Dear Dr. Chani,
It’s that time of year again! After Lag B’Omer, my heart starts racing, knowing that it is only a matter of time before the engagements start rolling in. Wedding season has officially begun. I dread the thought of having to hear about so many engagements, and to go through the motions of participating in many simchas.
I have been dating for eight years now, and it seems like forever. I am a little embarrassed to say so, but it pains me so much to hear about other people getting engaged. It is particularly challenging to hear about a very young couple that is engaged. Why should they have such an easy time getting married compared to me? Why do they deserve to have things go so smoothly and simply? It just does not seem fair.
An additional burden I feel when I have to attend weddings is that I need to deal with people having pity on me. I get sympathetic looks from my family and friends. At this point, most people know not to tell me, “Soon by you.” But even without hearing these words, I know exactly what they are thinking. I feel like sinking into the floor.
My question to you is how can I make myself feel better and not resent every time a girl I know displays a new diamond ring?
Your reactions make a lot of sense. Every new engagement that you hear about becomes another thorn in your side. Each one is a reminder of what could have been, and what isn’t yet.
This difficult issue you are raising gets to the core of the human experience. You mention it regarding marriage. It can also take the form of other situations. How does someone manage seeing others around him making an adequate living, when he struggles with it? How does one deal with her friends having children, when she has not yet? These are some common examples of the many things that people want, but do not have. It can be terribly painful to witness people around you having those things that you lack. How do you deal with that pain and frustration?
Some might see this feeling as included in the commandment the Torah has of not being jealous of others. Whether or not this kind of feeling is actually included in the prohibition is beyond the scope of this discussion. Yet it is important to think about the meaning behind that prohibition and what we can learn from it. Let’s approach it from a psychological perspective.
Looking at what others have and comparing it to what you have is more than just not beneficial for you. It is downright detrimental. It makes each day harder. When you focus on what others have, it wears you down. It makes an experience of lacking that is already very difficult, unbearable. The more you can avoid social comparison, the better it is for you.
How can you do that seemingly impossible task? Here are two ways.
Firstly, the Talmud tells us, “What is given to you is from what is yours” (Yoma 38b). The Talmud is sagaciously correcting a skewed perspective that we can have. We sometimes look at the world as having a limited, shared pot of blessings, where each person needs to take his serving before someone else does. When we see a person who has more than us, we might think, “Why is s/he entitled to get more of the pot than I have?” The Talmud reminds us that there is not one big pot from which we all get our portion. Rather, each one of us has our own pot, reserved just for us from Heaven, so to speak. You get your portion from what is already set aside for you. No one can take away any blessings that are set aside for you.
Keeping that idea in mind can be comforting and create a sense of balance. Each person has certain things and lacks others. Each person has what is destined for him to have. People who have are not taking anything from under the noses of others in any way. What is yours is yours, and what others have does not take away from you.
The second way to address your hurt may sound counter-intuitive. Instead of highlighting your pain, focus on putting yourself into their shoes. Allow yourself to feel happy for other people as much as you can. This can free you from your negativity by providing a distraction and focal point for your energy. But It does something even more important. It allows you to develop your ability to be happy for others even in trying circumstances. When you feel joy for others it reduces your pain and frustration.
You might wonder how you can do that. When you are so bothered by what they have, how can you shift out of your pain into joy for them? Here is a technique. Try to be an active part of their simcha as much as you can. When you want to straighten something that is bent over, it can be helpful to bend it in the opposite direction. Similarly, when you feel lacking in something that others have, and are bothered by their happiness, do the opposite than what you might have thought. Throw yourself into the precise situation that you find difficult. Think of ways that you can demonstrate your happiness for them. You may take photographs at their simcha, send them a gift, or help out at the occasion in other ways. When you actively demonstrate your happiness for them, it can allow you to develop the feeling of truly being happy for them.
The more you are happy for others, the happier a person you will become. There is a beauty in sharing the joys of life with others. Even if you yearn for the very situation which another person is now celebrating, develop your emotional “muscle” of being able to celebrate with them. It will help you become a happier, healthier, and more successful person.
Wishing you much success in all areas of your life,