The green-eyed monster of envy is often viewed as an emotion that leads to bad behavior. Envy can also be painful for those experiencing it. Longing for a new home or enviously watching friends post vacation photos on Facebook can slowly eat away at your self-esteem and harm your relationships with others.
Envy and jealousy may be used interchangeably, but there’s actually a meaningful distinction. While jealousy is the fear of losing something you already have – such as a spouse – envy is pain over something you don’t have – a flashy car, a perfect family, or a good marriage. Social networking can increase envy, and the media often fuels feelings of envy by parading an endless supply of things you do not, or cannot, have. You don’t have to permanently live with envy. There are several things you can do to cope with the overwhelming emotions that come with it.
When you feel that first pang of envy, don’t ignore it, but don’t continue feeding it. Instead, try to deconstruct it. What’s really behind the envy? Envy can tell you a lot about what you want – a vacation, a successful spouse, a new job. And if you listen to your feelings of envy and interrogate them, you’re more likely to arrive at useful information about yourself. Question why you’re feeling envy, what is missing in your own life, and if any other emotions – such as anxiety or frustration – could partially account for your envious feelings.
Focus on Gratitude
You might not have a million dollar beach house, but you do have something to be grateful for; everyone does. Rather than fixating on what you don’t have, make gratitude a long-term strategy. Make a list of things you’re grateful for – no matter how small – each day. And when you feel pangs of envy, replace each envious thought with a moment of gratitude for something fabulous about your own life.
Get a Reality Check
When you’re marveling at someone’s social networking profile or alumni newsletter update, it’s easy to forget that everyone has a public and private face. We all strive to put our best face forward. That classmate or co-worker who seems to have an amazing life may be secretly struggling. Don’t believe the hype about other people. Instead, realize that everyone struggles with something and you might not know what the inside view of another person’s life is.
Decide What You Want
Rather than wallowing in envy, resolve to take steps to get your own life on track. Envy can be a positive emotion when it empowers healthy goal-setting. When you’re feeling envious, ask yourself what it is about another person’s life that you envy, then make a list of the steps you can take to reach your goals. By taking a minuscule step every day, you can get on track to have the life you want, of which you can be proud.
While there may always be people who have things you don’t have, there are also almost certainly people who have much less than you. Helping others can offer an effective perspective adjustment. It also feels good all on its own. Try volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, and use your volunteer experience as an opportunity to take stock of all you have instead of all that you’re lacking.
- Controlling envy. (n.d.). Dr. Phil.com. Retrieved from http://drphil.com/articles/article/340
- Keeping envy and jealousy under control. (n.d.). University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved from http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1
- Matousek, M. (2012, May 29). When friends get rich or famous (or both). Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ethical-wisdom/201205/when-friends-get-rich-or-famous-or-both
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