Do you remember the last time you felt envious? How did you come to feel that way? Envy does not wake up with us in the morning; we don’t decide to be envious for the day during our first cup of coffee. It’s just a feeling that arises spontaneously. Comparison is human; it’s natural for us to compare but envy comes from a deeper place of great dissatisfaction. There’s actually a general pattern of how we relate to each other in times of dissatisfaction: envy toward the above, competitiveness toward the equal, and contempt toward the lower.
It’s as though fairness was hardwired into our genes so any sort of inequality makes us uncomfortable. Just take a look at all the protests that have been happening for decades now; they poignantly reveal how our fundamental instincts for fairness work and why inequality is stressful and damaging to a society. Yet, however much we address societal inequality and larger global imbalances, there will still always be people who have more than we do, who are more successful or more talented than we are, or who are smarter and better-looking.
We don’t usually compare ourselves to say, the hedge fund billionaire, the genius scientist, or the supermodel. Instead, we tend to compare ourselves to those within our social circle. There’s an old saying out there that goes, “If you want to be poor, find some rich friends. if you want to be rich, find some poor friends.” In other words, keeping up with the Joneses only happens within a peer group. But researchers have found that “upward comparisons” are actually corrosive to our well-being because envy leaves no room for joy. It just gives us this pinched feeling of discontent and resentment, tinged with guilt. The moment jealousy or envy develops, we can no longer maintain a peace of mind. In fact, they destroy our peace of mind and eventually become corrosive to our relationships too. Even a seemingly dormant form of jealousy can be extremely harmful to a friendship or marriage the moment it’s planted there to fester.
So how to we respond to it? Honestly, we don’t have a lot of control over it. Often times, we are too hard on ourselves and we forget that many of these things affect us all universally like the real estate bubble, stock market crashes, and massive job cuts. If we keep this in the forefront of our thoughts, it will help dissipate envious feelings and the guilt that tends to come along with it. There are three helpful remedies for envy:
Gratitude. The best way to counter envy is with one of the oldest tricks in the book: counting your blessings. Sure, this may be a grandfather-style approach, but it’s tried and true. You may not have the big beautiful house like that person, but you have a warm place you’ve made your home — where maybe you raised your family or was raised in yourself.
Motivation. Envy can also cause a spur. It can drive you to work and try to get the house and car like that guy. Though these external goals will not bring us true joy or lasting happiness, motivation to improve our situation is certainly better than envy of someone else’s.
Reframing. The most effective remedy is the ability to ask yourself why you want to have that house with seven bedrooms, ten bathrooms and a movie theater in the first place. Why do you have to have it? This allows you to turn this whole thing on its head and look at how we’re actually in such a mess with climate change simply because of our galloping consumption and destruction of the environment. Seeing everything from this perspective may even turn that big luxury car you wanted from deep desire to utmost bane.
So instead of carrying jealousy or envy for your peers, compliment them and reaffirm them. We need to cultivate only the emotions that bring joyfulness and peace of mind. We need to learn to identify the others that disturb our happiness and avoid them from the very beginning because if we allow ourselves to toy with jealousy, it grows into deeper envy and soon we’ll become too focused on material possessions. We’ll lose our true inner values.
Let’s grow our wealth together in experience and knowledge, in love and gratitude, and in relationships.
DAY 22. Love, Ro