A Helpful Guide to Overcoming Envy

overcoming-jealousy

“Envy is ignorance.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Very few people would argue for the positive influence of envy in our lives. In fact, most of us can quickly recognize its harmful effects:

  • It fosters discontent and distress.
  • It binds our freedom.
  • It leads to resentment and bitterness.
  • It causes us to do things we wouldn’t normally do.
  • It can spiral into depression.

And yet, the wasted emotions of envy and jealousy continue to be present in our lives. It is a constant battle that wars against our heart and soul. We experience envy over other peoples’ appearance, talents, relationships, and bank accounts. It offers no positive contribution to our lives. Yet, it remains.

It is time to break free. Certainly, each of us desire to live in freedom from jealousy and envy. How then, can we overcome it?

Consider these helpful, life-changing steps to overcoming envy:

1. Shift your focus to the goodness in your life. One of the biggest reasons we envy the life of another is because we have begun to take our blessings for granted. Count them again. You are talented. You are gifted. You are cared for. You are unique. Your life is too valuable to be lived like everyone else. You have countless reasons to be grateful for the life you have been given. Remind yourself again.

2. Remind yourself that nobody has it all. Comparing your life with others is always a losing proposition. There will always appear to be people who have it better than you. But remember, we always compare the worst of what we know about ourselves to the best assumptions we make about others. Be reminded, nobody has it all. Each person you meet experiences problems, trials, and weaknesses–just like you. This is what makes us human. Nobody is exempt. Nobody has it all. Nobody.

3. Avoid people who habitually value the wrong things. If you spend all your time with people who compare the latest fashions, you are going to start desiring the latest fashions. If you spend all your time with people who talk about their salaries, their new cars, or their extravagant vacations, you are going to naturally fall into the inevitable trap of comparing your possessions to theirs. But there are far more important things to pursue. Remove yourself from the conversation (and the relationship if necessary).

4. Spend time with grateful people. Gratitude is highly contagious–that is why I spend time reading Tammy Strobel. You can read gratitude in almost every word she writes. Find grateful people who experience contentment in their lives and spend quality time with them. You can find them online or you can find them in person. But the more you invest your time with them, the more their spirit will become yours… and soon, others will desire what you have.

5. Understand that marketers routinely fan the flame. One of the most effective tools for advertisers in our culture is to foster jealousy and envy among us. After all, if they can cause us to recklessly desire the possessions of another, they can drive us to great lengths to acquire it for ourselves. Be on guard against their tactics. Recognize them. Avoid them. And refuse to succumb to their deception.

6. Celebrate the success of others. Genuinely and practically, rejoice in the fortune of others. When somebody receives something that you desire, be happy for them. If you wanted it, they probably did too. Stop viewing life as a competition. Joy is not a finite resource. And the moment you learn to experience happiness in others’ joy is the day you take a huge step to overcoming envy once and for all.

7. Be generous. Even if you have to force yourself into it at first, make generosity an essential habit in your life. Give your time. Give your finances. Give your abilities, talents, and skills. Volunteer in your community. Support a cause that promotes social justice. And get your hands dirty. As you begin to spend more time and more energy with those who have less than you, the more you will find fulfillment and meaning. And when you do, the allure of another’s person life will quickly fade away.

Envy has held us hostage for far too long. It is time, once and for all, to break free from envy and experience a more fulfilled life because of it.

Image: Yashna M

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. Marissa says

    Joy is not a finite resource – very well said. I hope to remind myself of that as often as possible. I also hope to seek out friends who are more conducive to my personal contentment. They say you are the average of the five people you associate with most frequently. I have no doubts about the accuracy of that statement.

  2. says

    I heard a long time ago that you should pay attention to the people you are jealous of – it holds a clue to what you would like to do with your life. For example, I always envied people who travelled and ate for a living – Food writers and/or Travel writers. I realized eventually that I would have to find a job in travel or food, which are two of my passions. I am still working towards building that – but I would never have figured this out without the jealousy I felt and analyzed.
    Thanks for the post. :)

    • says

      That’s a good point. While I completely agree with the statement about finding your passion and making sure you align how you obtain monetary resources with that, I hesitate about the use of jealousy.

      I find that jealousy, while it can be used for “good” in your example, I think it can also leave us unsatisfied. How many times have you thought that as soon as you get something you want – a job promotion, a new car, a degree – you’ll finally be happy, only to find you’re not satisifed. And then you’re on to wanting the next thing.

      Great post!

    • Patty says

      I believe you are right!! If one just stops and thinks “why” do I envy that person and how can I do that too…we would be better off just logically trying to do the thing we envy! Right?

