Tag Archives: Envy

Feeling Envious or Jealous?

People get jealousy and envy mixed up a lot.  Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of each:

Envy is the emotion you get when you want something that someone else has.  It’s a two-person thing: there’s you and the person you’re envious of.   You could want beauty, wealth, socioeconomic status…whatever.  Envy is wishing and wanting. 

A good example of envy can be seen in Snow White.  The evil queen envies how pretty and sweet her stepdaughter is and does the whole “mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” routine.  The film also portrays one of two types of envy.  There is malicious envy (i.e. Snow White’s evil stepmother), and then there’s sort of everyday benign envy.  When you are maliciously envious, you become vicious and try to hurt other people by trying to take things away from them.  If you are feeling just benign envy, you are looking at other people and thinking, “Wow, I wish I had that,” or “I wish I could do that.”  It’s more motivating than destructive.

Jealousy, on the other hand, is a three-person thing.  It’s the emotion you get when you fear that someone or something is going to be taken away from you by someone else.    

Jealousy was the main theme of the movie, Gladiator.  Caesar’s son was very angry with Russell Crowe’s character because his dad admired this soldier guy more.  So the son killed his dad, took over his position, killed the wife and kid of Russell Crowe’s character, and put him in “gladiator hell” because Daddy – just like in the “Cain and Abel” story – loved one of them more.  

Envy and jealousy affect everyone’s life.  I think, statistically speaking, we’re envious infinitely more than we are jealous.  However, what really matters is what we do when we feel jealousy or envy: How do we experience it?  How do we cope with it?

I have always rejoiced when someone who I perceive as having earned something has success.  I have a tough time not resenting people who get things they haven’t earned.  That, personally, is my struggle.  But it’s not in my nature to do something evil to them because of it.  I don’t wish to give into “the dark side.” 

Here’s what you can do the next time you are feeling jealous or envious.  Let’s say that one of your coworkers gets a promotion and you don’t feel like they deserve it.  Or maybe you’re jealous that your spouse gets to be the breadwinner and you have to parent, or vice versa.  Well, you can either say, “Oh gee, I wish I had ‘x’,” and spend your time being miserable, or you can be motivated by it.  You have to choose between misery and motivation. 

Ultimately, you have to put your I.Q. over your emotions.  I talk about that dichotomy on my program on a daily basis.  Emotions are irrational and powerful, and they can only be combated with your brain.  You have to realize that although you may be 100 percent correct about something being unfair, there is not a damned thing you can do about it.  You can tear yourself up or tear them down, but either way, you won’t be acting like the kind of person someone else would envy.  Instead, use it as motivation to turn yourself into the kind of person everybody envies. 

No matter if it is envy or jealousy you’re consumed by, it’s going to be difficult for you to enjoy others’ success if you continue to dwell on it.  And furthermore, nobody’s going to envy you if you’re a bitter, frustrated, ugly, angry person.

Comparing Yourself to Others

A talk show host I know used to respond to callers who asked him how he was doing by saying, “Better than some, not as good as others.”   I thought that was wonderful.  That’s the truth around the world: we assess where we’re at by comparing ourselves to others.  But the problem we each have is that we’re always comparing apples and oranges.  For example, you can’t compare yourself to someone just because he or she is the same age since his or her journey from zero to this point has been very different from yours.

As a general rule, comparing yourself to others is a bad idea – a seriously bad idea.  It makes you either arrogant or unhappy.  Those are your only options.  Of course, there’s the exception that you’re comparing yourself to someone else in the hope of emulating whatever traits you’re inspired by, but that’s not typical.  What’s more typical is envy.  

I remember I had one person in therapy on and off for about a decade.  She was extremely intelligent, but spent much of her life acting like a total ding-a-ling.  One evening session, she was in a bad mood and started pacing in my office.  She kept looking at my diplomas, licenses, and other stuff I’d hung on my wall to impress people and make them know I was actually “for real.”  Then she stopped and said, “I am the same damn age as you and look at all these.  I will never catch up to you!”

I looked at her and replied, “Catch up to me?  You’re not on the same path.  You’re on an entirely different path and yours started from a deep hole” (don’t even ask me about her childhood; that was the deep hole).  I said, “I didn’t start from a very deep hole, and I didn’t have to climb out.  So, comparing us makes no sense.”

“But still -”  

“There is no ‘but still,’” I said.  “We each have our own path in life – our own, unique life path.  You have to respect yours, and I have to respect mine.  I cannot, nor can you, judge your own life path based on where somebody else is at any particular moment.  A path is a long line.  A moment is a dot.  You can’t compare long lines to dots.” 

So, how do you get through envious or jealous moments? 

Be gracious.  You’ve heard me say a zillion and 3/4 times on this program the best way to handle agitated feelings about people is to be nice to them.  They may deserve it, they may not, but it’s better for your heart and intestines that you do.

Also, keep in mind externals are not a very good measure of worth.  I’m more interested in people who have a really deep, good heart than a fancy car, jewelry or a house.  That’s what I value.  If you’re going to be envious at all, envy somebody for his or her inner beauty.

Lastly, remember that while you’re being envious of somebody, someone else is probably looking at you and having that same fit of envy.  Everybody’s got some natural talents, abilities and gifts, and there’s always going to be somebody saying, “Gee, I wish I had it like she/he does…” 

And that’s the irony of the whole thing. 

Envy is the Root of Some Evil

The issue of envy is so important it made it into the Ten Commandments, worded as “thou shalt not covet…”

Unfortunately, it is probably the most abused of the Commandments and a major human vice, leading to a heck of a lot of misery for those who simply have worked hard to attain whatever they have and whoever they’ve become.
I get irritated when people either “luck” into good fortune or abuse values and slip into good fortune anyway.  I never have a problem, however, with someone (whether I like them or not) who has worked hard and is earning whatever it is they have.  I admire and respect hard work.  It’s as simple as that.

What pains me down to my gut is hearing, watching and often experiencing the viciousness that erupts from envy:  1) feeling entitled without making the effort;  2) begrudging the hard-earned success of others and doing something to hurt them.

Starting rumors about the person you envy just to besmirch their reputation, actively undermining their progress, nastily talking “smack” about them, being mean to them….all that energy should be put into making more of yourself.  Your value in the world is not predicated on them going under.  Your value to others is based on the light you shine, not the effort you make to dim the light of others.
It is a waste of your life and energy and potential to be mean about someone else’s success and happiness.  Use all of that energy to face your own fears or laziness and do it yourself.