This blog will look at the emotion of envy. We have all had times when we look at what other people have achieved and feel that pang of envy. We try and brush off our feelings, even feel ashamed of ourselves. We might even hope that everything goes wrong for that person who is ‘perfect’! But could we instead turn this experience into a positive force?
What is envy?
One dictionary version is “to wish that you had something that another person has”. The Old English origin is to ‘regard maliciously, hold a grudge’. Holding a grudge doesn’t seem to be a particularly healthy way to respond, will only increase feelings of isolation and failure.
Epidemic of envy
In our technologically driven world today we are constantly aware of what other people have, do, achieve. We forget we are only seeing part of their story, the part that the other person wants us to see. Like in films we see sound bites of the truth and convince ourselves that it is the whole of their story.
Seeing the positive
Tim Lomas in his book ‘The Positive Power of Negative Emotions’ (2016) describes the benefits of envy in terms of ’emulative envy’. In this we do not resent other people for what they have or achieve, we instead admire them. We become inspired by them and use their success to fuel our own actions towards what we want to achieve.
Understanding how ’emulative envy’ can benefit us
The reason we feel envious is because the other person has something that matters to us, that we would like. This then has highlighted for us something that we should take some time to reflect on. What is it we are telling ourselves we care about or aspire towards? Once we can see what it is that matters to us we can begin to assess whether it is something we can create for ourselves.
If we take a brief scenario, we can see how we can turn this ‘vicious’ envy into ’emulative envy’:
Sonya doesn’t enjoy her work any more. She feels depressed but is unsure how to lift herself up. On a night out with her friends she finds out that one of them has just had a book accepted for publication. Whilst her friends are congratulating the author, Sonya feels a strong gnawing in her stomach.
The next day she reflects on her feelings and feels a little ashamed. After much thought she recalls how she and her author friend both had aspirations to be writers when they were younger. Sonya’s friend continued to work on that dream whereas Sonya forgot about it. She wasn’t even sure why.
Tentatively she sat at her computer and started to write a story. Four hours later she looked up and felt great. It had been a long time since she had felt so alive. She made a commitment to spend two hours a day working on her writing. She could imagine her future self and her friend discussing their work, doing joint book signings…she must call her and ask for some tips on getting published.
Creating your ‘moments of envy’ plan
Take a page and draw a line down the middle. Write at the top of the left had side ‘moments of envy’. Here you will write down any envious moments you feel. The right hand side is for writing down your reflection of what your envy is telling you that matters to you, what is it that you want for yourself? This reflection can be useful for formulating action.
Intrinsic value not extrinsic validation
Hang on a minute, aren’t we told not to crave what others have? This is true when what we crave is not in our interest, isn’t healthy for us, is superficial or doesn’t meet our values. Instead look deep within yourself and really find out who you are. What really matters to you? What gives you purpose and meaning and how can your strengths enable you to live that existence?
When envy cannot become action
We will not always be able to obtain what we would like, however ‘value based’ the craving is. Sometimes we have to accept this and instead look at other ways we can bring what matters to us into our lives. For instance, you might be envious of a travel writer, wishing that you had taken that route. However, for you, with a family and little in the way of savings, this may not be practicable anytime soon. Rather than desire exactly the same, could you instead approach a local magazine and offer to write articles for them on your day trips and short breaks? Could you write a blog of your daily adventures with your family?
If we really look at ourselves, we have an opportunity to be our true selves, and when we are, we have no need to feel ‘vicious’ envy, we can use ’emulative envy’ to keep us motivated and focused on our own dreams!
About the author: Lisa Jones has a professional background in human resource leadership. Now self-employed she is studying for a MAPP at Bucks New University where she intends to use her knowledge and learning to continue researching, primarily on the topic of meaningful living. Her aspiration is to facilitate more purpose and meaning in communities and workplaces.
Image – author’s own work