A bigger house, a remodeled kitchen, a newer car, a more exotic vacation, a better job...And it’s not always superficial or material -- a husband, children, grandchildren. Our ability to covet is as infinite as are the possibilities. (Actually it’s probably not coveting since we don’t want their actual possession only something very similar.)
There are two basic attitudes we can adopt in these situations: pleasure and hope or jealousy and despair. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it. Yet most of us choose the latter. We see someone’s good and we think, “It’s not fair. Why did they get that and not me?” And possibly even worse thoughts. And we spiral downwards. With this attitude we cause ourselves further pain.
The more positive option has two principles. The first is something I call the "Helena Rosenberg principle." Helena got married in her late 30’s and was very anxious to have children. This didn’t happen easily and she was forced to consult an infertility specialist. Sitting in his office she observed the many expectant women around her. “Didn’t that depress you?” asked her friend. “Seeing all those women who have what you so desperately want?”
"If it could happen to them, it could happen to me as well.”
“Are you kidding?’ responded Helena. “It gave me hope. If it could happen to them, it could happen to me as well.” Thus was born the "Helena Rosenberg principle," founded on hope and optimism and clearly the more positive way to approach life.
Principle Number Two is a fundamental Jewish idea: a good eye, an ayin tov. This is not an optometric evaluation; it is a description of character. A good eye means we want the good of others, we rejoice in their good. Someone else’s pleasures and accomplishments are a joy to us. This takes effort but has tremendous payoff. Instead of a life of depression and disappointment, we can cultivate and experience of almost constant joy.
The real secret to both these attitudes is of course the recognition that everything comes from the Almighty, and that He has given us exactly what we need. He only wants our good and His capacity to give is endless. No one else’s good impinges on or limits the potential of ours.
It’s hard sometimes. There are things we want very badly -- more frequently husbands than yachts, although you never know. But knowing clearly that the Almighty, Who has brought so much joy to our friends’ lives, wants to bring just as much to ours, immediately lifts our spirits.
Our attitude and thoughts deeply affect our emotional state. It’s within our ability to choose a constricted life of jealousy and resentment or an open and joyful one that fully embraces the delights and pleasures of those we love. Put that way, it’s hard to believe we’ve been choosing that negative road for so long.
And that others have put up with it. But it won’t last. Moods are contagious and most people want to “catch” a happy mood, not a depressed one. Most people gravitate towards upbeat and positive people and ignore grumpy, negative ones. I think we all want to attract people, not push them away. Taking real pleasure in their good and walking away with a greater sense of hope and trust from every encounter certainly helps accomplish this goal. And it just makes life a lot more fun.