.

My life is not the Las Vegas strip. It is not a montage of mountaintops. Much to my dismay, it does not look like a perfectly filtered Instagram feed. It is making tea and burning chicken and scooping my cat’s liter box. It is sitting on my office floor and writing songs that I hope are honest and leading me to have a real voice in the music industry one day. I think there is wisdom in knowing that the thing we believe will make us happiest is not always the thing that we need. Both the food and social media analogy can back me up on this. I have walked through things that I would have much rather avoided in order to keep my disillusioned sanity, but those are the very things that have made me more resilient, more confident, more whole. I hope this season of my life teaches me the grace in rhythms, the gift of presence and the hard work in chasing after the dreams that have been entrusted to me. In the meantime, I will do my very best to be grateful that I never miss a sunrise.