Envy is perhaps the most insidious out of the 7 deadly sins. It has ruined friendships, relationships, and even entire countries and populations. Envy is one of the main causes of anxiety and depression in our modern society. The good news is that it is possible to overcome this devastating emotion, and in this episode I’ll show you exactly how.
But first, it’s important to understand what envy truly is. The origin of the word goes back to the Latin expression invidere, which means to regard maliciously or to grudge. In turn, the noun grudge indicates a strong feeling of anger and dislike for a person who treated you badly. This reveals the underlying belief behind the feeling of envy: the belief that someone hurt you just because he has something you don’t.
If you dig this deep, you can immediately see how irrational this belief is. You can also see that it comes from a zero-sum game mentality: namely that you can’t have something because somebody else already has it. This is also a good strategy to take the blame off of your shoulders for your shortcomings and weaknesses. Unconsciously you might think: I am poor because of the rich. I am ugly because of the beautiful. I am a loser because of the successful.
Ultimately, the emotion of envy is a direct result of low self-esteem. It’s not only that you think degradingly about yourself, you also falsely believe that you are unable to change. Thus, when you see somebody more successful than you, it doesn’t motivate you, but it elicits just the opposite effect: it demotivates you to such an extent that now you don’t even try to become better.
However, this perceived difference in value hurts your ego too much. And if you can’t grow to the level of the other person, then the next best thing is to pull him down to your level. Envy is basically a coping mechanism of the ego to restore the harmed self-image which is already weak in the first place. The other person may not physically hurt you, but he still hurts your ego, and as you identify yourself with your ego, you perceive it as a threat to your survival.
Besides low self-esteem, there’s an even deeper reason for envy: the habit of constantly comparing yourself to others. What you need to understand is that the ego cannot exist in a vacuum, only in relation to others. You are literally keeping your ego alive by comparing yourself to others, because that’s your only point of reference.
You use other people as a yardstick to which you can measure yourself, because in our human culture, that’s the only way to define yourself. Without comparison, you would lose all definitions and borders, your ego would just drop on its own. You would lose your ego, but you would find yourself. But you’re afraid to lose it because you’re identified with it; hence the need for comparison.
But if envy is such a crippling feeling, why can’t you just give it up? If envy makes you feel even worse about yourself, why don’t you stop comparing yourself to others? This is the tricky part, because comparison not only lowers your self-worth, it also strenghtens it at the same time. You feel bad compared to people higher than you, but compared to the ones lower on the ladder, you feel extremely good.
If you stopped the comparison, you would kick away the whole ladder that is supporting your self-image, and you cannot afford that. Again, the basic problem is that you base your self-worth on your status, achievements or looks: on external qualities that can easily change or disappear. You’re not living out of your true self, but out of your volatile, vulnerable and weak ego.
In today’s egoistic and materialistic society, it’s not surprising that envy and comparison play such a huge role. We are taught from a very young age that we are not valuable as we are, only if we reach the goals our parents and teachers have set for us. We are always compared to our siblings, friends and classmates. We are evaluated, tested and graded according to a skewed metric that doesn’t take into account our uniqueness, creativity or emotional intelligence.
As we grow up, we learn to covet those things that we don’t yet have, whether we truly want those things or not. Society has brainwashed us to want those things that it wants us to want. The economy must grow, therefore we must consume, therefore we must desire material things, therefore we must envy those who have them.
The advertisements are full of happy people who derive their happiness from their possessions. They make us believe that if only we bought these great products, we could be happy too. They deliberately show us a false image of celebrities, supermodels and stars to elicit as much envy as possible, to demonstrate to us how much we lack, and how inferior we are compared to them.
But when said celebrity suddenly commits suicide out of depression, the whole world is shocked and opens its arms in disbelief. Why did he do this, when he had everything? He should have been totally happy, he had a perfect life. But you see, external things like fame, money and power are not as fulfilling as they seem. Besides, even if somebody is successful in one area of life, he can still be miserable in many others. The grass is usually not greener on the other side.
Now that you know the theory, let’s see those concrete steps you can take to overcome envy! First, learn how to love yourself to increase your self-esteem. For that, you can watch my video with the same name. Second, start focusing on yourself, live your own life, instead of trying to imitate and compete with others. Don’t strive to be the best, strive to be unique. If you want to compete, compete with yourself, and be a better version of yourself every single day.
Third, if you can’t stop feeling envious, transform it into emulation. When you compare yourself to others, don’t feel grudge for their achievements, instead be happy for them and admire them. Envy says: he has it, but I can’t have it. Emulation says: he has it, therefore I can have it too.
Discover how successful people started their carreers and what they did on their path, and try to emulate it in your own fashion, apply it in your own life. Chances are, when you realize how much they struggled for success, you won’t envy all the sacrifices they had to make.
Fourth, focus on what you have instead of on what you lack. Replace envy for gratitude, and you’ll achieve more in life than you ever thought possible. To help you with that, I created a separate episode titled “How to be more grateful”.
Ultimately, envy is a poisonous emotion both for the individual and the society. Envy holds people back from realizing their full potential. Those who feel envy never start to change for the better, they only strive to pull others down. And those who fear becoming the target of envy may hold themselves back from success unconsciously. So, if you manage to overcome envy, you make a great service both to yourself and society as a whole.
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