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How Envy Hurts You


In these days when it’s hard to avoid knowing everyone else’s business, especially if you spend time on social media, it’s easy to fall into the trap of envy. The goal is not to avoid envy, which is a natural, human feeling, but to avoid immersing yourself in it and being swept away by yearning for something someone else has and hurting yourself in the process. 

Envy comes in all shapes and sizes: desiring others’ appearance, success, talents, status, brains, or popularity. It’s no surprise that the envy I hear about most often in my practice is of people’s thinner bodies and smaller appetites. What I’ve observed is that the habit of being envious when you see something someone else has that you don’t does nothing to make anyone healthier or happier. In fact, the clients I serve who are most envious, are also the most unhappy.

This point is underscored in Envy, the Happiness Killer, which talks about the origins of this emotion but also ways to not get totally sucked into it. It’s author, Arthur C. Brooks, explains that envy can sometimes work for us, if we use it to become better at something because we view someone as a role model. But it can also damage us if we only use it to hate the person being envied or ourselves for not being them. Brooks lays out several ways to stop being envious: 

1) Focus on the ordinary parts of others’ lives by viewing them in their entirety and not zeroing in on a trait or two. A former client staunched envy by asking herself if she’d want someone’s whole life and be willing to exchange it for her own just to be thinner.

2) Turn off the envy machine. That means being very choosy about what you read, hear, and see on social media. Don’t forget, most people are putting only their best foot forward and covering their flaws. Seen in that light, others might envy you or your life.

3) Show your unenviable self. Be real, be authentic and you’ll feel more whole. And if you’re looking for people to model yourself after, look for those who can share their failures and their successes. Anyone can succeed, but how many people can fail well?

I’d add to recognize when you’re feeling envy. Maybe you think you’re hurt or angry, but what you really feel is wanting what someone else has or even to be them. Most importantly, don’t be angry at yourself for feeling envious. It only means you’re human and want something you don’t have. You don’t have to suffer with envy. You can just decide what you want or how you want to be and set off in that direction.