Some of us know it, almost all of us supress it. How much envy is acceptable, and how can we even use it to our advantage?
I grew up with friends who always had everything they wanted; they had the newest clothes, the biggest houses and the best looking boyfriends. I often found myself in envy, wanting what they had.
Whenever we were out they turned the sidewalk into a catwalk showing off all the pretty accessories they had. I felt bad because I had such negative feelings towards my friends because after all I loved spending time with them so what was this feeling of envy all about, did I even have reason to feel like that?
When thinking back on it I encountered two types of envy. Number one was the destructive type, the type which is aggressive and often seen as negative. It is all about grudging and along the lines of “I want to have what the other one has so I take it away from them and if I cannot have it then I certainly will not let the other person have it, so I ruin it for them.”
The second one is the depressive kind of envy which was often paralysing. It is the envy of the underdog, a person might think “I cannot keep up so why should I even bother.” It can be very upsetting and demotivating to live or work in an environment where someone might think they are just not good enough.
It is exactly these attitudes which have made envy and jealously so unpopular and stereotypical. Envy can be feared because we start to develop negative feelings towards the people we care about and blame ourselves for it. I’ve witnessed relationships and friendships end because people were ashamed of their narrow-minded thoughts and their ungenerous attitudes. The question I asked myself is: Is all the envy even worth it? I do not think so.
All it took was to change my thinking about the whole thing. I started seeing my envy as motivation and an inner drive to achieve. I see it as an emotion which indicates: I want this. Yes, I am still envious today but it feels good; it is a feeling which allows me to change my routine, it makes me curious and lets me try new things.
At its simplest envy points out the wants and needs which are unfulfilled but it is very important to distinguish between what someone wants in order to grow as an individual and what someone might think they need because others have it. At the end of the day it is vital to have a personal edge and not become a wannabe individualist who is the spitting image of someone else.
I have also been in a situation where someone was envious of something I had and while it was nice to be admired at first, it turned out I did not really know how to deal with it. Suddenly there was someone who said all these flattering words to me and I was not sure how to reply.
Should I have said, “Yes, I really love my life the way it is and don’t worry, you will get there”? It would have been terribly rude to make someone who is envious of my lifestyle feel even worse about it so I stuck with a polite, “Thank you! It’s nice of you to say that.”
I also felt it was important to remind that friend of their strengths too and after a while I could feel their confidence came back. While I am comfortable with inspiring friends to do certain things, I did not like being put on a high horse that I did not know how to ride.
I believe that envy is something natural that everyone will encounter in one way or another so it should be dealt with openly and should not be a taboo because at the end of the day, a little competition has never hurt anyone. When envy is starting to turn life into a supermarket where the items are overpriced you need to ask yourself the question: Can I even have what the other person has? And if not: do I even need it?