Jealousy and envy are two of the most common—yet negative and useless—emotions many of us have. For a long time, I let both of these destructive feelings overwhelm and poison me. Here’s how I finally gained control over them.
Jealousy and Envy: A Case Study
It’s hard for me to admit these flaws (especially to thousands of strangers), but I’ve been learning that it takes a good hard look at your shortcomings to truly get past them. Maybe it’s because I had “middle child syndrome” or maybe it’s the competitive streak that I’m usually hiding, but jealousy—the feeling that someone is trying to take something you have—and envy—feeling resentful because someone has something you don’t—have both always come naturally to me.
In later years, similar feelings would wash over me when a boyfriend would spend more time talking with one of our female friends than with me, when a co-worker would get praised for a job I was doing just as well at, or when people moved on to better and bigger things while I was left behind.
It’s like the opposite of schadenfreude, but just as petty: Instead of getting pleasure from others’ misfortunes, I felt torture at their successes. Behind that all was the belief that I was being short-shrifted, that the situation was unfair, and, sometimes, that I was inadequate.
How I Moved from Jealousy to Generosity
My breakthrough was both accidental and gradual rather than one climactic, made-for-TV moment. To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know the toll these feelings were having on me and my relationships or even realize that they were happening.
1. I started becoming more conscious of my feelings and thoughts. Jealousy and envy are gut feelings, but you can nip them in the bud when they rear their ugly heads. But first you have to realize it’s happening. The start of my self-improvement was taking up yoga a few years back, when the gym I was going to offered an exceptionally good class. The regular exercise alone probably seeped into other areas of my life: better sleep, a boost in confidence, and better overall well-being, but yoga is also meditation or mindfulness training in motion. I found myself labeling my negative feelings more and detaching myself from them. (Not just saying “I feel a pang of jealousy” but also “I’m feeling nervous” and everything else. In a way, I think people who often have other negative emotions, such as anger, could benefit from these tactics).
2. I learned the difference between competition and comparisons. The quote “comparisons are odious” has been credited to several esteemed authors. Basically it means that a comparison (especially of people) is repulsive. Jealousy and envy are all about comparisons—and tallying up the differences between one person and yourself, as if life were an accounting game, to make sure you’re not in the red. Competition, on the other hand, can be helpful—as long as we don’t take it too seriously and personally. My high school English teacher always used to say “Comparisons are odious” and I never understood it until I started realizing (see step #1) I was comparing myself to others and not merely competing (good sportswoman-like) with them.
All of the above have been efforts to improve myself, but they also ended up changing how I appreciate and interact with others. Do I still get jealous or envious every now and then? Hell yeah. But as I keep practicing to become a better person, I recognize when I’m starting to turn green and can control these feelings rather than let them control me.