Sometimes I wonder what makes people envious of each other, but the fact is envy is all around us.
Some people say the Portuguese are an envious people. There may be many reasons for envying someone, I suppose, but most of all people envy their neighbour’s success. When we see that someone’s life is going well, that they are living comfortably and above all when they look happy, we immediately comment on how lucky they are, that luck is only for some and not for all (implying of course we are not part of the lucky few, and how unfair this is!). As for us women, we envy those of our gender sisters who are beautiful, have a great body, have great success with men; we may also envy those who have wealthy or loving husbands (“I wonder what that man sees in her!”), or handsome children, or great careers…it would never end. Sometimes we envy them just because they seem so happy that we cannot bear it.
It is a fact that some people seem to have it all – I remember a woman I know who used to be a pretty girl, very intelligent, pampered by her parents. She travelled a lot when none of us did; she was a good student and had better results than the rest of us; she soon found the love of her life and the last time I saw her she was still happily married after some decades; she has been blessed with health; has had a highly successful career as an engineer; she has two loving children who are now grown up but keep a close relationship with her and her husband; she is very well off and is the owner of a number of fashionable houses. She continues to travel a lot, etc, etc.
One might imagine this woman would inevitably be envied. She seems to have it all. But does she really? There will be many things about her that we don’t know: is her marriage as happy as it seems? Is she really fulfilled in her career? Does she feel really happy? I know she keeps what for her is a terrible secret: when she was young she got pregnant and there was no way she would have that baby; she was terrified of telling her parents but most of all of ruining her life and her career, and she went on to have an abortion in a squalid place, under the most appalling conditions (let’s not forget it was a crime back then in Portugal). After the abortion she nearly died, and was taken to hospital bleeding profusely; she recovered but she must have been highly traumatised. Moreover, it was a very hard decision for her, and I wonder how many times, when she looks at her perfect, much desired, healthy, living children, she recalls that other child, also her own, that she had to get rid of. For all that she has achieved and for all the happiness she seems to have in her life, I would not trade places with her, as I’m certain this episode must weigh heavily on her, although she would never admit it.
On the other hand, I know other people who have lived far from perfect lives, with their bright moments and their shadows, their loves and their losses, difficult careers, unhappy marriages, but who nonetheless have a special light inside them, being happy in spite of everything, because their happiness is within them; they accept life as it is and make the most of the small things that give them pleasure in life. Usually they are not envied, because to the eyes of common people they are not successful, neither in their private nor in their professional life.
I am not an envious person. I don’t think I’ve ever envied anyone. To envy is to concentrate on someone else’s life and I’m fortunately too absorbed with mine. Still, if I were to envy someone, I’d stick with the second group, rather than with the woman who seemed to have it all.