“Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those we envy.” – François Duc de La Rochefoucauld
Most of us have experienced pangs of envy at some point in life. It may feel like a knot in the pit of your stomach as one of your colleagues or peers receives praise or admiration. Perhaps you experience envy as a sharp pain to the chest when you are passed over for an award or a promotion, watching it go to a colleague who you feel is somehow undeserving.
Whatever the particular circumstances are, envy can be very painful. Rather than succumb to negative emotional backlash, self-doubt, and suffering, choose to use envy to your advantage. While envy may hurt, don’t add insult to injury by allowing envy to prevent you from garnering your own success. If you learn to think about envy differently and experience it differently, you will be able to use envy as a motivating force in your life.
Recall from a previous post, Jealousy vs. Envy, that envy is generally prompted by someone else (often someone we know in “real life”) getting something that we wish to have for ourselves. Envy is distinctly different from jealousy in that the emotion of jealousy ensues when we feel that an important relationship, possession, or something else that we value is being threatened. Envy is not the result of wanting to “protect” something or someone valued, but rather it is about wanting to “have” something that someone else has.
Like all emotions, envy can become useful if you choose to notice, interpret, and make use of the valuable information that the emotion is trying to tell you. When you experience envy, rather than become consumed or overwhelmed by it, try reflecting upon what the emotion has to teach you.
Dr. R. Douglas Fields (2011) explains, “take an evolutionary view. Because it hurts, envy might command our attention and in the long run this hijacking of cognitive function could be a good way of improving an individual’s success in society. By fixating on the perceived advantage of another person, one might better learn and remember how to achieve the same outcome.”
Envy can become a powerful teacher if only you will defuse yourself from the negative cognitions, negative self-talk, and self-doubt often associated with the emotional experience. Allow envy to tell you something important about what things in life you value the most. It is unlikely that you are envious of “everything.” It is much more likely that you are envious of those things which you value most.
Perhaps your true values lead you to feeling envious of people who:
- Receive a promotion at work (value = success)
- Have a happy marriage (value = love/marriage/relationship)
- Have a happy family/home life (value = family)
- Have a lot of money (value = wealth)
- You perceive as being more attractive (value = beauty/attractiveness)
The point is to not to get stuck in the trap of judging that which you value, but rather to accept your values and learn from what your envy has to teach you. Begin to notice what types of people, possessions, or other “things” make you feel pangs of envy. Evaluate what is underneath your envy and use it as an opportunity to get more in touch with your true values. Once you become aware of what your values are, begin to consciously direct your behavior in a purposeful manner to get what you desire.
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Fields, R. (2011, September 12). Eat your guts out: why envy hurts and why it’s good for your brain [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-brain/201109/eat-your-guts-out-why-envy-hurts-and-why-its-good-your-brain
Featured image: Claymore by coxy / CC BY-SA 2.0