My parents told me that kids are writing into your column. I have a unique problem, something that’s on my mind. There’s a huge mitzvah to be happy, but I’m finding it very hard. I have two close friends, and they both have better lives than me. Not only do their parents have more money, but they also let their kids get away with anything. My parents are super-strict about everything, and it just seems very unfair. Please help.
This isn’t a unique problem; it’s actually a common one. In layman’s terms, it’s called “jealousy.” Your feelings are completely normal, and there are many children — and adults — who have the same issue. There are two things that we can discuss to help you out. The first is using a religious perspective, and the second is more of a logical reasoning.
Of the Ten Commandments, the last one seems to be a bit different from the others. Instead of telling us what we should do or not do, it tells us not to be jealous. That’s an emotion. Out of all the commandments, this seems to be the most difficult one to obey. Keeping Shabbos, not being a false witness, not killing or kidnapping — well, those are relatively simple. But how can we control our emotions?
The Ibn Ezra explains this by way of a parable. A simple man in the olden days was looking for a woman to marry. Being a commoner, he considers his neighbor’s daughter or the peasant girl down the road. This simple man would never yearn to marry the royal princess. Even if she is the most beautiful and desirable woman, he still wouldn’t invest any emotional energy in longing for her. Why not? He doesn’t consider the princess to be a realistic option. Royalty doesn’t marry commoners like him.
The Torah is teaching us that we need to appreciate that whatever we have in life is perfect for us. It’s similar to a person desiring someone else’s glasses. The prescription would be of no use to him, so what would he do with the glasses? Hashem gave each of us the tools we need to succeed. Desiring what your friends have just means that you’re not utilizing your own tools.
Typically, I try to stay away from responses like the one above. However, since you were perceptive enough to pinpoint the reason for your unhappiness, I wanted to give you the response I would share with an older teenager. It says in Pirkei Avos, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion.” If happiness is what you really want, try your hardest not to focus on the other kids.
The following is more of a typical response I would give. The emotions you are feeling are happening all over the world. There’s a famous expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” While you think that the other kids are so happy and having the best life, you don’t really know what’s going on in their lives.
Approximately 20 years ago, when I was a seventh-grade rebbe, I had a boy in my class — we’ll call him Simmy — with a similar issue. He was so jealous of a boy who seemed to have it all. This other boy, whom we’ll call Donny, was a “cool” kid, his parents had money, and he was athletic. I wished then that I could tell Simmy the truth — that Donny was not happy. His parents didn’t give him much attention, and he felt neglected.
One morning after Donny had a particularly hard morning, he came to me feeling very down. I told him that there were other boys who were jealous of him, which he thought was quite funny. He wrote a letter to share with Simmy in confidence. In this letter he wrote comments like, “I dream at night that I could switch places with anyone — anyone — in the class. My happiest moments are when I get to yeshiva and I’m safe from everything. I’m not sure how you could possibly be jealous of me.”
After Simmy read the letter, he gave it back to me, and I promptly tore it up, as per Donny’s request. Simmy never complained again and ended off the year doing wonderfully. Donny had a bit of a rougher time, but, baruch Hashem, he is doing well now.
I don’t know what is going on with the boys you are jealous of. I don’t know how happy they are, or what’s going on in their lives. I do know that you have wonderful parents who care about you. You are a bright boy with a wonderful future, and you need to focus on what you have and not what everyone else has.
There is one more thing you should know. Jealousy is not something that goes away. As you grow up, there will always be people who have things that you might want. Conquering this at your age will make life much easier to navigate when you’re older.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.