How Do You Combat Envy?

Envy

Last week, I came down with a bad case of envy.

It hit me without warning. One moment I was perfectly happy scrolling along my Facebook wall, and the next thing I know I am suddenly burning all over in green flames.

What happened was that I chanced upon the fan page of a good friend, who used to be a regular Write Club member until a couple of years back and is now making some splashes in the stand up comedy circuit.

Let me correct that. Not ‘some splashes’. Many splashes. Many big splashes. At least from his Facebook activity I could gauge this much. Everything he says gets liked and shared a ridiculous number of times (I mean that in the nicest way possible), and as an author looking to build a platform, I couldn’t help but obsess over those numbers.

I shook my head for a few minutes. I closed my window. I shut down my computer, went downstairs to have my shower. I ate my dinner quietly. I read a book. I went to sleep.

I slept well.

The next morning, when I was brushing my teeth, I slowed down to think a little bit about what I’d felt the night before.

I made a few observations:

  1. The person who was the object of my envy was not even in my industry. His skills are not comparable to mine. So there was no good ‘reason’ for the way I was feeling.
  2. A large part of me is happy for his ‘success’. So I did not begrudge him what he had. I just wanted it for myself. And I also felt frustrated at the apparent ease with which he has ‘leapfrogged’ over me in this ‘race’.
  3. A couple of years back, he and I were peers. Strictly speaking, I had more ‘fame’ and ‘success’ than he did back then, because I’d already become a published author whereas he was yet to enter stand-up comedy. Much of my envy therefore stems from the notion in my head that we both began at the same level, and yet he has achieved ‘more’ in less time.
  4. I was also aware of a bit of resentment that he has ‘moved on’. Whereas before we would spend a lot of time together talking things out, now I don’t hear much from him. This is natural. People move on all the time. I’m not suggesting that this is wrong of him, but I must still accept that I feel resentment at being ‘left behind’.
  5. Social media has finally put a number to a concept such as success. Whereas in an earlier era, unless someone flashed it in your face, you wouldn’t necessarily know how ‘successful’ or ‘popular’ a person was. But today, all you need to do is go to Facebook and check the number of likes, the number of shares, the number of comments. ‘Social success’ and ‘fame’ finally can be backed up by numbers. At least apparently.

What did I do to combat it?

First, I acknowledged the emotion. It was there. There was no point denying it. Now I had to work through it.

And because I’m a writer, I wrote to myself. I made four separate lists:

  • All the things in my life that I’m grateful for
  • All the things in my life that I have and the object of my envy doesn’t. (This is a purely subjective list, and can also turn mean. But it does give perspective.)
  • Three versions of myself: as I was a year ago, as I am now, and as I want to be a year from now, both from a personal and a professional standpoint. So I was making conscious attempts to compare myself only to myself. In a sense, perhaps, I was reminding myself that each person’s journey was different.
  • I made a fourth list of all the ways in which my ‘public’ face was different to my private face. This I did to remind myself that what we see on a person’s public profile is never the whole picture.

Then I sat down, looked at this list, read it word for word very slowly. That morning at breakfast, I spoke to my wife about it. That afternoon at lunch, I confessed about it to a friend. And now I’m writing here.

Did it work?

Strangely enough, it did. In the last few days I went back to my friend’s page and read some of his posts. I could do so without feeling that familiar knot in the stomach. I was able to even enjoy some of his jokes. (I’d always thought he was funny.) Today I find that I can be genuinely happy for him. The exercise I put myself through may have saved our friendship. At least it did from my side.

But it got me thinking…

Just like I was envious of my friend, could it be that someone else who doesn’t have what I have (whatever it is) is right at this moment envious of me?

In a previous post about Cressida, I raised the point of how human beings have this habit of looking ahead, up the ladder, at the path that is to come. We don’t spend all that much time looking back over our shoulders. We move on. We don’t move back enough. So perhaps during that time when I was struck by this jealousy, I was guilty of that too. Was I so obsessed with what I thought I must achieve that I could not appreciate what I already had?

