Today we are going to talk about our ugly green friend and I don’t mean the green monster at Fenway Park. I’m talking about the one who shows up uninvited and we keep hidden from our other friends at all cost.
In all seriousness, envy is a sneaky little fella who can wreak havoc in our life if we choose to entertain him. I know this from experience AND I know the blissful freedom that comes when we are able to kick envy to the curb. I am excited for us to talk about envy and to share some of the things I have learned that have helped me!
From social media interactions to our flesh and blood friend next door, there are endless ways every single day for envy to creep into our life. Envy is as old as time. Think Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s children. Yet, our interconnectedness through technology, piping pictures of others, looking their best and completely in love from exotic locations, right to our phones, as we lounge in our pj’s with morning breath, can make envy feel more inescapable than ever. Right?
What exactly is this green monster that twists our insides making us feel uncomfortable, often times to the point of misery? And if it makes us so unhappy, what can we do to stop entertaining it?
A recent study done in Texas found that envy really, truly does have a pull over us. It directs our attention toward the people or their things we find desirable, basically causing us to cognitively rubberneck. It is easy to just tell someone to stop doing something they find unpleasant, but when it is our psychological knee-jerk reaction, it’s not as easy as all of that. So what can we do?
I think a great place to start is to look at what envy is. Psychologists define envy as longing for something that we don’t have. Whereas jealousy is desiring something that has been taken from you. Envy is wishing anything about ourself or our life were more like another person or their life.
Things we are envious of are as innumerable and unique as the people who experience them, but some of the “biggies” deal with body image, finances, relationship/ family status, living situations, and jobs. And unfortunately, as a result of the all-encompassing nature of these topics, envy can tarnish the everyday aspects of life. At work, online, the gym, watching tv, at church even, we are never immune to the possibility of envy.
Although the possibilities for envy are endless, we can retrain ourselves to have a response different from envy. It really is possible! I know from personal experience and I have seen it in the lives of others as well. Here are some things we have to understand if we no longer want to be envy’s captive friend.
Envy isn’t rational. When we are envious of others, we aren’t accurately evaluating the other person’s life. We are zoomed into one aspect or a couple of aspects of their life. Often there are glaring struggles that we completely overlook because of the envy. It conceals the obvious and hidden trials of others. Envy paints a picture of perfection that just doesn’t exist and blinds us to that fact.
For example, envy often times works itself out ironically in single and married individuals. A single person may be envious of a married person’s settled family life. Whereas the married person may envy the single person’s freedom. In both situations, neither the single nor married person has an accurate picture of the other’s life.
Envy is not loving. Instead of viewing others with eyes of empathy and a heart full of love, we view them in light of our own selfish desires. Envy makes us incapable of seeing the suffering of others. It makes us incapable of touching the suffering of others. It makes us incapable of experiencing the joy that comes from putting others above ourselves. Envy robs us of our ability to truly, freely love others.
Not only is envy not loving toward others, it is not loving toward ourself either. The timeless biblical proverb says that “envy rots the bones”. And how true it is! It doesn’t take a professional to tell us that being consumed with envy makes us miserable. Or that discontentment and comparing only result in a downward emotional spiral.
At the heart of envy is the issue of discontentment. We compare our lot in life, usually one isolated thing or experience at a time, and decide that what we have isn’t enough. Yet, what it boils down to is, deep down we aren’t content. We aren’t thankful for the life we are living. So as we go through our day and encounter countless envy triggers, our discontentment sets them off. It becomes a downward spiral. Deep down we weren’t happy to begin with and envy makes us even more discontented.
While the trigger to envy is discontentment, not surprisingly the anecdote to envy is contentment. When we learn to embrace the life we are living with thankfulness instead of wishing that it, and we, were different, there is an incredible amount of freedom that follows. We are free from the chains of envy. We are free to love, free to feel empathy, and free to touch the lives of others. We are free to finally enjoy our life!
Here are 3 practices I have found very helpful in unfriending envy.
1. Practice gratitude. When we are busy being thankful for the things in our life, not only does it profoundly change our perspective, we don’t have as much time for envy. This is a newer one I have implemented that has made a big difference!
2. Practice encouragement. Spending our time encouraging others helps us stop viewing them and their successes as a threat. Before you know it, any twinge of envy is turned upside down and you find yourself truly feeling happy for others. This is one I have used for a long time and it really, really works!
3. Practice compassion. It is difficult to feel envious of others when we are truly concerned for their well-being. Make mental notes of how others are struggling and see if you can’t come up with a way to help relieve some of their pain, even if it is just a smile or a kind word. Every person alive has some battle they are fighting.
I hope these three practices help you as much as they have helped me. While I would never claim to perfectly avoid envy, these practices have empowered me to do so most of the time. They really do make a big difference! And the beautiful freedom from envy we experience makes it worth every ounce of the effort. I dare you to give it a try and see for yourself!
P.S. As always, please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments or through the contact page and I will help the best I can
Let’s talk about this! I would love to hear your thoughts on envy. Our unique experiences and perspectives can help each other!
You should know: While this is not a Christian blog, and people of all beliefs are welcome here, I am a Christian and many of my ideas are based on principles I have learned from the bible. I speak more to this on the About page, if you are curious.