Discontentment and jealousy are nothing new to the human race. But I kind of have to wonder if there are others out there, especially millennials, like me who feel like our generation especially struggles with discontentment and jealousy.
Let me explain. Young adults live under immense pressure, and it starts at the beginning of the teenage years. We’re expected to start thinking about our careers in middle school, know what we want to do with our lives in high school, work ourselves to death outside of school with homework and extracurriculars so we can get into the best colleges, get into said best colleges, earn a degree while attempting to build an impressive résumé, graduate, and land our dream jobs complete with benefits. Oh, and if you’re not married and starting a family by your mid-twenties, you better at least be firmly established in your career field and on track to climb the job ladder.
That is the narrative 21st century American culture handed me to pattern my life after. The stakes are insanely high, and the room for error (or even to breathe) is virtually nonexistent.
Living according to this narrative is like living in a high-speed race where the goal is to, at a minimum, keep up with the competition. The fear of falling behind other people is intense and constant, because success in the world of adulthood looks like hitting all the right mile markers at all the right times.
With all that being said, it’s no wonder I struggle so often with trying to feel happy for other people when they reach one of those mile markers.
It’s because life isn’t a steady journey we share; it’s a competitive race to anmil elusive finish line.
I’m going to be really honest and admit that I struggled a ton in college with feeling jealous whenever people I knew got engaged. To this day I still feel a tug of envy when I see couples’ wedding pictures on Facebook, and that’s coming from someone who’s now freaking engaged and planning her own wedding.
What the heck is wrong with this picture? Can anyone else out there relate, or is it just me?
What got me thinking about the absurdity of all this, and why millennials like me might be in a hardcore battle for contentment more than other generations, was an Instagram post a friend shared the other day. Now this is a friend I’ve had since college with whom I’ve had numerous conversations about not knowing what we want to do with our lives.
Her post was announcing a new position she got at work, one that she was truly excited about and thrilled to share. Knowing the hardships she’s had figuring out what direction to go in career-wise, my first and only reaction should have been nothing but happiness for her.
I could totally lie and say that’s exactly what my reaction was, except I’m writing this post about the lost art of being happy for others—so clearly it wasn’t.
No, I’m embarrassed to say when I saw my friend’s Instagram post, what I felt was a pang of insecurity.
Seriously, insecurity. My worth, my sense of being okay, felt threatened because here was someone apparently running the race better than me.
This competition culture millennials live in teaches that life is first and foremost about looking out for yourself. There are no lessons in learning to celebrate other people’s victories, because what does feeling happy for another person do except distract you from running your own marathon?
In the middle of all this striving to keep up and push ahead, we’ve lost something really important.
The ability to be genuinely happy for others.
I really don’t know how to truly share in someone else’s joy anymore, and it’s awful to admit. Instead I feel like I’ve been programmed to be threatened by people’s successes, accomplishments, and overall wellbeing in life. Rather than being able to say, “Congratulations! I can’t wait to celebrate this moment with you!” my mind folds its pretend arms and says, “They’re doing better than you; you’re a failure. Work harder.”
We’ve got to get out of this race that is, in actuality, an endless trap. I don’t know about anyone else, but I will not spend the rest of my life feeling like my worth is threatened every time I touch base with friends or go on social media. Because feeling threatened doesn’t build connection; it only drives us further into our own little separate worlds.
I want to hear good news from my peers and be the first to reach out and say, “Wow! That’s awesome! We have to celebrate!”
I’ve become so caught up in this lie of thinking I can find my value through comparison. What I want more than anything is to relearn this lost art of being happy for others.
If we’re going to be in this marathon called life anyway, I think we’d do much better approaching it not as competitors to beat out, but as a team wanting to support each other through it all—through the losses, and the gains.