Have you ever felt envious when…?
a. You run into someone you haven’t seen since high school only to find out they have a bigger house, nicer car, better job, and sexier partner than you do
b. You’re 6-weeks-deep scrolling someone’s Instagram trying to figure out why they have more followers than you because you’re definitely at least as cool as they are
c. You see a girl with abs (who probably also has more Instagram followers than you)
d. All of the above
You may have noticed there wasn’t a “none of the above” option. I think if we all ditch the cloaks of perfection we wear to disguise the parts of ourselves we think the world will judge, envy is one of the most common emotions hidden underneath.
It’s almost as normal a feeling as happiness or sadness, and yet for some reason we’re not comfortable talking about envy and we’ve labelled it as bad. Even hearing the words “jealousy” or “envy” makes our shoulders shrug uncomfortably up towards our ears and our skin quiver, like when we witness a gory scene in a cheap horror flick.
You know what though? All human emotions are completely beautiful.
It can hold us and others back if we keep it buried inside or act out in a malicious way, but kind of like that feeling of disappointment you have when you know you could’ve done better in a tough workout, it’s much more useful than happiness. Envy is packed with power to propel us into action while habitual happiness causes complacency.
Here are the steps to harnessing envy’s healthy side:
- Feel and accept it.
“I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.” – Oriah Moutain Dreamer, The Invitation
We’re so quick to want to get rid of “negative” emotions that we forget how to really feel them, and either they continue to run in the background until they explode in some crazy fashion or they limit us without us even knowing it.
We need to first let ourselves feel envious before we can turn it into something positive.
After running into that person from high school, give yourself a few minutes to sit with the emotions and sensations that came up before continuing about your day.
- What did that feel like?
- Did your breath shorten?
- Did your heart sink?
- Did you clench your shoulders?
Notice the way envy makes you feel. Accept it as a normal part of being a human. Soon you’ll be able to recognize it more quickly, differentiate it from other emotions, and feel more comfortable in your discomfort – the first step to learning from any challenging experience.
- Identify what it is you’re envious of.
If you see a picture of a happy couple on Facebook and recognize those sensations brewing, what is it about that photo that brings that on?
- Is it how fit she looks?
- How happy they look together?
- How great her outfit looks compared to the pajamas you’re still wearing at 4 PM?
Once you’ve accepted your envy, the next step is admitting what wish you had.
- Identify your “not enough” statement.
Being envious of someone or something usually comes from a belief that we’re deficient in some way. If you’re a heterosexual lady looking lustily at Jane’s abs, maybe it’s, “I’m not fit enough.” If you’re covetting Cory’s BMW, maybe it’s, “I’m not successful enough.”
This step takes your emotion-excavating shovel to the real root of the problem.
- Shift your envy to admiration.
When I recognize that I’m feeling envious of someone else, I know it means something in me wants to be more like that person: they deserve to be celebrated for their awesome. I shouldn’t allow my own feeling of lack to cast a shadow on their achievements.
This means, “acting the way I want to feel.” I’ll literally click “like” on a Facebook post I feel envious of even when it’s hard. Why? Because I know the piece of me that wants to keep scrolling is the same part that will hold me back from getting to my goal. Admiring others’ achievements opens us up to attaining our own.
- Practice loving yourself where you’re at, while working towards becoming more of the person you want to be.
Not thin/fit/strong enough? Start practicing gratitude for the body you have, and then get your ass to the gym.
Single lady wishing for that soulmate-type relationship? Be grateful that you can starfish every night on your bed and then get out to more interesting social events in your city.
Wishing you had a job you loved? Celebrate your current pay cheque and then start building that household hobby into something that could become a money-maker.
BONUS 6TH STEP: Become friends with the person you’re jealous of, or hire her or him as your coach.
Envy is the worst when we use it as a wall between us and another human being. We miss out on an opportunity to connect with someone, and sometimes we even try to tear that person down.
If you see a woman whose body you absolutely adore and know she’s a fitness and nutrition coach, who better to ask to support you in building a body like hers?
I know that when I feel envy brewing towards someone, if I can muster up the courage to ask them a few questions, I find myself talking to someone I had no idea I had so much in common with. I feel like a younger version of them. If I can only ask them the right questions, and observe them a little longer, surely I can do and have everything they have.
The Meat and Potatoes:
Envy is an uncomfortable one, and like all difficult emotions, the power lies in what we do with it.
We can dwell on it, let it tear ourselves down and even direct it at dragging others with us, or we can flip it into something beautiful: something that elevates us to a whole new level closer to the highest version of ourselves.
Celebrate and dive into your discomfort. Get friendly with envy. It’s there to elevate you so that in a year or two your life will look more like the one you’ve dreamt of.
An envious person who lets themself feel, identifies the root of their envy, learns to admire others, and works on themself is a human being who grows.
And that’s how you use envy in a wonderful way.