Feeling envy

I’m a fairly simple soul in my tastes.  I live a very nice middle class life, and usually am not troubled by a desire to gild this lily.  I don’t need a car fancier than a minivan (although I discovered yesterday that it would probably be worth my while to investigate in a navigation system), I like plain clothes, I find jewelry distracting, I’m a homebody and don’t need fancy entertainment, and so on.  My home, my family and my computer are pretty much all I need to entertain me.

Also, I’m fairly financially secure, which is a far cry from my childhood, which always reminded me of the financial thin edge described so well by Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield:  “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”  Because Mr. Bookworm and I grew up in houses that valued education, and we were willing to work for advanced degrees, we make a decent living.  Given all that, I’m surprised at how envious I’m feeling right now.

You see yesterday I met a very nice man at a soccer match.  He’s about my age, has a few children, drives a minivan, and is worth (at a guess) about $70 million.  I do not envy him his three luxury homes, his kids’ fancy private schools, his technological gadgets, or the movers and shakers who are a regular part of his world.  Nope.  What I instantly desired, and I just can’t get over envying, was his freedom from the irritating minutiae of life.  He’s not pulled in a million directions.  His personal assistant manages the details all of us usually handle for ourselves:  she tracks his and his kids’ schedules, books his trips, makes sure his homes are in good shape and ready for his taking residence, pays his bills, keeps his electronics up and running, etc.  His cook buys his food, cooks it, serves it, and cleans up afterwards.  His housekeeper, obviously, keeps the house.  All of those are the maddening details of my own life.  And of course, he doesn’t have the single biggest worry that nags all of us:  “Will this (whatever “this” happens to be at the moment) cost too much?”

I think I was more envious than I would usually be because, as I said, he is a very nice man.  In my town I meet lots and lots of extremely wealthy people and I usually don’t envy them because there’s nothing about their lives that even vaguely compares to mine.  They live such rarefied lives that I don’t see any points of connection.  This guy, however, was tremendously low key, and the one child of his that I do know is a delight — unaffected, hard-working, and well-mannered.  In other words, I could see this guy living my own life.  His values are the same as mine; he’s simply done away with all the hassles.  And so, every time I’ve passed the mirror today, I’ve seen myself washed in a pale shade of jealousy green.


9 Responses

  1. Hi, Book. If life was easy, what would you learn?

  2. The problem with this guy is that, up until he made his money, his life wasn’t easy. He came from a solid working class background and got where he was on hard work and merit. He is what I think we’d all be if we had the gift of time. That is, we’d be the same values-oriented people we still are, but we’d use that gift of time for parenting and charitable work. He was the kind of guy I would have loved to have hated if he hadn’t been both so nice and so much what I would like to be — except for the guy part, of course.

  3. I know what you mean. I would so love to have a cook/chef take away the chores of grocery shopping and food prep (and cook better than I do!). But I know that wishing away the hassles of my life is a waste of time, and I do know that grappling with the minute challenges is what builds up character. I dare think that someone in the position of the man you write about is in danger of getting soft and out of touch (as Presidents who don’t carry any money) do. I think it would be nice as a temporary “vacation” to celebrate having achieved wealth, but I don’t think it would be good as a permanent lifestyle. It certainly has nothing to do with happiness.

    I also don’t really think it is possible to evade the minute hassles of life–new ones substitute for the old ones. I’m sure you and I can’t imagine!

    I never yearned for vast wealth in my life (and chose accordingly); realized I was the kind of gal who marries for love, not money, and dreamed about a comfy cottage, not a castle. In my current old age the only reason I sometimes now dream about vast wealth is to imagine endowing conservative colleges, think tanks, or scholarships. A lot of good can be done there. Still, we do what we can.

    Fortunately in our society, each individual has an amazing amount of power to choose and do, and make a difference, regardless of wealth or connections.

  4. Hi BW,
    Don’t beat yourself up for being lightly green. At least part of your envy is related to the “guy” not having to deal with the mundane tasks of life. I believe you had some comments a while back of wishing you had a “wife” to do that. He just has the money to pay for it. And he has the gall to be a decent sort on top of that.
    There are too many times that I have wished for more financial success to help some aspect of domestic life, but the phrase “Be careful what you wish for” is always operative.
    And beyond the legitimate desire for financial independence, you know there are always stressors, at any level of life.
    As far as the “guy” goes, good for him. It would be interesting to know what effect you had on him.

  5. The fellow is a self-made millionaire, and remains nice and low-key; he has hired helpers to smooth out his life, and has raised a child that is, to this point, admirable.

    But the problems with wealth often appear with inherited wealth. One can only hope that the child continues his or her “normal” development. If that happens, it’s another credit to this guy’s values. Because the children who have everything are usually incapable of continuing the business, or of successfully striking out in their own direction.

    Best wishes to that fellow and his family. What they’ve done – so far – is the best of the American Dream.

  6. I know what he thought of me, Al. He thought I have the nicest dog in the world — which is the absolute truth. 😉

  7. I don’t see that the “problems” (to whom, one always wonders) are a function of inherited versus earned wealth. I’ve known a lot of the previous generation’s top inheritors (previous to, let’s say, the seventies and the rise of Wal-Mart and computers) and it very much depends, as does pretty much everything, on the individuals.

    Inherited wealth produces garbage where that’s the dominant gene – perhaps in Massachusetts political families, let’s suppose, where there is at least one family of vast inherited wealth that are unalloyed garbage.

    On the other hand, the Phipps’, DuPonts, and Whitneys are not – and they all inherited more than our example from MA did, too, so it clearly isn’t a function of inheritence, per se.

  8. Point well taken, JJ! I withdraw my snarky comment, which was based on anecdotal evidence and (shudder) various and sundry media reports from which I’ve managed to create a biased viewpoint.

    I guess it might be interesting to examine the biographies of those who “made it” along with bios of their kids, to get a broader sampling. Certainly you’ve identified at least three families that have done well through generations. Your sampling of three is better than my broad generalizations, but neither really suffices.

  9. And so, every time I’ve passed the mirror today, I’ve seen myself washed in a pale shade of jealousy green.

    A natural human response to want a better life than what one has currently.

    What differentiates Leftists from true liberals or modern American conservatives is simply that the Left will take what they wish while others must make what they wish.

    A difference of philosophy, though not of humanity. Although one set of humanity may be said to be better and more efficient than the other.

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