Haven’t we been taught to believe that envy, the only vice warned against in both the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins, is a seriously destructive emotion? There are exceptions. Shira Boss’s envy of her neighbors in the apartment next door was the productive seed that grew into this unusual look at an aspect of our collective dark underbelly. Wholeheartedly refreshing, her candor about her own jealousy and competitive feelings gives the reader some rarely granted permission to get in touch with his or her own.
Money has been described as the last taboo, harder to talk about than almost anything else, including sex. Even among therapists, money may be the most ignored subject in their training and their actual practice. Boss argues that the taboo is counterproductive and makes the point, again and again, that it’s extremely important to be able to talk about money, how we feel about what we have and what we don’t, and how we feel about what other people have. Only in this way can we begin to let go of the invidious and misery-making comparisons that are so prevalent among us, and learn to count our own blessings.
Boss won the trust of people at several points along the socioeconomic spectrum. Her interviews invite us into their life stories, where they share with us what life lessons envy, being envied, and fearing envy has taught them. Zeroing in on a high-earning couple in one chapter, we see how mutual denial about spending forced them to file for bankruptcy. In another chapter, [Boss] focuses her lens on members of Congress, some of whom save money by sleeping in their offices when they’re in Washington. Boss also profiles the current baby boomer generation who, born into post-World War II euphoria, have had enormously high expectations, are spenders rather than savers, and carry around a completely different attitude toward debt than their parents. The final group she shines a light onto are the ultra rich, who have their own version of keeping up with the Joneses that is no less painful, sometimes even moreso, than those at the opposite end of the wealth continuum. When we hear their poignant and, at times, tragic details, one can only conclude that having an abundance of money can cause as many problems as not having enough.
Currently in America, there are 1.6 million people filing for bankruptcy each year; there are more bankruptcies than divorces and more bankruptcies than students graduating from 4-year colleges. The financial, emotional, occupational, and spiritual costs of materialism are exceedingly high. Boss suggests that what we need to do is to tame our preoccupation with what other people seem to have, and mindfully let go of our fixation on how much better our lives would be if we had more. Though this is not easily accomplished, the book ends with some very useful steps to take to vanquish your particular version of the green-eyed monster.