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The Root of Envy

Jan 22 2021
4 min read
Mature man sitting near a lake looking out into the distance.

Envy can be difficult to sit with. It’s an uncomfortable feeling — one that can surface at different times and for a variety of reasons.

And for many of us, though we may recognize it when it pops up, jealousy isn’t something that’s easy to get past, as we are hard-wired to be competitive and compare ourselves to others. Envy is part of human nature. Unfortunately, there will always be someone who has more of a certain thing (money, success) or quality (charisma, intelligence) than you do, experts remind us. A quote by Ray Cummings: “Comparison is the thief of joy,” may resonate deeply for you.

When you compare yourself to others, which is easy to do, mentally, you put yourself in a competition that leaves you feeling badly about yourself. Your body is under pressure, too. When you’re envious, your levels of cortisol — a stress hormone — begin to rise the same way they do when you experience other negative emotions, like anger, or sadness. The combination can affect your ability to focus, work, and engage in everyday activities.

Clearly, it’s hard to ignore feelings (and the impact) of jealousy. But getting to the root of the emotion could help you shift your attention. How do you do that? Experts say, find ways to accept yourself, NOW, as you are. Although you can never completely stop comparing yourself to others, you can get better at realizing when you are doing it, and make a conscious choice to let it go.

Ask yourself, What am I trying to prove? Why do I need my backyard to be larger than my neighbor’s? Why do I need to have a more expensive car than my friend?

The truth is, you don’t really need those things. That can be hard to believe in today’s society…even harder if you’re caught up in the consuming world of comparisons. However, if you’re able to take an honest step back, you may start to realize what brings you true value.

In the end, love is the antidote to envy. Loving and accepting yourself as you are — and feeling loved and accepted by others — helps you let go of the need to have more, or be more, in order to feel worthwhile. Feeling that connection with others is what rebuilds you and makes you feel content with who you are and how you’ve built your life — just as it is. It’s also what can help you better cope with feeling envious about more meaningful things, like good health or a loving marriage.

Finding fulfillment can help competitiveness, you might be holding onto, fall away. Practicing everyday mindfulness is another way to get out of that I-have-to-be-better mentality. You’ll probably worry less about what you think you ‘need’ to do, say, wear, or buy next if you’re more aware of what’s happening in the present moment. Enjoy the beautiful weather, your morning cup of coffee, the people you spend time with.

You may still experience moments of envy from time to time, but these shifts in focus can go a long way in making many of them fleeting.

Need other ideas to help you accept and love yourself as you are? Take a social media cleanse for a month so you stop daily scrolling through pictures by others who seem to live fabulous lives. Another idea? Join a group that is open and loving. It can be a support therapy group, a book club, a church or volunteer organization, a yoga training, or a local nature hiking group you discover on MeetUp. Again, find ways to surround yourself with those who accept you, support and nurture you, and want the best for you.