Examining Envy, the Most Common of the Deadly Sins

Judy Katz of Katz CreativeWhen people question the fees I charge for ghostwriting a book, I point out that a Timex tells time, and so does a Rolex. This contrast implies that they get the Rolex of ghostwriters by engaging me. (For guys, I contrast a Ford with a Rolls Royce or Maserati.)

One should always feel that you are the best choice for a client to work within your chosen profession—that you are the Rolex. But in selecting a Rolex watch over a Timex, for example, what are we paying extra for? In the interests of full disclosure, I do not have a Rolex. I am happy with my inexpensive Burberry and my fun Swatches. The highest up-the-watch food chain I have gone to is a Tag Heuer, which is nothing like the cost of a Rolex or its elite cousin, the Patek Philippe.

Why do we covet these iconic brands and envy those who own them? Would you still pay the premium if you knew no one would ever see you toting that Hermes bag for which you practically had to take out a second mortgage on your home? Or might you think twice and settle for a reasonably priced Coach bag or a high-brand knockoff?

One could argue that when you buy something iconic—by which I mean extremely expensive—you are purchasing a better made, better looking, better performing, longer lasting whatever, be it a garment, watch, jewelry, handbag, car, etc. In most cases, I submit that what you’re buying is the message you believe it will send: “Hey, look at me. I can afford this. I have made it!” That subliminal message, by the way, is as much for your confidence level as it is for the world at large.

Envy is human, and I am far from immune. I loved watching Cate Blanchett in the 2013 award-winning film “Blue Jasmine,” in which she plays a socialite named Jasmine. When her world of luxury and entitlement falls apart, all she has left as a visible symbol of the privileged life she led is her stunning champagne-colored Hermes Birkin. Watching her with that bag, I was filled with—here it comes—yes, envy. I wanted that handbag. In truth, I still do. I want to carry myself with the elegant bearing of a Cate Blanchett. I know it is illogical, but on some level, I still believe that walking around with that bag on my arm will magically change me.

Logically, would I spend around $43,000 for such a handbag? No. I would not. But my daughter belongs to an online high brands handbag group, and through her, I discovered how globally coveted that brand is and how many far-from-wealthy women have found a way to buy one or more of these bags. Even the second-hand prices are outrageously high. But the heart wants what the heart wants, as we brand-envious people know.

I covet what Cate Blanchett’s character has for deeper reasons than the specific material possession. That person who has what you wish you had may have certain qualities or a lifestyle you envy. In wanting what they have, you might even have found a way to get that possession for yourself, be it large, like a car, or smaller, like a watch, a pair of designer shoes like Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, or Chanel, or even—a Birkin bag?

Let’s assume you have found a way to get that thing you envy. Has possession of it made you happier? I don’t mean just in the honeymoon period for a few days or weeks after you get it. How long before you began to covet something else and plot a way to get it?

Over my long life, I have come to see and accept that you don’t have to be “Dubai Rich” to feel or even look rich. I know the best riches come from good health, good friends and family, work you enjoy—and a sense of humor regarding our shared human traits. We all want the same basic three things: more love, more time to do what we enjoy, and more magic. No material “thing” will do that. When you accept that reality, you are on your way to wisdom. As I said, I still have a ways to go. Meantime I’d love to hear your story.