  3. Manija Ansari says

    Thank you so much for this post. As a practicing Muslim this article speaks volumes to me. I feel like it has been taken out of the pages of an Islamic book on purification of the soul. One of my teachers once said “envy and jealousy is like drinking the poison yourself and hoping the other will die”.

    • Samia says

      Very true Manija! Even I was wondering if I was reading an article or some hadeeth! Each of these points are highly emphasized in Islam. Prophets Muhammad’s direct quote is “Beware of jealousy, for verily it destroys good deeds the way fire destroys wood.” Great post…thanks!

    • kristin says

      Hmmm. As a practicing Christian I find this article closely follows Christian ideals and beliefs! I would like to know if you have read the Bible? Nothing new under the sun! And, it’s still true!

  4. Chrissy says

    If I feel jealous or envious, I always try to figure out exactly why.
    I try to turn it into admiration, and be inspired to ‘be more like’ that person, or research what they like doing/reading etc, I’d rather look up to them as role models, and aspire to be as good or as happy as they are. :)
    X

  5. Emilie says

    I love this article! The part that really resonated with me is that each person i meet has weaknesses just as I do. This is something I must remember! I tend not to envy possessions and status but I do very much envy people who seem to “have it all together” and are organized, efficient, self directed etc. Your message is just what I needed to be able to acknowledge that what I am feeling is really envy and doesn’t serve me. These people have weaknesses too even if they are not readily apparent! Thank you!

    • Anna says

      Oh, me too!
      I have only just realized it has been a big contributor to my depression thinking that people who are more self directed, organized and so on have it more together than me…even when really I don’t know a lot about their lives. I take heart from the following comment too.

  6. says

    Number 2 is something I came to realize earlier this year. I was struggling with some depression and realized that most of it was from comparing where I was at in life with others. Once I stopped doing that I became a much happier person! Thank you for the refresher and for this inspiring post!

  7. Angela says

    I needed this post, #3 was just what I needed! Since my husband & I have been trying to invest in memories not stuff, it’s been very difficult with almost all our friends.

    They don’t have the same goals, and it’s difficult to make all new friendships overnight. I find myself getting frustrated and falling back into consumerism when we spent time with our old friends.

    we’ve been decluttering stuff, maybe it’s time to declutter some friendships ):

    http://capturingsimplicity.wordpress.com/

  8. Buffy says

    One thing I have found that really helps me when I’m feeling exceptionally envious of others is to ask myself “What would I have to give up now to have what they have?” It’s just a little different take on counting your blessings & being grateful, but it really helps to remind me that all things come at a cost and many times the cost (which isn’t always monetary) is far greater than I’m willing to pay for having what someone else has.

  9. says

    Great article, personally I’ve found that being appreciative of what I have and ensuring I use everything to its full potential are the best ways to overcome jealousy/envy. Asides from this being happy for others and realising that their happiness is something which is well earned (and which should be celebrated) is great for tackling any feelings of dissatisfaction with what myself or others have.

  10. says

    Thank you for the article!
    A wise mentor once told me that what I admired in someone was also present in me, something I may need to nurture. The same goes for envy – it’s an opportunity to examine how to better take care of ourselves. Number 6 “Celebrate the success of others” goes a long way toward turning that envy energy into a positive.

  11. Loren says

    Great Post Joshua!
    As I get older, I have realized that as americans, we have been fed this more is better line for the better part of our lives and it has led to the following revelations:
    1 More stuff = More to Manage
    2 Removing some of the stuff= a feeling of lightness and freedom
    3 Spending less time focusing on getting stuff=More time doing and being (in the moment)
    4 Staying away from marketing of stuff=more balanced thinking
    5 having everything you hunted for is quickly a disappointment and becomes chains that are bound from each item to you (heavy restrictive feeling)
    6 Being who you are and doing what you love is exciting
    7 life is for doing, not storing up
    8 having a few useful quality items trumps having tons of useless crap
    9 envying what others have can be quickly overcome by watching people digging thru a deceased persons items at an estate sale…in the end all that really matters was the experiences your life gave you, the people you loved, and the difference your life made to others…..we learn this as soon as we let go of the stuff and even more foolish envy of others’ stuff, which can be gone in an instant.

  12. Robben says

    While letting go of envy is the art of losing one’s attachments to material things. I believe we learn to live by observing and channeling our thoughts so that we may begin to grow and communicate at an intimate level. Envy at the core has to do with those who are ready to share their life in a relationship, while this may seem to add limitations to others. It is a responsibility of our mutual self respect to let others know how we feel about becoming involved and overcoming our fears of sexual desire.

