Menu

When Your Friend’s Happy News Fills You with Envy Instead of Joy

Envious

“It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.” ~Aeschylus

It’s crazy, isn’t it?

Your best friend enthusiastically shares some big news. You say all the right things and display the right emotions. But inside you’re burning up. Instead for feeling truly happy, you’re filled with uncontrollable envy.

It’s not that you’re a bad person. You really want to feel happy for your friend. You really want to get rid of these feeling of envy. But in the moment, you just can’t.

When the Green-Eyed Monster Took Me Over

A few years back my closest friend told me she was pregnant. I responded with appropriate excitement, said the right words, and showed the right emotions. But with each smile, word, and act of joy, I died a little bit inside.

The first chance I got to be alone, I wept bitterly. It seemed so unfair that while I’d been trying unsuccessfully for over four years, she got pregnant within a month of getting off the pill. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted a baby yet!

Bad as all this misery was, I felt worse that I had these feelings in the first place. She’s always been a good friend to me, and here I was, seemingly incapable of being happy for her.

I tried applying conventional wisdom—replace my envy with gratitude, look at all the good things I had, and stop worrying about what I didn’t. But I found out the hard way that’s not how it works in real life.

I was worried. I feared that if I didn’t get over this feeling I might lose a very good friend. Worse, I might lose myself and become a bitter, resentful person.

It took quite some effort to finally come of the situation without ruining my friendship or letting it poison my soul. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way:

1. Envy is a strong involuntary feeling that you cannot get rid of by just wishing or willing it away.

Nobody gets up in the morning thinking, “Today I’m going to feel unhappy for my friend’s happiness.” (At least, I hope not!) And yet, sometimes when we want something bad and find that our friend got it instead, it fills us up with envy. It’s not pleasant. It’s not welcome. But it’s there.

Just because you don’t like it, you can’t wish or will it away.

Research has found that thought suppression is often ineffective, and can actually increase the frequency of the thought being suppressed.

In an experiment, researchers found that subjects asked not to think about a white bear paradoxically couldn’t stop thinking about it. Other studies explored this paradox further, and support the finding that trying to suppress a thought only makes it more ingrained.

So first thing, stop trying to get rid of these thoughts. Accept them for what they are—normal feelings that arise in a normal human being.

2. Nail down the source of your envy to let the person who made you envious off the hook.

At first glance it may seem like the person who made you envious is the source of your envy. However, if you dig a little deeper, you may realize that the reason you feel envious has little to do with the person who brought out the feelings.

In my case, the real source of my feelings was that I desperately wanted a baby. Sure, the fact that my friend got what I didn’t triggered the feeling of envy, but the source was my want and my fear that my want won’t be met.

3. Let this knowledge lead you toward personal growth instead of resentment and bitterness.

At this point you have a choice. You know that there is something you want but can’t have. Will you become resentful of those who can, or will you make peace with the way things are?

I knew there was nothing that my friend could do about my inability to get pregnant. I also realized how illogical it was to expect that nobody in this world have a baby just because I couldn’t.

It didn’t mean that I stopped feeling envious instantly; I still desperately wanted to have what my friend had. But separating the source of my feeling from the person made it possible to feel happy for her, in spite of my continued feelings of envy.

Ever so slowly, I started to feel excited about her pregnancy and the opportunity to experience the miracle of a baby through her.

4. Focus your attention on addressing the source of your envy, instead of trying to eliminate the feeling.

Your envy is probably here to stay—for a while anyway. Instead of fighting it, address the source of it.

I knew deep down that four years was a long time to wait to have a baby. But I hated to face it head on. When I realized how easily I fell prey to the green-eyed monster, I knew it was time to take my head out of the sand and deal with the issue.

I started infertility treatment. My friend was right there by my side as my biggest source of support through this emotionally exhausting roller coaster. In turn, I was able to share with her the excitement of her pregnancy. In fact, it was a huge motivation to keep going on rough days when all I wanted to do was give up and curl into a ball.

I finally got lucky. Five months after she delivered her son, my daughter was born. Our friendship had survived the difficult test.

The Green-Eyed Monster Is Never Too Far Away

I could probably stop right there, and that would be a fine place to wind this story up. But I promised to keep this real, so here’s the rest of it.

The year that I had my daughter, three of my other close friends had their first kids too, in addition to this one. It was as if the stork had declared a “friends and family” promotional event.

