Do you ever find yourself feeling jealous of others’ successes? You are not alone.
In this media age, we are constantly barraged with images in advertising and on social that can make us feel like we are less than. The gorgeous home, the picture-perfect family, the idyllic vacation. If we aren’t careful, sometimes a simple picture can send us down a path of envy.
Envy vs. Jealousy
“I’m so jelly!” is a common lighthearted way we express our jealousy but the emotion we may actually be feeling when we use this expression is most likely envy. We rarely hear the term “envy” being thrown around these days. Although often used interchangeably, and even listed as synonymous on Dictionary.com, psychologists assign a distinction between envy and jealousy.
What is envy? According to Dr. Neel Burton, in an article titled the Psychology and Philosophy of Envy, Envy is when we see someone with a superior quality or achievement that we want and we feel emotional pain by it because we don’t have it.
Jealousy is when we are afraid of losing our advantages over others.
Simply put, jealousy is the fear of losing something you have. Envy is feeling bad about yourself because of what someone else has that you want.
For example, seeing your neighbor in a new BMW could leave you feeling bad about the fact that you don’t have a BMW (Envy). Seeing your neighbor driving around with your husband in her new BMW will leave you feeling bad about the potential risk of losing your husband (Jealousy).
I always say jealous so I don’t mean to change the cultural use of the word “jealousy” to "envy" but I just thought I’d clarify the difference between the two emotions and for the purpose of this post, will use the term "envy" going forward for clarity's sake.
I am not a characteristically envious person. I’m a pretty thankful person and take great joy in celebrating others’ successes as a general rule. That said, in the past, I have found myself feeling intense feelings of inadequacy when consuming social media and would think to myself “what is wrong with me”?
I know intellectually that there is nothing wrong with me, but when I see something others have that I desire, that desire can make me feel less than. This is envy. When seeing the success of others causes me to feel negatively about myself.
I believe that envy has led to an epidemic of self-loathing in our culture which has in turn given rise to the self-care movement we’re seeing take off. Envy has consumed us to the point of feeling so bad about ourselves that we need to try to come up with prescriptions to love ourselves more.
It’s crucial to recognize when we are feeling envy so we can take the necessary steps to disarm it.
The Problem With Envy
When we envy we focus on what we lack rather than on what we have but the fundamental cause of envy is not our desire for what someone else has. Instead, it is the feeling of inferiority and frustration caused by the lack we see in ourselves.
This feeling of lack distracts us from living our lives to the full. When we are focused on what others have that we don't rather than on how much we have to be grateful for, it leaves us empty and feeling sorry for ourselves.
Beyond that, envy can also lead to depression. A 2015 study by the University of Missouri found that regularly using Facebook could lead to symptoms of depression if the site triggered feelings of envy in the user.
People have a drive to evaluate their abilities and in order to do that, we need a social comparison. Enter social media and all of a sudden we have a whole treasure trove of information that allows for social comparison on an unprecedented scale.
A 2015 study by Krasnova entitled “Why Following Friends Can Hurt You” referenced here, concluded that envy is a common consequence of following others on Facebook.
And just this week, Facebook posted a study admitting that Social Media can be bad for your mental health. The Facebook study specifically calls out that passive usage of social media makes us the most envious. A portion of the study states:
“researchers hypothesize that reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison — and perhaps even more so than offline, since people’s posts are often more curated and flattering”
And the problem doesn’t stop with personal envy. The dread of arousing envy in others can also hold us back from accomplishment. We can find ourselves stuck between feeling terrible that we have not achieved what we wanted and feeling fearful that achieving what we want might make others feel envious. Both feelings around envy keep us from achieving our fullest potential.
What To Do When You Feel Envious
Many articles say that the way to solve the problem of envy is to stop following those people that make you feel envious or stop using social media altogether but neither of these solutions get to the root of the problem, which is our own hearts toward ourselves. The thing we perceive to be lacking in us that is causing us to feel envy.
When we identify that and begin to unpack a solution for that lack, we release ourselves from the prison we've created for ourselves and we set ourselves free to go after our dreams.
Really, what is the root cause of this feeling of lack or less than someone else who has something you want? It’s that they have achieved something you haven’t. Rather than penalizing them for their achievements, let it inspire you to accomplish what it is you want! Here’s how.
FIRST: Ask Yourself
What is it that I see in this person that I lack in myself? Write down your answer.
Then ask: How can I take steps today to work on what is lacking in myself to get me closer to where I want to be?
For example, before I even had a blog, I was tempted to envy bloggers who were successful, because they were living their lives as writers and that was what I wanted to do.
I identified the lack in myself was that I had not even tried to do what it was I wanted to do, so seeing others doing it magnified my own sense of lack.
