Envy is a feeling that many of us have felt but often too ashamed to admit it! What if I told you that it’s perfectly normal to be envious and perhaps even good!
Envy is a social emotion that happens when we compare ourselves with others.
Envy is seen through the lens of competition e.g when someone else has something that we don’t have and we feel like we’ve lost out.
Jealousy however is the fear of losing what we have to someone else e.g. the fear of losing a treasured relationship to a another person.
What causes envy?
While envy is an emotion, how it makes us feel will depend on the lenses or perspective and assumptions about ourselves and the world.
- How I perceive I am doing compared to others. Sometimes we are doing great in many other areas but we just fail to see it.
Social status anxiety
- What the world says I must have. How I value myself compared to others can depend on social values and how much you buy-in to those values. People with high self-esteem are less likely to be envious of others.
- How realistic is it that we can attain what the other person has? We tend to be more envious of people who are just a little bit better than us. E.g. We will probably never be envious of global celebrities like BTS as they are in a totally different league and most of us cannot achieve it.
Entitlement and perception of fairness
- We feel envy if we think that we should also have the same privileges as the person envied or if we think that the other person had it easy in getting to where they are.
3 styles of emotional response to envy
- Hostile – Saying negative things about that person, happy when the person you envy has a hard time. Feels that the envied person does not deserve the status.
- Depressive – Feeling defeated, inferior and helpless when we compare ourselves to this person.
- Benign envy – Positive admiration of the envied person. Believe that the person deserves their status
What to do about envy
Envy can be good or bad, it depends on what you do with it that counts.
Envy can be bad when we allow it to gnaw at us and turn us into ugly spiteful creatures. To avoid morphing into such a ‘thing’, here are some things you can do
Set aside ‘Envy time’
For 10 min a day, set aside time to think about what we are envious about. Make sure you set a timer to remind you when the 10 min is up. This gives you control over your envious feelings.
Here’s what you can do in that 10 min. Talk to yourself and remind yourself:
- Everyone feels envious sometimes
- I have other positive emotions besides this emotion
- My negative emotions do not define who I am or control what I do.
- I do not need to give in to those envious feeling and act out negatively.
- I have a choice about what I do with my envy and emotions.
Draw out your life pie
Life consist of many different pieces. Some times when we get so engrossed in the one thing that we don’t have, we forget that there are other things that we do have.
- Identify other things in your life that makes you unique as a person. These can be physical features, or personality or character strengths,
- Think of some activities that you can still do that you find enjoyable, meaningful and fulfilling.
- Decide what percentage of each item brings to your life
- Draw it out in a pie-chart.
Envy can help us to appreciate what we still have
- What do you still have, can still do without having this thing that you envy? List all people who care about you and all the things that you enjoy doing.
- What do you have that this person that you envy does not have because of their status? List all the things that you can do that another person of a higher status cannot do.
Turning envy into positive motivation
- Freedom from negative hostile envy is being able to tell another person ‘good for you’ and really mean it.
- This is benign envy, when we no longer hold negative emotions about what the other person has that we have yet to have.
- This can happen when we appreciate the things that we still have no matter how little.
- Then work on a realistic and achievable goal to attain that thing that you envy.
Maybe by now, you are totally ok not to have those things. Congratulations on your new found freedom!