In the subsequent years, however, it was clear that my little tryst with the stork was over. All my friends had their second kids, but my attempts at growing the family further just did not pan out.

As my friends got pregnant one after the other and had babies, I looked at their growing bellies and subsequently, their tiny little bundles of joy with longing.

Even though it’s been years since we’ve decided to move on, I still wish at times that my daughter had a sibling to share her life with. And at odd times, I still feel pangs of envy about my friends’ perfect families.

Then I remind myself: while you really can’t stop feeling a sense of envy every now and then, you can choose how you deal with it.

What’s your choice?

Photo by Arindam Bhat-tacharya

About Sumitha Bhandarkar

Sumitha is the blogger behind afineparent.com and invites you to come take a look at the unique parent-child journal she has designed which could be the most meaningful gift you could give any child! Connected Hearts Journal is a keepsake memory book parents put together with their kids and in the process have conversations, teach life lessons, build up self-esteem, instill an attitude of gratitude and so much more! Click here to find out more.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
  • a.

    Thank you for this 🙂 I truly needed this wisdom and advice.

  • Sumitha

    Not a problem. I hope you will find your way out soon… good luck!

  • Mel

    I find myself being more envious of the people I dislike than I do of my friends. Quite a conundrum.

  • Penny

    Thanks so much for this article. I have been having an issue like this. Unfortunately I feel like although I try my best to pursue the thing that I’m envious of, it just doesn’t seem to work out. As much as I may pursue that goal, the reality is that other people are involved in making it happen and alas I can’t control the world. I’m continuing to walk a fine balance between acceptance and striving… and just trying to keep it on the positive, but it is hard.

  • Frenchie27

    I have definitely been through this. A related feeling I recently experienced that surprised me was when I found myself sort of taking satisfaction in a friend’s misfortune. I wouldn’t say this is a close friend, just acquaintances from grade school/junior high. Presently, we really do not interact beyond being “friends” on social media. She was always nice to me, though. So why was I almost happy to hear that she had failed her state bar exam for the second time? How horrible of a person am I to feel this way? I recognized this almost immediately after and haven’t been able to shake the guilt and shame, even though I know it is not my fault she is going through this and I would never wish this on her. (And she was the one who announced it via social media for all to see.) I will say that I am going through quite a tough year of my own, losing a job, caring for my aging parents, dealing with several chronic health issues and declining self-esteem, amongst other things. But that’s no excuse. Any suggestions of how to shift my thoughts and get to a better place?

  • Firebird

    Thank you for this. We are in a similar situation, with one beautiful miracle of a child, but no chance at another. A close relative is pregnant now, and both she and her husband are unsure of whether or not they are truly happy about becoming parents. I fight the green-eyed monster daily, and most often I come out ahead. But every so often, the monster wins. Thanks fo reminding me that this is a normal part of life, especially when life doesn’t work out as we planned.

  • Marie

    If we fixate and limit ourselves (MUST have child by birth) we set ourselves up for suffering. Instead be open to many possibilities that will produce the same result which in this case seems to be – child, family, etc.

    My hubby and I know we may not be able to have our own children. Instead of focusing on that we have enthusiastically agreed to be open to bringing a child or children into our lives by any way possible – IVF, donor, adoption, fostering, etc. Knowing we aren’t limiting ourselves is actually freeing. I realize easier said than done but just wanted to share what has worked for me.

  • anon

    sorry but…you were/are envious of people’s second babies? Do you realize many people never even get a chance to have first babies? You lost me there. Not trying to be rude but, that to me is ridiculous. I might never have a chance to have a child, I’m single and in my mid-30s. Rather hard to sympathize with any of this honestly.

  • Still Standing

    I’m in the same boat. Its difficult to emphatize. Be happy & grateful you had one healthy child.

  • Talya Price

    I am not envious of women who are pregnant. But I am envious of people who are living their dreams. I know I was envious of one girl I met in London and she was beautiful, constantly getting acting work, signed with a proper talent agency, and had a boyfriend. She was living the life of her dreams. I was stuck in Warsaw, alone, no career, and living in a crappy apartment. I hated my life. A part of me is still a bit envious of her. I just have to change my focus.