I took the initial steps and began this blog.
What is your source of envy? Maybe it's travel. Have you taken any steps to plan that trip to Italy you desire? Take steps today. Research the cost, set an auto-savings plan in motion. Then book it!
Maybe it's publishing a book. Have you taken any steps to write the book that is in your heart? Write the outline. Research some publishers. Contact a writing agent. Start today.
Set a course to work on the things in yourself that you admire so much in someone else. This will mitigate the negative self-loathing you feel when you see others succeed because you will feel better about the contribution you are making with your life.
SECOND: Pray For The Person You Envy
This seems SO counterintuitive, I know. All of the teachings of Jesus are super counterintuitive. That’s what makes them so amazing. When you do the opposite of what you feel like doing in the moment, in this case, caring enough for someone else to pray for them, your own negative feelings start to dissipate.
An article titled 5 Scientifically Supported Benefits of Prayer, cites that people who prayed for others were less vulnerable to negative physical health effects. When you pray for the person you are jealous of the fringe benefit is that your own mental health is strengthened.
It doesn’t need to be a long drawn out prayer either, just a simple “Lord please bless so and so today in their work” prayed whenever you start to feel envious can be enough to pull you off of the envy path.
How Do We Pray?
For those of you who are thinking, “that all sounds great but I don’t even know how to pray”. I get it. Prayer can be daunting if you are not in the habit of doing it. Your thoughts about prayer may go something like this:
- “I don’t know how to pray.”
- “I’ve never prayed before.”
- “The last time I prayed I was 5 years old.”
- “I feel stupid talking to the air.”
- “Prayer is stupid.”
Let me break it down for you. Prayer is simply talking to God. That’s it. There are no special formulas. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You don’t have to close your eyes for God to hear you. The first step is to get over your feelings about prayer and just do it. Step out of your comfort zone and just talk to God. You could try saying something like this “Thank you God for giving success to so and so. Help me to celebrate her success. Amen”
Baby steps. The benefits of prayer far outweigh the fears of it.
THIRD: Look For Something Good
It usually isn’t hard to find something good in the people we are envious of, when we actually try to look for it. The problem is that most times, when we are envious of someone, our first instinct is to look for the chink in their armor, to find ways to criticize them. Even if we never say a thing negative to them, we sometimes may look for their weaknesses in our own minds as a way of making ourselves feel better than the other person in our own heads.
This is destructive thinking. And it isn’t destructive to the person you’re envious of at all. It is destructive to you. It destroys your ability to feel joy. You cannot feel two emotions at the same time, both envy and joy. You need to choose one or the other. Choose joy. Look for something good in the other person and side-step your own destruction.
FOURTH: Tell Them What You Admire
Last week I tweeted “If you see something beautiful in someone else, tell them.” This goes especially for if you see something beautiful in someone you are envious of.
Once you recognize that something good in the person you’re envious of, the next step is to tell them what you see. It doesn’t have to be any awkward hero-worship type of exchange but rather it can be as simple as telling them you like their style or a leaving an encouraging comment on their social media post.
It’s amazing the power and freedom you gain when you turn your envy into admiration in action. Hearing yourself say something positive about the person you are feeling envious of does something inside you to disarm your negative thinking.
LAST: Thank God
When we can celebrate another person’s success and honestly be happy for what they have accomplished we can be truly free of envy.
But how do we get to that place where we can celebrate others’ successes? Again, we get there through prayer. Simply thanking God for what He is doing in that person’s life can help us with our perspective problem, which is of course that they have what we lack. Rather than seeing it that way, when we begin to see their success as something God is doing, our perspective changes dramatically.
When we recognize their success as God at work in their life, it keeps us humble. Humility is what allows us to celebrate the success of others. It’s the pride of believing we are better than they are and we deserve what they have that causes us to feel envy in the first place. Prayer refocuses our minds and hearts and lifts us out of our self-loathing pity parties into a place of gratitude. This is where freedom begins.
When we thank God for what He is doing in the person we envy, it takes the focus off of our lack and puts the focus on gratitude for the good we see in someone else. Gratitude is the antidote to feelings of lack.
Envy and Jealousy though both rooted in fear, are very different in nature. Envy is wanting what we don’t have and fearing we will never get it. Jealousy is fearing that we may lose what we already have.
Most times when we say we’re jealous, we actually mean envious, but semantics aside, the most important thing is how to inoculate these negative feelings that keep us from living our best lives.
We can resolve our feelings of envy by taking the below steps:
Welcome to Honey & Figs! I'm Lisa. I love helping people with practical ways to live more abundant lives based on my own experience. You can click here to find out more about me.
Become part of the Honey & Figs Community & get the Newsletter