A radio DJ was interviewing someone the other day. I tuned in halfway through the conversation, but I figured out that he was a musician who paints and draws on the side, and always has.
“You are so lucky,” said the DJ. “I envy you that talent. I envy you having something like that, something that you can always turn to at any stage of your life and in any situation.”
My first thought was “wow. Yes. I have that same gift. Art is something I have always done, always enjoyed, always returned to, and seem to have some level of talent for. And it didn’t ever strike me that other people might envy that. Instead, I am too busy criticising myself for not being as good as I would like to be. I need to lighten up and be more appreciative of that gift.”
Then today, I was listening to the radio and a different presenter was reading out emails and texts from her listeners on the subject of beauty. One lady wrote in to say she had just come back from holiday and, as a middle-aged woman, couldn’t help envying the beautiful young bodies she saw.
The presenter said ‘I empathise, I do. But you have to remember that those beautiful young women don’t see themselves as beautiful. They don’t see what you do.”
When we envy people, we imagine they fully understand the gifts they have been given. In actual fact, they are likely all riven with the same problems and self-doubts. They either don’t even see, or see but take for granted, the gift(s) they have been given. So the artist thinks “I wish I could be a musician.” Or the single woman wishes she could be married while her married friend dreams of the single life. Or the middle-aged lady envies the beautiful young woman in a bikini, never knowing that the young woman has an eating disorder and suffers from chronic anxiety.
Now when I look at young people, I see that they are almost all beautiful just by dint of being young. And looking back on my younger self, I wish that I had known that and been able to enjoy it.
And, if you take that thought to its logical conclusion, when I look back on this time in my life, I will wish that I had been able to appreciate it.
So what’s the secret? Maybe it’s truly understanding and appreciating what you have, without thinking about what anyone else has, or dwelling on what you don’t have. Maybe that’s the simple secret of life.