"It's not fair!"

My son crying these often-heard words has a super-strong sense of justice (probably inherited from yours truly) and thinks that everything, and I mean everything, needs to be fair, equal and exact. When one of his siblings gets something, from new socks to a treat, he wants it, too. And his sense of justice extends in the other direction as well. If he gets something, he wants his siblings to have it, too.

So we were at it again with lots of "It's not fair" and "But I should have it, too."

I looked at my son, smiled, and said, "Life doesn't work like that. Just because one person got something does not mean another person should get it. Not everyone needs the same things. Not everyone should have the same things."

I had explained this a zillion times before but I was hoping desperately that it would sink in. "What is good for one person isn't always good for another. God gives each of us exactly what we need…" Blah blah blah.

As the words came out of my mouth, I listened to myself. Did I really believe what I was telling him? And if I do, why am I jealous of others for having things that I want? God gives each of us exactly what we need. The words echoed in my brain. Were those words engraved on my own heart the way I wanted them to be on my son's?

Rabbi Elazar HaKapar says, "Envy, lust, and a desire for honor take a man out of the world" (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:21). It's easy to see this in my son. He's wasted his whole night crying, wallowing in misery over some little thing he won't remember the next day. His brother earned that prize and he did not. He was "taken out of the world" by being angry and upset, missing out on the fun everyone else was having, dragging me along with him.

But how many nights of sleep have I lost wishing for something I don’t have? How many hours have been poured into unhappiness over things out of my control? How much have I been taken out of the world by my envy, by my lust after things, be they physical or spiritual, that were never meant for me?

For him, it's jealousy over a cookie, an ice pop or a toy. Is that really so different than being jealous over a nice home, a car, or a better job, or even deeper, more spiritual things? When I see my friend's well-behaved, contented kids enjoying simple at-home activities, why am I not satisfied that my own action-packed bunch needs high-energy fun? When my friend shows me the cakes she baked and they look absolutely astonishingly professional, why do I feel like my own should look less homely? If I hear that someone has a nice investment portfolio, why do I feel a pain in my heart that I do not? And if I see that someone else is more intelligent, a better mother, more talented, why does it drag me down?

Jealousy is a lifelong battle, one that comes up at each stage of life. Sometimes it’s cookies and sometimes it’s cars. And sometimes there are greater things at stake, like why some people are suffering and others seem to have it so good, why some people live in abject poverty and others are so wealthy, why some people are sick and others are blessed with perfect health, why some remain single while others find their soul mate so easily. It's never easy, and it wasn't meant to be. But wherever we're at, we need to focus on that message: God gives us exactly what we need, when we need it. It's a lifetime's work.

So maybe I should be a little more patient with my son as he internalizes all this? It only seems fair.

Getting Over It: A Practical Guide

Here are some practical tips for getting over jealousy:

  • Say the morning blessing of "She'asa li kol tzarchi, Who has provided me my every need," with extra concentration and focus. Over (lots of) time, that message will sink in!

  • Avoid spending too much time on social media. Seeing too much of what other people are doing, eating, and having doesn't accomplish anything and only serves to heighten our own feelings of insecurity and lack.

  • Recognize and acknowledge that we're experiencing feelings of jealousy. Once we've named the feeling, we can work on letting it go.

  • Spend more time engaged in things that fulfill you. When you feel satisfied, there's less room for jealousy in life.

  • Practice gratitude. A gratitude journal is one practical idea, or you can try thanking someone else each day for something they did, from your spouse to the grocery store cashier.

  • Harness jealousy for the good. In Judaism there is a concept of kinas sofrim, which basically translates to the idea that jealousy between scholars increases wisdom. When one scholar is jealous of another's Torah knowledge, it spurs him to study more and work harder with his own Torah learning. If you are jealous of a good thing, something you do have control over, why not work on it? You can improve your character traits, so be inspired by another's self-control instead of jealous of it. Maybe you can increase your chessed, your acts of loving-kindness in some way, so use another person as an example. Maybe someone else spends more time with her kids – do you have a few extra minutes to invest in that?

How do you work on and cope with jealousy? Share your ideas in the comments below.