Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, etc connect people in ways that could never have been imagined even 20 years ago. Whilst these human connections are to be welcomed and embraced, there is a downside. It is that people are inundated with tales of others’ successes, achievements, holidays, possessions, number of likes, etc. We are continually faced with comparisons and there is a strong possibility that envy creeps into our psyche. Interestingly it happens at any age. The five-year-old who cries, ‘I want his toy,’ is no different from the 70 year old who says, ‘Why should he have a Rolls Royce and not me.’ If allowed to fester, comparisons and envy will destroy you.
The author of ‘Thou shalt not covet’ understood that the most prevalent human conditions since time immemorial are envy and jealousy. Think Cain and Abel and Jacob and Esau. If it weren’t the case there would be no need for the commandment. I believe that it is there to protect us from the insidious effects of envy. (Envy is coveting a ‘thing’ – ‘I am envious of your home or your strength or beauty’ – and jealousy involves a third party – ‘I am jealous of the woman that you are dating.’) ‘Jealousy and envy is the poison that kills you while not affecting the other person at all.’ ‘There are two kinds of misfortune in life. Our own, and somebody else’s good fortune.’ If someone has more than us, do we believe that we must be ‘inferior?’ Of course not. Envy is huge drain on our energy.
Envy has a lot to do with self-esteem. The more self-esteem you have, the more likely it is that you will feel less envy and vice versa. Therefore, if you find yourself with a great deal of envy then you need to work on your self-esteem. If your envy or jealousy is so great that you wish actual harm to the other person then you are draining a huge amount of your energy. This is a whole different subject in itself.
In The Prophet, Khalil Gibran coined the phrase, ‘Beware the cripple who hates dancers.’ Isn’t that what envy’s all about? You can’t have something so you hate the person who has it? Real poison eroding your self esteem.
Despite the injunction from the bible, nearly everybody will have envy to a lesser or greater degree. The first question is, ‘What are you going to do about it?’
There could be a positive side to envy. It could spur you on to do something for yourself. ‘I also want tickets to the final. How am I going to get them?’ ‘I also want to get a promotion. What do I have to do to get it?’
The ideal is to move from envy to admiration
In my view the ideal is to move from envy to admiration. It is to be impervious to what people have or don’t have. How to get there.
One strategy I had for coping with jealousy or envy was to praise the person on his or her achievements. Every person in the universe wants to feel good about themselves. Praise gives energy to the giver and the receiver. It’s an antidote to the poison. Even if underneath it I remained slightly envious, just affirming the other person was liberating and made me and them feel good. If you can’t beat them, join them.
If you do feel envy or jealousy, the next question is, ‘How long will it last?’ Do we have a choice or don’t we, to decide what we are going to do with it? Are we going to let it bring us down or are we going to get on with being the best us that we can be, whatever anyone else has? If you think you have a choice or if you think you don’t, you’re right. I ask the question – do we have choice?
Even at this age and after decades of experience, I still occasionally feel envy. The difference between now and 60 years ago is that now it lasts for no more than 5 minutes, whereas as an insecure adolescent it could last for months.
You have the power. Don’t surrender it.