Don’t Be Envious: The Cost Is Too High

Cat-tion: Why did owner pet that greasy dog when I’m obviously cuter? Am I too clean? Do I smell too good? *hiss* I deserve a chin scratch.

Envy, often confused with jealousy, is when you want something that someone else has. 

Jealousy is when you feel threatened that someone else is going to take away something you already have.

“Envy was characterized by feelings of inferiority, longing, resentment, and disapproval of the emotion. Jealousy was characterized by fear of loss, distrust, anxiety, and anger.” (source)

Is Envy Related to Shame?

In Mini Habits for Weight Loss, I attacked shame as aggressively as a rabid raccoon attacks your garbage. That’s because shame has no place in successful weight loss. Despite fat shaming being the #1 tool used to whip people into shape, it’s the most deleterious perspective you can have when trying to lose weight for longer than one summer. The reason it’s harmful? It weakens you!

Envy is similar to shame in that it weakens us. It’s completely natural to want something that someone else has. That’s because we all want things, and some people already have the things we want. But envy takes form when we personalize this feeling against someone else. As that study said, resentment is a key feeling in envy.

Envy makes “I want a Ford Mustang” transform into “Harold has a Mustang! What makes Harold so special? I resent Harold.” I don’t like cars, so I don’t know why I’m using this example. 

Look at how this mindset pivots our focus. We’re not even thinking about how we can get the car anymore, because we’re too focused on resenting Harold for having one. Here are the four problems that spring up.

  1. We’re too focused on Harold to accomplish anything useful.
  2. Harold is a nice guy. He doesn’t deserve the hate rays coming out of our eyes. (Even if Harold is a jerk, you should resent him for that, and not because of the car.)
  3. There are a lot of Mustangs out there, and Harold owning one does not prevent anyone else from owning one.
  4. We’re implying that we are inferior to Harold, when we’re not!

An Inferiority Complex Killed the Cat

Anytime you feel envious, guess what? You feel inferior to that person, too. I don’t know about you, but that truth bomb makes me feel uncomfortable, because I felt envious recently (my problems give me plenty of “inspiration” for writing :-D). 

If you don’t think envy equates to an inferiority crisis, well, why else would you be envious of someone? If you are just as capable of obtaining whatever it is they have, then you have no reason to be envious of them. Sure, they may have arrived first, but if you know you’ll get there as well, you should be excited about (and focused on) that!

The next time you begin to envy and resent someone, just remember that doing so is admitting inferiority to them. It’s awkward, isn’t it? As such, this may be one rare way in which our pride can help us.

This connection between envy and inferiority helped me realize that my envious feelings were not helpful or accurate. Envy makes us think things like, “I deserve it more.” That’s an excessively prideful statement, but when you counter that prideful thought with the knowledge that envy is feeling inferior, you see that you don’t really feel that way, you’re just overcompensating for feeling bad about yourself. This helps to “center” you, for lack of a better word. It helps you get to a place where you can see that nobody deserves to be resented, and it all stems from the fact that you’re not giving yourself enough credit.

It completely shifted my thinking from envy to understanding that the only problem was inside my mind. Envious people feel frustrated and inferior in some way. But when we confront this internal issue instead of secretly resenting others, we’ll find a healthier way to deal with it.

Feel No Envy, Carve Your Own Path

The other problem with envy (there are several) is how specific it is. You might know exactly how Harold obtained his Mustang, and if you let your envy for his situation grow, you could find your mind narrowing and your possibilities shrinking. But Harold’s path probably isn’t best for you anyways.

If you’ve been following my writing for a while, you probably know that loneliness is my greatest pain point. I feel like I was made for marriage, but I haven’t found the right woman yet. As such, I sometimes feel envious about happy couples I see.

But whenever I think deeper about it, it doesn’t make sense, because couples are so unique. Both people are unique, the story of how they met is unique, and their interpersonal chemistry is unique. This means wouldn’t even want to be in most of the relationships I initially felt envious about! Put another way, I’m not looking for someone else’s relationship or idea of a relationship, I’m looking for my own.

Maybe Harold sold drugs to children or burgled homes to afford his Mustang. Knowing that, would you still be envious of him? Envy tends to strip out the reality of situations and make us unfairly project our desires onto other people. 

Even if Harold worked hard as an honest salesman for his Mustang, your path to Mustangdom would likely be completely different. When it comes to envy, it’s important to understand that our paths are not better or worse, they’re different. Some objective measures like money and valuables can be better or worse when compared, but before you say, “Ah ha! See! There are objective reasons to be envious!”, consider the life of Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs was a rich and admired man who changed the world. As the mind behind the most valuable company in the world, surely many people envied him. But Steve was under immense pressure, had strained relationships, and lived a very stressful life. While many people would envy the good things in Steve’s life, not many would actually want his whole life. Steve Jobs had an extreme life that most people probably wouldn’t enjoy, but envy ignores context like that.

I hope that Steve Jobs enjoyed his remarkable path through this world. If he did, it’s because it was the right path for him. Therein lies the key.

Conclusion: Know and Embrace Your Indentity

Our paths through this life are unique. Even if you would definitely trade lives with someone else (I wouldn’t, but Dwayne Johnson would be my pick if I had to choose), it’s impossible.

Imagine that every person is a ship on the ocean. You’re in control of your ship and no one else’s. Your mission is to learn all you can about your vessel, so that you can go where you want to go. 

What are you good at? What are you not-so-good at? What do you want in life, and what paths are most likely to take you there? 

Envy is staring at the other ships moving around, thinking, “My ship should be able to go there, too, but I’m just sitting here with this amazing engine!” Figure out how to get your ship moving, and don’t worry about the other ships. Then the other ships will envy you, and you can send them this article.

(photo by BuzzFarmers)

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