“To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is: a dissatisfaction with self.” ~Joan Didion
I like to think of myself as a realist. I realize it sounds good to recommend fighting jealousy with gratitude. As in, “Don’t dwell on what you don’t have—just count your blessings!”
I recognize that this is a wise suggestion and that we’d all be happy if we could just focus of the abundance in front of us.
But I also realize this isn’t a complete solution.
We’re wired for look for two things in life:
- Solutions to problems—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and professionally
- More—more meaning, more passion, more fun, more recognition; the list goes on and on
We progress as a society because we’re ever mindful of ways to improve how we function, communicate, and produce. This underlies almost everything we do, from interacting in personal relationships to initiating mergers within our companies.
We solve problems by identifying them. That usually means focusing on what’s lacking, and the most accessible way to do that is to observe other people. Or in simpler terms, shaping your own sense of lack based on someone else’s gain.
Is jealousy a path to happiness? In itself, no. Sitting around wanting what other people have gets you nowhere in life. But it’s a natural human instinct, and we all deal with it at one time or another.
So, instead of suggesting envy is shameful—and you should fight it by acknowledging you’re already fortunate—I have a few suggestions to channel it for growth and personal gain:
1. Make your jealousy smarter.
The Dalai Lama said sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck. I agree. We often have no idea what we really want. We know what looks good on paper. We know what we should want, according to society. But often when you’re jealous of someone else, it has nothing to do with what they have. It’s about how you assume having that would make you feel.
Let’s say you’re jealous of your neighbor’s money—his massive house, fast car, and status. You probably assume it makes him feel proud, accomplished, and important. Odds are, you’re not jealous of his sixty-five-hour workweek. Or the limited time he has for personal relationships. Or the bills that would be overwhelming and stressful if something happened to his income.
Take your jealousy and target it. Are you jealous because someone else has something you want, or because you want to feel better and assume they do?
2. Let your jealousy hone your wants.
After you realize other people don’t necessarily have everything you think you want, the next logical step is to figure out what that really is. What is it you really envy? Your sister’s boyfriend, or a sense of belonging? Your cousin’s job, or a sense of accomplishment? Your uncle’s schedule, or a sense of adventure?
You can have everything you want in life if identify specifically what those things are, and accept they may look different for you than they do for someone else.
Once you determine happiness looks exactly like so-and-so’s life, or accomplishment looks just like so-and-so’s career, you’ve painted yourself into a corner of improbability. Instead of opening yourself to possibilities your mind can’t yet conceive, you attach yourself to a specific vision someone else created.
Figure out what you want and let it be personal to you.
3. Let jealousy make you honest.
Whether you want to feel a certain way, accomplish something, or have something you don’t have, the question remains the same: What’s stopping you? What are you waiting for in creating it?
Is it really about the obstacles you face? Or are your fears holding you back? Is it really about your limitations, or are you dealing with some type of resistance? Do you actually believe you can have it? Or do you think you’re not smart enough, knowledgeable enough, or well-connected to make it happen?
When jealousy gets toxic it’s usually because you want something you don’t believe you can have. Get to the root of that belief. What’s standing in your way?
4. Let your jealousy fuel your work ethic.
Even if the person you’re jealous of doesn’t have the perfect life you imagine they do, the fact remains you’re not fully happy with your current circumstances. You’re feeling dissatisfied, and making yourself feel bad about it instead of using it.
Want something more? Go get it. Get proactive, get motivated, and get going.
Make a plan. Tell a friend. Take a step. Commit to the process. Measure your progress. Connect with people. Stay flexible. Push through resistance. Counter objections. Move through fear. Tune out negative people. Fight perfectionism. Keep yourself motivated. And whatever you do, keep going.
The great paradox of life, I have found, is that life happens now; but we feel most alive and meaningful when we’re working toward something bigger than ourselves.
I think it’s possible to accept, appreciate, and enjoy everything you have today while pushing yourself to make tomorrow better for both you and other people. You don’t have to be a Zen master to find this place of optimal enjoyment and creation.
You can be a human being, with human feelings, both positive and negative; and use it all to become better, more focused, and happier—in the present, and as a natural extension, in the future.
UPDATE: Thank you to readers who have highlighted my error in using envy and jealousy interchangeably. While I intended to discuss envy—not jealousy, with the resentment it entails—I believe they both stem from a dissatisfaction with self; and that addressing that can turn something negative into something positive.