4 Ways to Use Envy for Growth and Personal Gain

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“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 envy 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 envy 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 envy 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 envious 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 envious 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 envious 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 envy and target it. Are you envious because someone else has something you want, or because you want to feel better and assume they do?

2. Let your envy 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 you identify specifically what those things areand 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 envy 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 envy 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 envy fuel your work ethic.

Even if the person you’re envious 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.

Photos here and here.

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • Katie

    I notice you're using 'jealousy' and 'envy' as if they're interchangeable- they are not, really. They're slightly different concepts, and in the interests of using them correctly, I'd urge you to read up.

  • Thank you for the note. I realize I did use them interchangeably without acknowledging there's a distinction when what I meant to reference was envy.

    I agree resentment isn't helpful. I do think, however, both envy and jealousy come from a dissatisfaction with self, and that addressing that dissatisfaction can turn something negative into something positive.

  • Thank you for the note, Katie. I will make a note in the post.

  • I love it!!

  • Earl Kelly

    I agree, “envy” and “jealousy” in terms of definition are not the same, but I think what she is trying to say is that they can both be used in this positive method. Jealousy and envy and are pretty much 2 sides of the same coin, one with more positive connotations than the other.

  • I think it is possible to use jealousy to your positive advantage if you identify the root cause of your feelings. If you figure out what fuels your resentment (what, specifically, you're dissatisfied with in your own life that causes you to compare/compete) and than take action to address it.

    As to whether or not passion and purpose obliterate envy, I suspect that varies from person to person. We all experience and work through feelings differently based on a number of different factors.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking commentary!

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  • jazzmann91

    The definition of jealousy contains resentment and all resentment must be let go or it will hamper your efforts. The definition of envy contains covetousness. This article confuses the two words.

  • jazzmann91

    I agree partially. I would say that jealousy could become envy by dropping the resentment, but to turn jealousy to your positive advantage, without the feeling disappearing, would be highly improbable.

    I heartily agree that envy can be used as a personal carrot-on-a-stick enticement to achieve something positive, but even then envy is a distraction. You are taking the time to compare, which is a form of division. This is well used, while searching for what one really wants.

    If you are lucky enough to be in touch with your purpose and know what you want, envy won't work anymore. The passion takes over and burns all comparisons away.

  • I agree that this article is more about envy than jealousy. My understanding is that envy is wanting what someone else has and jealousy is being afraid someone is going to take what you have.

    Personally, my issues have been with jealousy more than with envy. I strongly believe that there are no such things as negative emotions – the only thing negative or positive is what we do with those emotions. I appreciate this article because it points out that we can learn from our uncomfortable emotions, perhaps more than we can from our joyful emotions.

    When I am jealous, I understand that I am afraid of losing something I value, and if I'm able to stay centered and balanced, I can use this emotions as a signpost that reminds me to appreciate the thing I value, without getting lost in the fear. I can't always do it, but I'm getting better! Thanks for the great article!

  • QuarterlifeEran

    love this post Lori! really made me think – I suspect a lot of people (myself included) experience jealousy unnecessarily. We covet what other people ha

  • QuarterlifeEran

    love this post Lori! really made me think – I suspect a lot of people (myself included) experience jealousy unnecessarily. We covet what other people have without really considering what it took to get them there – most likely a lot of hard work! also intrigued by the commentary of jealousy vs. envy – great thoughts!

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  • Self empowerment

    Nice post, totally agreed to change all negative energy to positive and empower ourselves

  • shanusbohemus

    A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.

  • Guest

    I enjoyed reading this post. I had someone tell me several times that she thinks her friends are jealous of her. Reading this post made me realize that she meant envy and not jealousy. You summed it up nicely: sitting around wanting what other people have gets you nowhere in life. I believe in this myself. Feelings of jealousy and envy in a negative connotation are experienced by people who are not focused on themselves. There are people who feel these negative emotions more – people who always compare themselves to other people would be one. I believe that there can also be somewhat of a positive connotation to the term, envy. For instance, A is envious of B because B went on a cruise. A wished that she could go and that is it. No other negative emotions or feelings attached. Personally, I rarely get jealous and envious in a negative way. I suppose this is because I like to focus on myself. Sure, a co-worker might have gotten that promotion first or a friend went on that amazing vacation. That is good for them but what is the point of stirring up negative emotions? It does not change my life. I believe that once we stop constantly comparing to other people and take the time to really focus on ourselves, we can feel these negative emotions less. On the other hand, for those who think that someone is jealous or envious of you, that may be the case and it happens. But I would not jump to that conclusion before thinking if is out of arrogance, you feel that way.

  • I’m glad you enjoyed it! That’s wonderful, that you’ve learned to focus on yourself. I appreciate that you shared your thoughts, as this is advice we all need at times!