Yesterday in book group, we were discussing Jane Austen’s “Emma”. I said, “Are we supposed to like Emma? I mean, it is hard to like somebody who already has everything.”

A woman in the group said to me, “You’re one to talk.”

I was taken aback. What? What is she saying? Does she think I have everything?

I was immediately ready to defend my life. To defend my problems. To say, “Oh, you have NO IDEA what I’ve been through in my life, missy! Let me tell you!” I mentally pulled out my list of grievances with the Powers That Be to unleash them all in a rousing game of “Who’s Life Stinks The Most”, convinced I’d emerge victorious.

There are a few problems with this.

Problem #1: This woman knows me. She’s a new friend. Ok, we don’t discuss ovulation schedules or anything like that, but we’ve had some heart to hearts, and I think she knows the gist of my life’s problem resume. She still thinks I have it all.

Problem #2: I know her problem resume. Hoo boy, is it longer than mine. Way longer. And more painful. And it involves her kids, which mine does not, not in the ways hers does. In a game of Whose Life Stinks the Most, she would win. Hands down.

Problem #3:What kind of idiot wants to win a game like that? Seriously, who wants to be Queen of Life Suckage? You get to wear a crown, maybe, and yeah, you can lord it over the simple people who have happy lives that nobody would want your life, but then after the parade dies down, you still have to go back to your stinky reality, and if you really are the Queen, well, sucks to be you.

Problem #4: Trying to be the Queen of Bad Stuff means that you lost sight of other stuff. Good stuff. Stuff that you should be grateful for, stuff that brings you closer to God and all that and makes you happy.

So I’m a little ashamed at myself for my initial reaction. For not immediately agreeing with her, saying, ‘Yup, I do have it all. Wow, how very blessed I am.”

Ok, I admit it. Sometimes I’m just kinda lame.

Do you ever feel like it’s more fashionable to have a life full of adversity than a life full of joy? Do you ever feel a little bit embarassed aknowledging your blessings in light of somebody else’s suffering, sort of like survivor’s guilt? Do you ever strive to be the Queen of Life Suckage? Why? Is it easier to complain than to have a heart full of gratitude?

And do you like Emma? Because seriously, girls, to me she just bugs.

30 Comments

  1. nancy

    April 18, 2008

    Girl let me tell you, I have a friend… who has to one up me on whose life sucks the most… complain complain complain….. So I feel guilty, saying my sweet hubby did this, or my wonderful kids did that… so I end up say how my life sucks… untill I realize she is trying to win the crown… so I just let her win… and she is a happy ‘queen of a sucky life.’ whodathunkonewouldwantthat???
    nancy

  2. Dalene

    April 18, 2008

    I used to feel like I had to preface any sort of opinion I had with, “I don’t really know because my life is a cake walk…” It was almost like I didn’t have substance unless I had “stuff.” But then I realized that although I wouldn’t trade my stuff for anyone else’s stuff, it was still stuff. And then the stuff got more interesting (read: painful). But I still wouldn’t trade it. That said, I’m still pretty much a cup-half-full kind of girl.

    As for Emma, I only like the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma and then only because her Mr. Knightly is so fine.

  3. Justine

    April 18, 2008

    I say ditch the toxic friends, ladies. Seriously. Could you imagine if we were all actually happy for the successes of the people around us? It would (in a completely selfish way) make our own lives better too. But I do know a few. And it’s hard to talk about my great husband around all my divorced friends. And it’s hard to talk about how we ate something remotely interesting for dinner to my friend who’s poor as a church mouse.

    But I do like Emma. I like reading her as she grows up and starts to figure things out.

    Marlise turned me on to Brian Regan. He’s a hoot. He talks about how no one can win if they’re telling a story about getting two wisdom teeth pulled (because there will always be someone who’s had four pulled. Go watch it here.

  4. dangermom

    April 18, 2008

    You know what Jane Austen said about Emma, right? “I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.”

    I’m pretty fond of Emma. She’s so clueless. She has stuff, sure (though if I were her I’d strangle her father–she gets lots of points for putting up with him!), but she hasn’t got much in the way of insight or understanding. She makes a complete fool of herself several times, so what’s not to love?

    I’m not sure how much I would like a friend who made comments like that, though.

  5. Elizabeth

    April 18, 2008

    Dalene, I loved your comment about no stuff = no substance. I keep wondering when my life is going to get hard. Then I tell myself that the reason it’s not is that I’m not righteous enough yet to get on the devil’s radar…and then I feel a little better 😉
    As a therapist all I hear all day long is reallly hard stuff, and I do have some survivor’s guilt. My life is a total cakewalk in comparison to many others’ experiences. However, I have two beliefs: one–life simply isn’t fair; two–none of us gets through mortality unscathed.

  6. Michelle

    April 18, 2008

    I’m no Jane Austen expert, but I’ve heard that she didn’t expect anyone to like Emma. She said she was writing a book about a heroine that no one but her would like, and she was surprised when people loved her. Emma is full of faults. I love her. But it sounds like you have Jane Austen’s permission to hate her.