  • ralce

    Great post! And quite true. When I start feeling this way I think about this quote…”The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our ‘behind-the-scenes’ with everyone else’s highlight reel” – Steven Furtick. This is especially true in the age of social media. We see pictures and posts of joy and success without realizing that those people most likely put in hard work, long hours, and struggle too.

  • erick

    “Comparing” yourself to other people (often better than your state) is one reason for getting envious. Breaking a habit is hard so instead just start a new habit. Learn to accept the whole of you and learn to live on what is now by only providing what is necessary of the moment. 🙂

  • lv2terp

    What an inspiring story, thank you for sharing your experience and the very beautiful wisdom!!! 🙂 🙂 HUGS!

  • This is fabulous. Wish I had this to read about three years ago. Will definitely be sharing.

  • Sumitha

    Thanks for sharing, @e997212da55bf03f7bcc0e3be68d3c14:disqus. I think a little bit of envy is part of being a normal person. The key is to make sure that the envy does not get in the way of your personal growth or relationships. Good luck in the pursuit of your goals… I hope you will find that continuing to walk that fine balance will eventually pay off!

  • Sumitha

    Talya, it looks like what you are envious of is not the girl herself, but wanting what she has. Maybe it is a good thing that you met this girl – she showed you exactly what you want from life 🙂 The question now is what is the one small thing you can at this time, given your current circumstances, so that someday you can be in the kind of place she is in?

  • Sumitha

    That’s a great point, Marie! Yeah, I think when we get emotional and start seeing other people around us have what we don’t have, we end up boxing ourselves into very limited options. Thanks for sharing that insight!

  • Sumitha

    Thanks, Akirah!I hope things have fallen into place for you now.

  • Sumitha

    Not a problem, Iv2terp. Thanks for your support 🙂

  • Sumitha

    Thanks, erick. I guess at a rational level I realized the value of what you say, but sadly, at first it was very hard for me to implement that insight at a realistic level 🙁

  • Sumitha

    Thanks for reminding me of that quote, ralce — it is one of my favorites. And it’s so very true, especially in this social media age as you pointed out!

  • Sumitha

    I was in the same boat for a long time, anon and still standing. And I feel for you. My point is that envy is never too far away…. you yearn for something and then you have it, and then the next yearning comes along. It is just nature. You cannot avoid it. You only have a choice of how to deal with it. I’m sorry if I touched a raw nerve – that wasn’t my intention. Take care.

  • Sumitha

    I’m sorry to hear about that Firebird. I totally get what you are going through. Don’t try to fight it though… at least that’s what I’ve come to realize. Just let it be. Fact a — would have liked another baby; fact b — ain’t happening. And that’s that. After a while of trying to engage you unsuccessfully, the green-eyed monster will give up and just let you be 🙂

  • Sumitha

    Frenchie27, I am sorry to hear that you are going through a tough year 🙁 I think you have a point when you say that what you felt might be a related feeling. I am no psychologist or anyone trained in anyway to offer advice but I can imagine how stressful it must be to deal with a job loss, caring for parents and health issues all at the same time. In this day and age where very few people care for their parents – maybe taking pride and joy in that noble task, and giving it all you have can help boost your self-esteem so it does not fall prey to these stray feelings? Sorry, I can’t be of much help here, but I can see that you are looking for answers, which is almost always a good sign that you are on a course of positive change. I wish you the very best!

  • Sumitha

    @385d1dd998d33f45154f363fb5cff03c:disqus, it is indeed 🙂 When your friends have something you don’t you can eventually make peace with it… but when it’s someone you dislike… boy that can be tough!

  • Lisabroga

    What a fantastic quote that is… I will taking note of it! All too often we believe others’ whole lives are like that hghlight reel that we see on display… when singles look longingly at a couple gazing into each other’s eyes it helps to remember they probably have brutal arguments, too; when the woman who longs for a child sees the beauty of a mother and baby laughing together, she would do well to remember the exhaustion and lack of independence that goes with the role… we rarely get to see their ‘behind the scenes’ life but it is good to remember that nobody’s is as perfect as their highlights reel suggests. This awareness won’t stop envy arising, it’s a natural emotion and as made clear in the post, uncontrollable… but it helps in dealing with it.

  • Lisabroga

    I think the author is very happy to have that one child, but as she points out, envy occurs whether she likes it or not. I have experienced envy of a friend for different reasons and was horrified with how ungrateful that made me seem… I dealt with it but I was not able to occur it arising in the first place. I believe the author is saying the same thing.

