Living Well: Dealing with Jealousy
No matter how much we might like to avoid it, jealousy is a ”would-rather-not-have-it” emotion that occurs in our lives from time to time. Sometimes we are jealous of someone else, and other times we are the object of envy ourselves. In either situation, jealousy has the ability to suck all joy and gratitude out of our lives. Particularly if the envy is directed at someone close to us.
To help understand where envy comes from and what we can do about it, I think it’s helpful to examine why it occurs in the first place. Envy, according to Alain de Botton, comes from the fact that we can relate to someone who has something we desire. If we are unable to relate to someone’s background, age, or situation, we often don’t experience huge pangs of jealousy. We see ourselves as different enough from the other person that their success does not translate to our own lives in the same way.
For example, while I would love to have the same impact as Oprah Winfrey, I am not jealous of her success because I cannot relate to her legendary achievements and 30 year-long career. Instead, I am inspired and propelled to do my best, knowing that she symbolizes what might (or might not) be possible in my own life. Sure, it would be great to reach the same level of success, but I don’t feel bad about myself now because she has always been on such a different playing field. On the other hand, when I look at uber-successful business owners or bloggers who are my age and have a similar story, it is much easier to relate, and subsequently covet, their success. The subconscious assumption is: If they can do it, I should be able to do it, too.
But no matter how much we lust after the achievements of others and desire the same results, it is pointless to look at someone else we relate to and feel jealousy. We all have our own unique purpose and gifts to give. By spending too much time focused on the awesome things someone else is doing, we are draining the attention and energy we need to cultivate our own success. This is also true outside of work-related achievements as well. If we stare at the girl in the yoga class with the perfect form, we lose our own balance. If we spend our time wishing we had a luxe wedding budget like our friend, we lose appreciation for our own special day.
Simply put: we can’t live our best life if we are too busy wishing we had someone else’s success.
What can we do about it? How can we handle a jealousy in ourselves or in others?
If you are the one holding the jealous end of the stick, it is often helpful to show loving-kindness to yourself. You already know that the envy you are experiencing is not beneficial, and in fighting it, you are actually holding onto the emotion that much tighter. Loving yourself despite the envy is the first step to relaxing its grip. Also, by recognizing that this is a natural emotion that will come and go, you can begin to feel a little less attached to the feeling overall. It is okay. It is normal. Showing love to yourself, coincidentally, is also going to help you to turn your attention back to your own life and blessings. Which is another great way to start breaking the jealous bond.
To help re-direct your attention back to your own life further, consider making a list of all of the things that you are grateful for in your own life. Often, jealousy clouds our blessings and puts all of our focus on what we don’t have. Gratitude helps re-calibrate our internal focus. It also helps to realize that no matter how great someone might have it, there is always a trade-off. Sometimes we discount the negative life aspects of someone’s life – or we simply don’t know that they exist in the first place! And it is up to us to give that person the benefit of the doubt. They aren’t living a perfect life and they face difficult challenges and trade offs everyday that we may not even comprehend.
This fact is important to consider if you are the object of someone else’s jealousy, too. If you find yourself with a jealous person in your life, it can be helpful to share some of the trade-offs and difficulties you experience, within reason. This is not to discount your blessings or achievements, but to help your friend put things into perspective. This may not always be appropriate, especially in relationships that are shallow or distant. But if you deeply desire the relationship to continue, it is helpful to show the envious person love, compassion, and maybe even share about your own experience with jealousy in the past.
We all have our own individual destinies and gifts to share. By showing compassion to ourselves and others when jealousy arises, we can gently redirect our attention and gratitude where it belongs: on our own journey.