Envy is an emotion we love to pretend we don't feel. Noble, generous, and kind people shouldn't even have the capacity to feel it, right? Well, not quite. If that would be the case, the world would be populated by little angry green trolls, as a quick Google search for “how to overcome envy” results in astounding number of tips, confessions, and cautionary tales.
In truth, whether we like it or not, envy is as human an emotion as love or sadness. It is already evident in very young children. If recognized in time, it can be successfully used as a tool to help parents teach their kids about morals, self-worth, and self-control.
As we age, the feeling of wanting to possess what others have changes. 30 years of age is considered to be a significant threshold in a person's identity formation which also marks the time when the manifestation of grudge and backbiting declines. But until then, or in those instances when the success of others does bring the worst in us, there are things we can do to stop being envious.
1. Know the difference between envy and jealousy
If you want to stop feeling envy you want to make sure you're not feeling jealousy. Even though they're sometimes used as synonyms, know that they are most certainly not.
The former is the emotion that emerges when you want to have what someone else has even though you've never possessed it before. An example would be feeling envious of your friend's new beach house.
The latter is the reaction to a perceived threat of losing something you already have to someone else. A common example is feeling jealousy when your partner seems to be flirting with a new friend.
2. Catch your triggers
To get rid of envy you need to know exactly what causes it to emerge in the first place. In some cases it tells more about you than the things that make you happy. It's because we try to hide and ignore what we perceive as negative emotions without even analyzing them, as it's often quite painful.
Whenever you notice this unpleasant emotion flooding your system, take a notebook and a pen and write down what's happened to make you feel this way. For this to work you need to be honest with yourself and practice open awareness of your mental processes.
3. Go from malicious to benign
Contemporary psychologists suggest there are two types of envy: malicious and benign.
The malicious type, if propagated, leaves you stuck in the negative side of this emotional reaction. It makes you hate yourself for lacking a certain thing. You also tend to hate the object of your rivalry or even wish that bad things would happen to him or her.
Benign or non-hostile envy, on the other hand, can be a great motivational force. It's this positive side of your otherwise unpleasant emotional reaction. It can help you to recognize that what another person has is something you want to have and inspire you to find the ways you can actually start pursuing it.
Work on shifting your focus from negative rumination to the glory of positive action.
4. Cultivate gratefulness
Overcoming envy, especially if it's a persistent emotion in your life, requires a major switch in your mentality.
Instead of focusing on what you're lacking in your life, you have to start appreciating the things that you already have. This can be achieved by taking practical actions such as writing down bullet form journal entries of the top 5 things you are thankful for every single day.
When you grow your gratitude, you start feeling richer and richer day by day. You soon find yourself appreciating the intangible things in life, such as love, friendship, and peace of mind, over materialistic goods.
Plus, you'll recognize the thing called opportunity cost in yourself and others. This term refers to the inescapable reality of having to choose one thing at the cost of sacrificing another.
5. Train your positivity towards others
If you want to change your thoughts and emotions, change your behavior. Instead of succumbing to grudge and resentment, bring the best and the brightest side of you and show it to the world.
If need be, force yourself to celebrate other people's success by giving them a friendly pat on a shoulder, so to speak. Congratulate them over an e-mail, call them, or show up to their party to tell your supposed competitor that you're happy for them.
Think of those Oscar nominees and their professional reactions to losing the award to the winner. They know how to keep their cool, don't they?
This will remarkably boost your image in others' eyes. It can also open the door to a new friendship. You can train yourself every day to promote this positive approach to other people to prepare yourself when something envy-worthy happens.
Try complimenting 3 people every day on the things you truly sincerely like in them. The positive energy will start flying back at you in no time.