I once counseled a woman named Leslie who told me a story about envy. Leslie’s family was comfortably middle class. Her parents were both professors at the university in town, and they earned a good income doing work they loved. Leslie and her brother and sister enjoyed a wide range of pleasures, such as ski vacations in the local mountains.
When she was in fifth grade, Leslie befriended a girl named Sharon, who was from a much wealthier family. Sharon lived in an enormous and opulent home which had a tennis court, an avocado orchard, and a pool. They even had a personal chef. If the friend took a ski vacation, it was to Switzerland.
But her parents were rarely home and in their place was a nanny. Leslie left that day feeling envious of her friend’s home and her lifestyle. It began to eat at her. She started making comments to her parents about how poor they were by comparison.
One day, Sharon came over to Leslie’s house. Leslie’s mother made spaghetti and meatballs, and after dinner, the whole family watched TV together and had popcorn and root beer floats. At the end of the evening, Sharon turned to Leslie and said, “You’re so lucky to have all this.”
That night at dinner, Leslie thought about it. Her parents were home nearly every night. They both came to all her school events. They always had time to help with her homework, play a game of cards, or go out for ice cream. Leslie realized that she had been thinking of money as the one magic measurement of happiness. She’d forgotten that there were many other ways to measure life’s satisfactions and what’s important.