  7. KLC

    April 18, 2008

    “Do you ever feel like it’s more fashionable to have a life full of adversity than a life full of joy?”

    Ask any high school senior who has just finished her college entrance essays. Tales of wo are almost required, the happy, the joyful, the content need not apply

  8. Sarah

    April 18, 2008

    I have a theory that we most often tell the “bad” or “hard” stories. We rarely talk about the nice guys we went out with a couple of times … because there isn’t much to talk about there. We do bring up the crazies we dated because they are funny or pathetic, something that will get us some sort of reaction.

  9. brooke

    April 18, 2008

    i’ve always hated emma. but i think i would like you.

  10. Emily M.

    April 18, 2008

    I have guilt like that too. I have a great husband, and he’s got a good job, and my kids are healthy and relatively well-behaved, and there’s someone I know who I just feel like I have to amplify any bad thing in my life so as not to feel guilty. Ditching the toxic friend has made me feel more guilty, actually, and I need to think of a way to still be friends but not let her pity-me stuff get me down. I love friends who will be happy for me, who I can be happy for in turn, and who don’t make me feel guilty for being so blessed.

  11. Carol F.

    April 18, 2008

    I would not tolerate that very long in a friend. I have no need to hash over my problems and make them bigger. I have also heard of the following contests: “who is the busiest” and “who is the poorest”. With those, I mentioned the contest outright to some of the contestants and the problem went away–the people involved did not realize they were creating such an environment.

    Whatever the case, do not participate in such a silly competition. But people always need encouragement and love, that is for sure.

    ****

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3])

  12. Wendy

    April 18, 2008

    I think it has been easier for me to complain than to be grateful, and I’m not sure why. I think of a time in college when a guy asked me why I complained so much. I rattled off a list of all the things wrong in my life. He said, “No, I know what you complain about. I’m asking you why you do it.” I had to think about that!

    When depression was part of the picture, it was harder because my heart couldn’t FEEL gratitude or joy, so the words rarely felt sincere. But 16 years later, depression gone, plenty to be joyful about, I think I’m still guilty of complaining too much! It seems to be a bad habit, one that takes real consciousness, effort, and a decision to change . . . and practice being grateful.

    I have dumped a few toxic friends. All came with guilt, most were worth it, one was an easy decision (but held the most guilt, because the toxicity was so high). None lived near me, so it was physically (proximity-wise) very easy. I will be more prayerful about it in the future.

    Justine, how long have you been dying to put a link to Brian Regan here? 🙂

  13. Amanda

    April 18, 2008

    I like Emma because she is imperfect. Austen doesn’t try to make excuses for her; she lets her faults shine — and that, to me, makes her much more real.

  14. Susan M

    April 18, 2008

    Now I’m wondering if I ever behave like your friend. I don’t think I do, but my perceptions are often all screwy. My husband once said to me, “You should talk to so-and-so, her childhood was almost as hard as yours.” My first reaction was, “Hey, my childhood wasn’t hard!” And he looked at me like I was insane.

    It’s all relative, you know. For a long time I had a hard time believing anyone went through life without a lot of bad things happening to them. To be honest, it boggles my mind. But I don’t think you should feel guilty about it. Unless it’s a “I’ve been given much but I haven’t been giving” kind of guilt.

  15. tracy m

    April 18, 2008

    I don’t think I can play this game right now.

  16. Maddison

    April 18, 2008

    Well, I don’t know if this is a direct answer to your question(s), but I thought I’d share my two cents for what it’s worth. I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I had been raised Mormon versus converting after years of life far from that of the Church’s teachings. I can’t help but wonder if my life would have been easier, as I now imagine it would be compared to my journey thus far. Not that I think all lifer LDS folks have a slice of pie and the rest of us are eating crow, I guess it just appears that way when I think of the bad I’ve been through and done and thus, could have avoided all together. So I guess I would be the friend in this scenario, the one wishing my life were like that of a Sister(s) I admire. I see LDS families as intact, cooperative, caring (I know this isn’t inherent, it’s worked for) – the complete opposite of my family though. And yes, although I know I shouldn’t feel this way, I do envy those who have families that I do not, peace that I do not, faith that I do not. But on the same token, I am also the kind of person who does acknowledge my blessings and can bask alongside someone who is happy just because I am happy for them.

  17. Lee Ann

    April 18, 2008

    This post reminds me of the childbirth post the other day, and how Courtney was wishing for her friends who went unmedicated to tell her it was hard, but she could do it. I’m guilty of telling my childbirth horror stories but missing the opportunity to encourage–my friends have to read between the lines that I survived, so it must be brutal but not fatal. Not much encouragement to be had there!

    I’m going to work harder on telling the joy of my birth stories.

  18. Firebyrd

    April 18, 2008

    You’re definitely right that we probably shouldn’t dwell on all the bad stuff that happens to us, but in this case, I think it was a understandable reaction to a very rude comment. The fact that she knows some of what you’ve dealt with makes it even more rude, as it dismisses completely your experiences (and it’s not like your health problems have been small or brush-off-able).

