Just four little letters. Four letters can wreak havoc on our lives. They fuel shame, hatred, dissatisfaction and unhappiness, along with unhealthy obsession. You may envy other people for what they have, what they have done or the kind of person they are, or you may experience reverse envy: overrating yourself against other people.
- Increase our anxiety
- Erode our satisfaction and happiness
- Create shame
- Build walls between people
- Reinforce self-limiting beliefs and behaviors – if I feel that you have more/are better than I am, I won’t bother trying to improve myself.
- Increase wrong wall motivations – we invest much of our time and energy to achieve what others have achieved, only to realize that we aren’t happy when we get it and only we end up looking for the next thing to pursue.
Recent research has found that we can experience Facebook envy – as we read a person’s profile and what they did on their vacations and compare this with our own (insert your preferred negative adjective… ie: miserable) lives.
Before we get too far into this, it is important to draw a distinction between a healthy level of desire vs unhealthy and pathological envy. The differences can be difficult to define because envy is closely linked with desire, which is more healthy and manageable.
Websters defines envy as “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”
Like most things you can determine whether you are overdoing your envy based on it’s degree of impact on you. Can you refocus yourself on what is truly important to you, or do you become pulled, again and again back into a desire for what others have? Does your envy make you feel less and less satisfied with what you have or with what you are?
74 Paths to unhappiness: My growing list of envies
I don’t claim to own all of these envies, but I have felt many of them from time to time. I am curious: Which type of envy is your personal fave? And what could you add to the list?
- Amount of money one makes
- Apparent ease in stress
- Apparent ease in social situations
- Beauty envy
- Being in shape
- Blog size, number of followers
- Body art envy – your tattoos, piercings are so much cooler than mine
- Boob size envy
- Busyness envy – you are busier, having more fun and living a more fulfilling life than I am
- Cars one owns, the tech that your car has
- Certainty – as you age, or during specific stages of life
- Childhood envy – you had a better (or worse) childhood than I did
- Children’s success envy – your kids are way smarter, more successful than mine
- Children’s behavior envy – see #13
- Concert envy – the number and type of live concerts that you have been to
- Conferences a person has spoken at
- Coolness envy – you are way cooler than I am
- Creativity level and ability
- Dental envy – yes, your white straight teeth can create a frown
- Entrepreneurial envy – the number of startups one has tried, failed and tried again
- Favorite sports team envy – your team is a better team than mine
- Friendship envy – envying the number of friends a person a may have
- Gun envy – mine is bigger than yours
- Hair envy – you still have your real hair
- Health envy – you are more healthy than I feel that I am
- Height envy
- Humor envy – how funny a person is
- Home projects completed under your own steam
- Intelligence envy – I feel that you are just so much smarter than I am
- Job envy
- “Likes” on social media
- Karat envy – the size of the rock on the wife’s finger
- Keurig envy – your coffee set up is better than mine
- Leadership skill/comfort envy – you seem more naturally able to lead than I am (or feel that I am)
- Love envy – how much one appears to be loved
- Love envy – how much and how easily one loves other people
- Lover envy – how good a lover you are
- Memory envy – you have a better memory than I do
- Muscle envy
- “Nic Nac” envy
- Number of books, articles, blog posts (or podcasts) written
- Office envy – size of office, location, floor you are on and view
- Ones projected confidence (for real confidence may be a complete myth)
- Pen envy – One of my favorites… your pen is so much cooler than my pen
- Perceived ease at handling life’s difficulties – some people just seem so much calmer during a crisis, or even during everyday stresses. They just seem too damned graceful.
- Pet envy
- Playlist envy
- Possessions one has
- Quickness envy – you are probably faster than I am at two finger iPhone typing, sprinting and your ability to figure out and cook a recipe.
- Relationship envy – your marriage, your couple relationship is so much better (and easier) than mine
- Resilience envy – the ability one has to bounce back from trauma, failure and other setbacks.
- Resume envy – the sheer number of interesting places one has worked
- Self discipline envy – you are so much more able to accomplish, do and achieve self discipline than I am
- Sheer number of Ideas that one has
- Size and beauty and location of your home
- Social comfort envy
- Social grace envy
- Songs written and published
- Spelling envy – how is your spleling?
- Spiritual envy (Just look at Cain and Able)…
- Stability as you age
- Summer camping trailer envy
- Technology envy – your tech is newer and cooler than mine
- Thoughtfulness envy – you are WAY more thoughtful than I am
- Tool envy
- Usefulness envy – the ability one has to adapt to new situations and become the most damned useful person around
- Vacation and travel envy – your vacations are better than mine
- Voice envy – the depth, manliness, quality, or speaking/singing ability of your voice is better than mine.
- Volunteer envy – the type and number of volunteer opportunities that you engage in
- Wildness envy – the type and effect of your season(s) of behavioral wildness are better than mine (ie: substance use, criminal history, etc)
- Xtreme sports envy – your passion is way cooler than mine
- Yoda envy – you are wiser than I feel that I am
- Yoga envy – you are more flexible, or better at yoga than I am
- Zeal envy – your energy and love for life is better than mine
Envy will get to you, if you let it
Envy can be like a cancer, eroding our sense of happiness and satisfaction. An old-time proverb provides us with an idea of what we can do about envy:
I have also learned why people work so hard to succeed: It is because they envy the things their neighbors have. But it is useless. It is like chasing the wind…It is better to have only a little, with peace of mind, than be busy all the time with both hands, trying to catch the wind.
What this wisdom reminds you and I is that instead of investing our attention on what others have, take stock what you already have. For me, it can be tough to take stock sometimes because getting new stuff can feel so alluring. But accumulation is never-ending. For most of us, we are accumulating more physical items than we can store. In the US in 2016, over 32 billion dollars was spent on self-storage. And the trend is also reflected in our use of electronic storage by 2018, Cloud storage will exceed that amount, to an estimated 40 billion.
Clearly we are investing a great deal of energy on gathering a bigger and bigger pile of stuff. Accumulating without taking stock will actually make you less happy. In this way, it can become chasing after wind, literally something you can never get your hands on.
One of the keys that mindfulness experts will tell you is that a cure for envy is to slow down and express gratitude for your life. Researchers have found that keeping a list of the things you are grateful for can tip the scale and help you to feel happier. Another way to refocus on what is important is to make a habit out of thanking the people in your life for their influence and investment in you.
One four letter word can wreak havoc on your mental health, but all that it takes to reverse the effect is eight little letters: Thank You.
Today, I would like to thank YOU for taking the time to read my work. Thank you for your comments and for when you have shared my work with other people. I hope that you continue to move forward in your mental health and recovery, and your overall growth. I would love to hear from you in the comments. What are you grateful for?
If you enjoyed this piece, you will want to see some of my other work:
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Keep it Real
Photo by Cocavo Wheels