  13. says

    I was always perplexed by jealousy when I saw it in others even as a child. I could not wrap my head around it then or now. I never thought to wish someone ill just because they had something (or more of something) I did not. On my sister’s birthday in March as a child, I recall wanting to open gifts too but I didn’t want to take hers or wish her misfortune. I just wondered why I didn’t get any gifts or where were mine ….lol. Eventually i learned I’d get birthday gifts in October :)

  14. Janet says

    Excellent post. Envy is so very destructive to one’s quality of life. I’ve had my share of envious feelings. It’s freeing to admit it, and I wish there were a more open dialogue about the subject. Perhaps if we weren’t so ashamed of this very basic human emotion, we could deal with it more effectively and it wouldn’t ruin our lives. People wouldn’t be compelled to spend all of their money to achieve the “American Dream.” I love what you said about gratitude. I firmly believe that you cannot have gratitude and envy at the same time.

  15. Ushma says

    Hi! I think this article is great, but I think I need more help than this, here.
    For a great portion of my life, I’ve been like the queen bee(At school). I got everything I wanted and never had any competition.
    I think, 4 years ago, I realized that I wasn’t being very nice, so I changed. I have changed myself fully externally yet somewhere on the inside, that jealous, competitive girl resides who can not accept that she’s not always going to be the best.
    I’m in college now and everyone is so beautiful and to be honest, I’m not that pretty. My friends on the other hand, are gorgeous. My guy friends are always asking if they’re single and stuff and it makes me soooo envious. How do I stop?

    • john says

      there’s a christian book I’ve read (just partly though), titled “Jealousy- the sin no one talks about”. i think it is a very good book on this subject.

    • Julie says

      Hi Ushma,

      I have a similar problem but professionnally. I am a hard worker, my life has been full of opportunities and i have been number one countless of times. I have rarely been number 2 for a long time. I am very used to get praised. In my work environment for the last 4 years i am, and have been, the last number possible for the very same reasons why i have been number 1 before (i am driven, a visionary, competitive, goal and people oriented but will not hesitate to stand tall for what i think is right). I envy people around me that get to have opportunities that i can’t access because my attributes do not fit the criteria. The approach i am taking right now is to take this opportunity to learn to be a number 2 and to cope with it without becoming frustrated and showing it through my behaviour (which then contributes in maintaining me number 2). At the end of the day, i have been priviledged to be number 1 for so long. I am in the process of trying to learn to be a well-behaved, happy, number 2. I believe that this will teach me extra skills and humility for when my turn comes again… Likely elsewhere… and it is okay like that….not easy but probably what i need to be a better person.

  16. says

    Regarding point 2. Their is a wonderful story about the Spice Girls at the height of their career discussing money. One asks the group “what would you all do if you were rich”. To which came the response, “but we are”. A moments thought later she says “Yes, but were not Elton John rich”!

  17. says

    These articles are educative, envy could be termed as having sorrow on the inside over what someone have that we do not have. This is a global mallady that is timeless right from the beginning between Cain and Abel in the Bible.

    • john says

      and it so consumed Cain that he murdered his own brother. Envy really makes you rotten, makes you feel rotten.

  18. says

    I’ve found myself envy and being jealous of other people, I envy different people, other than the ones I find myself jealous of, but nevertheless, I’ve realized it now, and will work on overcoming it! Thank you for writing about this!

  19. Laura says

    Facebook itself has been associated with people feeling their lives aren’t measuring up compared to others causing envy and depression. I struggle with this myself. It’s hard to remember that it isn’t “real”.

  20. Ike says

    How am I supposed not to envy, when the difference between the quality of life that somebody else enjoys and my very own life is so huge? I know that envy is not a helpful emotion, but at least it signals me that there are things that other people have that I need too!

    For example: Imagine one person is depressed because he hasn’t established a stable position in life (career, family…), has never had a intimate relationship and is generally very often alone. This person goes out for a walk in the streets of his city, just to see many young, happy and/or beautiful people who enjoy a sunny day with their friends(partners. What is this lonely person supposed to feel?

    Conclusion:
    More often than not, the feeling of envy is justified, because it’s a feeling of not having the ESSENTIAL things in life, while seeing that others enjoy these very basic things: for example intimate relationships or a stable social environment of friends. This makes one feel alienated, like you are not normal and you wonder why you are so different, why you don’t have a partner or no friends. It’s a feeling of not participating in life to the same extent as others, a feeling of injustice!!!

