Dear Rachel,

I am married with three wonderful children. My husband is a kind, considerate person, and we have everything that we need financially. Although in my mind I know that I have a lot to be grateful for, for some reason my heart doesn’t feel it. I feel that there’s something lacking, and I can’t put my finger on it. I find myself looking at others’ lives, and honestly, I’m jealous. I see the people who have more success and satisfaction in their careers than I have. I see the houses that are more beautifully designed than mine, and I see the kids who are more obedient and successful than mine are.

I feel guilty about my lack of appreciation for the good that G‑d has granted me, and I’d love to feel more at peace with what I have. Any tips?

Jealous


Dear Jealous,

Let’s imagine that your life is a painting. The painting has many beautiful flowers and trees, and a river, but it also has black dots here and there that make the picture look complete.

When you look at the picture of your life, you have many beautiful things—a considerate husband, healthy children and financial stability. At the same time, there are also “black dots” in your painting of life—the feelings that you are not as successful as your friends in terms of your career, the design of your house and your children’s achievements. Without wanting to, you find yourself focusing on the less-than-successful things you have in your life, rather than on the beautiful parts of the painting.

What you are really asking for is the ability to focus only on the positive in your life—only on the trees and river, so to speak. Because if you focus on those, you won’t have the time or energy to focus on what others have, so you won’t feel jealous. Luckily, as advanced as our minds are, they are still limited, and we can focus only on one thing at time.

In order to explain this concept, I’ll tell you the story of Zlatche the farmer.

Zlatche lived a simple life far away from the big city. His friends always told him about the great and wonderful sights of the city, and he always dreamed of the day when he would be able to afford to buy a train ticket and see the “sights and lights.” He knew that on that wonderful day he would be really happy.

For weeks he saved up kopek after kopek for the trip, until he came up with the grand sum of two rubles. He spent half a ruble on the train ticket, and when he saw the great city, he really was impressed with the big buildings and shops and people mingling about. Only one thing bothered him—that he didn’t have enough money to buy all the delightful things he saw in the stores.

Then he came upon a field with a large sign that beckoned to him: “Spend one ruble and become a millionaire.” A millionaire!? He pictured all the things he could buy with the money. He approached the owner of the field, who told him that for a ruble, he would race against a horse. If he could catch on to the tail of the horse, he would get paid handsomely.

The farmer agreed to the deal and handed over the ruble, and the horse started running. The horse ran, the farmer ran, the horse ran faster, the farmer ran even faster, the horse galloped, and the farmer started limping. He tried to reach out for the tail, but his strength was failing him . . . until he finally fainted to the ground.

Zlatche woke up to find himself a ruble poorer, with only half a ruble left in his pocket. Feeling even worse than before, having parted with his money without having anything glitzy from the beautiful stores to show for it, he started looking for something to cheer him up.

Then he saw another sign: “Spend half a ruble and have a good laugh!” So desperate was he to have a good laugh after his draining experience, that he handed over the half-ruble before thinking twice or asking too many questions.

He was taken to a bridge which overlooked the field where he had previously had his “race” with the horse, and he watched as the next fellow approached the horse with the belief that he was going to win the race.

And that really made Zlatche laugh.

But how do you think Zlatche felt realizing that he had gambled away all his money on the hopes of turning his entire life into one of joy, euphoria and wealth?

We can assume that he felt foolish, low and defeated.

So, how can you prevent the same thing from happening to you?

To a certain extent, I’m assuming that you feel like Zlatche the farmer. You have the “one and a half rubles” in your life—the husband, children and financial stability—but in your search for greater satisfaction, you find yourself losing the good that you do have in your life.

Where, Oh Where?

So, where indeed can you find success and satisfaction within your life and the gifts that you have been given?

If it’s not in your health, your bank account, your marriage, your friendships, your children—then where is it? It’s right inside your heart!

In Parshat Toldot, the Torah tells us about the difference between Jacob and Esau. Jacob was an ish tam yosheiv ohalim, a straightforward person who dwelt in the tent, while Esau was an ish yodeia tzayid, a hunter.

Tam means “simple.” Jacob was happy with the simple joys of life. Esau, on the other hand, was always seeking to conquer, to externally achieve more and more.

Inside each of us, there is a part of Jacob and a part of Esau. “Jacob” represents our desire to “dwell in the tent”—our positive inclination that is happy with the simple joys of life and the gifts we have in our own homes. “Esau” represents our desire to hunt—our evil inclination that always seeks more and more physical or emotional conquests that we believe will give us satisfaction and joy.

Conquest Where?

By nature, we always seek more. The question is, what we do we want more of? Do we focus on spiritual conquests or physical conquests? Do we focus on our inner desires to become kinder, calmer, more involved in community projects, or do we focus on external conquests of success, money, and what other people can give us?

You mentioned in your question that you don’t feel satisfaction in your career to the same extent that your friends do. Perhaps you can invest your energy in a new project that will help you feel that you are better using your talents. Not only will you benefit from your focus being inward rather than outward, but the world at large will benefit from the projects you’ll create. Perhaps you can invest more in your marriage and your children. When it comes to our relationships, there is no limit to how much more productive and meaningful they can become.

When you’re focused on building, you won’t have time to reflect on what those around you have, and you’ll find the happiness you seek right within your heart.

I wish you much success and inner peace,

Rachel