  • Charlie Victoria

    Thank you

  • Talya Price

    Thank you for the response. I would love to be in the place that she is in. I don’t know what she is doing right now. But she lives in London which is a city that has more acting opportunities than Warsaw. I just want to be in the right place at the right time in regards to my career. I can’t teach English forever nor can I live in Poland forever.

  • jantima

    with self-content, there will be no more envy.

  • Sumitha

    Not a problem, Talya. Since you say you can’t teach English and cannot live in Poland forever, and it looks like London is where you want to go, how about maybe just taking one small step towards it today? Something as simple as setting up a jar marked “To London” on your counter within easy reach and putting your first dollar (euro?) into it can give a huge boost in the right direction 🙂

  • Talya Price

    You know something, that is a very good idea. I haven’t even thought about doing that. I have been letting myself get so distracted in my day job. That I lost focus on my goals. Berlin and London are the places that I want to live in. Thanks for the advice. 🙂

  • Subu

    Thx so much for the article. For me envy is like a dead-end I cannot think beyond it. The only way out for me is cutting off the source of the envy completely. Its really hard,.,,,

  • Kayla

    Great article, Sumitha. Thanks for sharing. I beleive the impact of infertility creates a unique form of envy because the desire to pro-create and to nurture is an integral part of our biological make-up. And when you see others pregnant or with baby’s, the desire and the longing is incredible. Like a mother’s breast milk forming when she first holds her baby, tears can fall from cheeks of the infertile at the sight of a baby, or a friend’s announcement of pregnancy. This is what I live with on a daily basis! My husband and I have been trying to conceive for over three years now which has included two rounds of IVF however we cant afford it anymore. I have never ever been an envious person before experiencing infertility. I dont care much for material things. I adore my husband and I am eternally grateful for each day he is in my life. However our longing and desire to have children is all encompassing. I avoid friends who are pregnant or with baby’s because it is a form of self-preservation. For those of you who havent experienced infertility, please do not pass judgement. You dont get over it, you just try to learn to manage it as best you can.

  • Junebug

    After being jealous of a close friend (but thrilled for her at the same time) who was moving up in her career (in the same line of work as me) & getting a lot of things in life that I wanted, someone suggested actually praying for her for 2 weeks straight. They said to pray that she gets all the things that I want for myself (even if deep down I didn’t want her to have all these things without me having them, too). I did & something clicked & I was able to let go of the jealousy & truly be happy for her. I still get little jealousy pangs every now & then but I think it just makes me work harder. She deserves to move up. She’s done the work.

  • Octarin

    And then there’s these people that simply rub it in every chance they get… My ex was like that. He made it an exercise of his to often point out how his best friend and his girlfriend were “true love” while I was nothing to him and never would be. I eventually found myself hating them both, even if I’d never even met them. I put my foot down and drew the line cause that was illogical, but I still do envy people who’ve found their true love. Not in that green-monster way, but in the sad-about-myself way, cause I’ve made huge efforts, on several occasions, I’ve made immense compromises, I’ve gone to heights and lows and nothing has ever mattered in the least bit. I guess it’s the unfairness of it that stings like lighting, but I can more or less live with it, so long as people don’t flaunt. I find people that flaunt really unattractive, and I do avoid their company.

  • erick

    It’s called wuwei. A Taoist practice of going with the flow. It’s about “knowing when to act and when not to act”. The hard part is knowing when NOT to act, because if we want something in life, we tend to want it now & get anxious if we don’t get what we want. We have lost the ability to wait until the right time to arise before we act on it.

  • Sumitha

    Thanks for sharing that, erick! I hadn’t heard of wuwei before. It sounds like a very interesting concept. Will dig into it further!

  • erick

    “Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself—and there isn’t one.” ~ Wei Wu Wei
    The “ego” is a part of you that wants to deal with ideal self and ideal life. So when a friend has a happy news and that particular news means a lot to you (perhaps you also want it), with the ego you tend to compare and because you compare you would tend to feel envy because you are no longer equal or something like that.
    Learn to accept yourself. The “self ” is the beautiful you not necessarily the ideal you. 🙂

  • rithu

    nice article.most of the commentators are envious of others who have babies.but im envy of you people who got married. 🙁 im still single .looking for my partner.