  19. Carriem

    April 18, 2008

    I just had to comment about Emma. She is maybe my favorite Austen heroine. Emma pretty much does have it all: Money, position, even kind people who love her. And yet, with all her advantages and protections, she still is kind of a screw up. I think her obvious immaturity is very realistic. She is that girl in high school who is beautiful, and only surrounds herself with plain friends that constantly admire her. Austen is telling us that shallowness and vanity need not be permanent.

    As for the comment about the uplifting being out of fashion when it comes to college admissions essays, I would venture to guess that those poor counselor have heard every depressing variation possible. Upbeat is probably quite welcome. No college only wants desperately damaged individuals (it’s not like a reality TV show). I did quite well with my comic essay describing my greatest sports victory (winning best 3 out of 5 in foosball with friends)

    Great topic guys!

  20. Lynnette

    April 18, 2008

    Wow, a little self-examination has come as a result of reading this. I live in a large community of women who are all in the same boat – husbands in graduate school, young kids, no income. And I have more than once pointed out that I have the smallest apartment of any of them – SO THERE! It was truly like I was winning the grand prize for suffering. Oh, geez. I feel like such a dork. Especially because I didnt even realize I was doing it. And I ALWAYS realize when others are doing it. Thanks for the wake up call.

  21. Claudia

    April 19, 2008

    It seems that the spirit of competition is alive and well in practically everyone. It doesn’t matter what it is we excel at as long as we excel and are just a bit more excellent, in whatever attribute is used as the basis for comparison, than our neighbor.

    Since I don’t read Jane Austin I can’t imagine I would like Emma any more than any of Austin’s other characters.

  22. Ardis Parshall

    April 19, 2008

    I think you’re all right, that it’s more common for adult women to play the woe-is-me game. But when did that change? Didn’t we all know Mean Girls in high school who never (apparently) had problems, but could crush you with a word about how their clothes were more expensive than yours, their house was bigger than yours, their car was a new convertible and you were still hitching rides with your mother, they had perfect hair and teeth and makeup and you should consider shaving your head and pulling your teeth and painting your whole face blue — ? I just wonder when it went from “I have everything good” to “everything about my life is worse than yours.”

  23. Helen

    April 19, 2008

    Well, having spent a few weeks being assessed for depression…the Dr, at the end of the assessment said ” hmmm, well, gosh I never said this before. Actually I am sure there isn’t a medication that can help, because actually your life really IS crap!” YEAY ME!The thing is, terrible things happen to good people but we can get so much good from those things. Life hurts but when you endlessly woe on people the outcome is that you get to sit in a corner aall alone and cry.
    So let the grumps win…it’s always a treat if people say that I appear to have it all. When I look, actually, I pretty much do.

  24. tracy m

    April 19, 2008

    I don’t understand this game, or why some play. I may tease about my life, but the truth is, even when things really suck, I’m also really blessed.

    This doesn’t seem to be a particularly Mormon problem, either. That said, I cannot get over a doctor actually telling a patient that her life really is crap- seriously? Get a second opinion!

  25. LCM

    April 19, 2008

    I feel the same as Tracy M. I hate it when I get a pass because my 6 year old has cancer. Life isn’t really that bad. I don’t feel bad for myself. My husband and I play the whose day sucked worse. No, I am more tired than you are because the kids woke me up in the middle of the night.. no he’s more tired because he couldn’t sleep, although he could’ve gotten up in the middle night with the kids if he was already up…But we have been trying not to do that as much.

  26. Sue

    April 21, 2008

    What an awesome post, Heather. I hate drama. I think I’m a supportive friend and I don’t judge people for what they are going through, but I don’t like being around people who thrive on their own drama – who seem to perpetually create bad stuff.

    We’ve had our problems this year, and I’ve cried about them and whined about them on my blog, but they are NOT the sum total of my life. Most people in my life didn’t even know what was happening, because I didn’t want them to define me by my problems. Define me by my quirks or my dorkiness, but not by stuff that happens to me.

    If there was a contest for crappiest life, I would not even think of entering, because I am totally blessed, and I know it.

    P.S. I do love Emma, but – because she’s fictional. In real life, she’d be much harder to deal with.

  27. hawkgrrrl

    April 21, 2008

    I like Emma for the same reason as Carriem. She is wealthy and doesn’t need to get married, so she meddles in everyone else’s lives with bad results. That’s what makes her human and fun. She learns her lesson and becomes a better person.

    Now, Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) is an Austen heroine I cannot abide!

    I agree with most of the posters here – I can’t stand drama and whining. Life is too short to dwell on what went wrong. I’m not into that kind of pride (comparing your relative troubles). And I do know I’ve got a great life. I’m not going to apologize for being happy.

  28. Jami

    April 21, 2008

    Helen-
    I had a Doctor say pretty much the same thing to me once. It was a fair assessment. One MAJOR difference though, she also said that medication helps even when depression is situationally justified. And she was right–medication helped. A lot.

  29. Megan

    April 30, 2008

    Maybe the reason people play the who-has-it-worse game is the same reason people like Emma for her human, or imperfect qualities. It’s the who-is-more-imperfect game. Or, the who-is-more-humble game. Even though it’s really not humility.

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