    • Isla says

      Hi Ike

      I totally agree with you. However the only thing I’d say is, each of those people were probably, at least a little bit alienated at some point.

      To find a partner especially – it very rarely just falls into someone’s lap and if it is, it’s often not quite the right person, some years down the track. Each of those people you see with a partner, generally they have made some effort to get to that point.

      It’s similar with friends; many ppl grow out of their friends and have to start again. Believe me, you are not the only one. Life is not easy for people like us, but we are the stronger for it. Try to see that each person’s life has its own pros and cons.

      Kind regards

  21. Jiillii says

    I am not sure if it strictly reflects the meanings of each word but I distinguish slightly between envy (wishing you had what someone else had) and jealousy (resenting the fact that the other person has it). Both can be negative but as some have explained above, envy can be interpreted constructively as a a flag up to something you want to focus more on in your life or something in you that wants to be expressed whereas I think jealousy involves wishing ill on your fellow man which I think is a very negative emotion and one which should be addressed immediately.

    Thanks for the insightful article!

    • Amy says

      I distinguish jealousy as a fear of losing someone and envy is a wanting of something or someone you do not have.

  22. Ni says

    Hi, Joshua
    I love the end of your article most! Give more and then one will be fulfilled! Keep up with your excellent writings!

    some who used to live in China

  23. Mims says

    Great article! I struggle hugely with jealousy at the moment…. I am in my early thirties, most of my friends are settling down, getting married and having babies, whereas I seem to go on date after date, with no success. I know that a relationship doesn’t necessarily equal happiness, but it’s something I want so so much. If anyone else out there has worked through similar stuff I’d love to hear from you!

  24. Baba Yaga says

    all you say is very true. but… try not to envy others when you’ve got cancer and they’re healthy

  25. Jiillii says

    Hi Mims, I’m in a similar position to you…I think it is hard when you get to a certain stage in your life not to compare yourself to others but I think you need to look at things differently and recognise you are following your own path and everyone else is following theirs. Focusing on myself and what I really want to achieve helped me and I tried to look at it another way. What if this is my time to do all the amazing things I want to do? You could meet someone next week and that could be you forever! Maybe this is your time to be you!

    I think it’s also good to view your life as being about you not ‘you but not yet with somebody’. Try and not look for someone to save you and give you the things you want…go out and make the most of you and where you are right now. And you will meet new friends too who are also on different journeys :-)

  26. nana ama says

    thanks very much… this post will be of great help to me. i hope am able to break free and live happy lifestyle. each the points has enlighten me. the biggest problem is me feeling inferior everywhere i find myself ….

  27. Bryanna says

    i really enjoyed this post as it poses a really good point. And it’s true – complimenting and celebrating other people’s joy and success really does help to conquer envy. Great post. Thank you for teaching me very valuable lessons.

  28. says

    I agree with the observation that Facebook itself can lead to envy. Most do not post their hardships. We present the happy side of our life. I must remind myself that those posting the island vacations, etc. also have trials, weaknesses and hardships. Our ‘connected’ society has made it too easy to compare our lives with so many others.

  29. Tanu says

    Very nice article.I really feel jealous when something I really wanted and I didn’t get but others get, especially success in exam or career,I feel jealous or rather I start feeling see how smartly they think or work or plan whatever.Why am I not able to think like that…
    You know this feeling is really irritating,I just tell myself so many times by getting jealous I am not getting anything, just be happy for them and concentrate on your own work.But I really want to get rid of this feeling.

  30. Erin says

    I spent years trying to achieve someone else’s lifestyle. Full of jealousy! I never earned enough money. I was a failure because I couldn’t live in the best part of town and because I drove a small economy car. I was angry I was a single mom on a single income. I couldn’t compete with the people I worked with, my family, the people I chose to see.

    Then one moment changed my life….a very cold, snowy day. I was driving home from work and I saw an older woman standing at the bus stop. Her coat did not look warm enough for the snowy weather, no snow boots or hat and who knows how long she was going to have to stand there waiting. Cold. And it was like God reached down and shook me!! And I thought “how dare you!!” I had enough of everything!! Warm enough clothes…an apartment to live in…a car that runs…food…and much, much more! How dare I be ungrateful for these things!!

    I choose to see other people now. I choose to see those who aren’t as fortunate as I have been! It’s helps me understand that I am blessed beyond measure!! Sure, I still get jealous plenty, like when a beautiful SUV pulls up next to my 11 year old Sentra. But I try to keep things in perspective.

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