  • picolina

    Love the honesty, love the wisdom. One thing I’d just add to the article is that the presence of “envy” means, at least for me, the simultaneous presence of passion/investment in the very thing one feels envy about. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think every time I feel envy about something, that’s my soul/spirit/whathaveyou reminding me that that’s the path to continue to follow because that’s what my heart yearns for. Not so bad, actually. In fact, when something great happens to a friend of mine and I have even the slightest tinge of envy about it, I’ll now recognize that as a gift, not as a curse. How else to explain the close proximity of something I want just out of reach, but perfectly possible as best exemplified in the joy of a friend’s reality?

  • Shayne Dsouza

    Thank you for sharing this,

  • Shayne Dsouza

    Thanks for sharing this, but what do you in different situations, take for example the inability to find a life partner you want? While the whole world does have someone, you do not. How do you make resentfulness go away?

  • Mary

    Thank you so much for this article. I am so glad I found this! I’m trying my best to stay positive through this experience as I deal with my feelings of envy. Glad to have these tips on hand for me whenever it gets tough.

  • Tanveer

    A wonderful article 🙂

  • roseattack

    I became envious with one person about two years go for the first time, and ever since then I have these feelings that I HATE but feel as if I can’t control them. It feels like Pandora’s Box was opened or something. Thank you for this article. I now realize that envy is a natural manifestation of fear and that’s something I can handle because I’m much more familiar with fear.

  • JadeGreen

    I have a particular friend who I have a long history of envy of, for her looks, her confident personality, her skills and her success with men. I think it stems from long-term lack of self-esteem on my part, an an underlying desire to be “perfect”, and when this obviously doesn’t happen, a feeling that I’m ” not good enough”. I often feel like I have to sacrifice my personality and be more like this friend in order to be liked.

    Recently, she confided in me the reasons that her ex broke up with her, which made me see her as a human with her own worries and problems. Now, however, she is in a new relationship, and radiantly happy, and I’m finding the jealousy returning, as I am in a long-term relationship in which the honeymoon period has long worn off and in which we have had our share of hurts and troubles. I’m just going to have to focus on the good, I think, like the stability of my relationship and my close family, and my own looks, personality, and skills, which are different from hers but no less valid. It’s an uphill battle, though. Thank you so much for the support <3

  • Agnes Pingkan Lumowa

    Thanks a lot for your article

  • Lisa

    Jeez, when I started reading this article I thought you had no children. But then, you mentioned you have a daughter and want a sibling for her, and go on about your friend ‘not even sure she wants kids yet’. That’s not only ungrateful, but selfish AND judgmental. No wonder you’re jealous! I think the best cure for jealousy is gratitude.

  • Romina Mallea

    Did you ever consider adopting to grow your family?

  • Vannnda

    I don’t think she was asking for your approval or sympathy but merely sharing her feelings with you .She cant help how she feels . You cant help feeling like she was ungrateful AND selfish AND judgmental. envy can be different for different people . Its not our place to judge .

  • Viki

    I can’t feel happy when my best friend has something I can’t have. I get jealous of her, and I can’t stop feeling this way even though I know it’s wrong. I love her, and I wouldn’t want a bad thing to happen to her. But when my jealousy is on the stage, I even think about ending my friendship with her. I have dreams, but it’s not easy for me to make them true because there a lot things to stop me and I should become a real survivor. And I think I’m really patient, hope was the emotion to lead my life with happiness. And when I see people living my dreams, I can’t stop this jealousy.

  • Nur Ghaifullah

    At the moment I don’t feel envy but I also don’t feel like celebrating my friend’s achievement. It has got something to do with what happened years ago when I caught her saying mean things about me to other friends. I acknowledge her success but I don’t think I am or will ever be thrilled or as happy as I would before.
    I don’t think I am bad for feeling this way.
    On hindsight, I agree with what you wrote here. I do feel somewhat envious at people but I chose to not focus on it and to acknowledge and be somewhat happy for them. Still need a lot of work but I am ok with it

  • Daniel

    You know, I think I feel a similar sense of envy. I also want to live abroad, and I often find myself getting distracted by my daily life. I do feel happy for others who go abroad and live abroad but I so desperately want that also but in my current situation I can’t. I have to wait and sometimes I also lose sight of my goals and do feel envy. I don’t know where you are today but you’re certainly not alone in this. Let’s chase our dreams one day at a time!:)