There is a deep reluctance to speak about these dark emotions. Anger. Lust. Envy. Greed. We don’t acknowledge these to ourselves, much less to people around us. Even though these are governed by instinct, without the interference of our thinking brains. Feeling them is not wrong. Indeed, we don’t have a choice. But why don’t we talk about them more?

A video

Here’s a video that speaks of this huge hole in the conversation about envy. And she talks about how to plug it too. Good watch.

What about you?

Can you recall a time when you felt envious about somebody or something? Did you have trouble accepting it to yourself? Did you work through it or did you avoid it? If the latter, can you share some of your methods on how you overcame your envy? I would love to hear your stories.

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia


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Comments

  1. Sasikanth Gudla says:

    Envy is always there – and you know what – forget about peers, sometimes(and most bothering times) is you envy people who are closest to you. To think that good humans should not have envy is foolishness. Just as desire is always there. But because desire is more permeating, I think we get comfortable with it.

    Like

    • Loved your poem on your blog about how envy of our loved ones affect us the most. I don’t think we should be ashamed of it, because it’s after all a base emotion like lust and anger. But I think admitting it, talking about it, and working through it can be helpful. I’m definitely much better off now than I would have been if I had just kicked it under the carpet and pretended that it didn’t exist.

      Thanks, Sasi.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sasikanth Gudla says:

    I think I need to rephrase one sentence – “To think..” What I wanted to say is “To think that good humans don’t suffer from occasional pangs of envy is foolishness”

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  3. Envy is sometimes good. It spurs us to act and do more. My problem is the reverse: I just don’t get envious of others that easily! 🙂

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    • A happy life, yours, Rajesh 🙂 I don’t get envious that easily myself, so this incident shook me up a little. I wanted to formulate a plan for what I should do the next time I feel it. I’ve heard somewhere that the older you grow, the more resentful you become. Maybe it’s because of envy. You have more people to compare yourself with, and feel you’re ‘equal’ with.

      And you see people younger than you achieving more. We have to find a way to accept it and deal with it.

      But you’re right. It does spur you on to action. Thanks for the comment.

      Like

  4. Well this post is rather opportune. Since the start of the year, I have seen myself play the see saw with a ballast of envy on the other side. I am in what they call the quarter life crisis. Peers have climbed further up on that ladder, and to make matter worse, the rung on which I rest my foot is all but firm. I have tried to change jobs, but was thoroughly and comprehensively rejected. I felt like the marathon runner who is 5 metres from the ribbon but falls off. So close yet so far, has been my story. This obviously led to envy – how the hell others change jobs. They make it look so damn easy.

    What do I think is the solution? In my long life, I have observed that there is one friend who has never never disappointed me. No, it is not my wife, my family, my dog, my next door neighbour. It is time. Time is an incredible panacea. One just needs to let it play on. It will solve your issues including envies or jealousies – in ways you can’t describe or understand.

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    • Thanks for your thoughts, Manish. So your solution is to let time do its healing. It’s a sound strategy, but how do you protect yourself against constant attacks of envy? Do you have any steps that you take to work through your envy? I found that writing helped me. Maybe something else will help you? Since you’re a writer too, maybe you should write about it. You may find it will help.

      Like

  5. theguyraghav says:

    A beautiful honest to earth piece Sharath. I totally expect such stuff from you.

    Like

  6. Oh yes, envy strikes me once in a while and it strikes hard. But after a little moping, I quickly realize – what am I doing about it? If it’s about a writing credit or taking a trip to some coveted tourist spot, I feel I should get out there and do something rather than mope. That stern reminder to myself usual stops the moping 🙂

    Like

    • Hi Gargi. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. So your strategy is basically to give yourself some tough love and buck up. Do you find that envy preys more on the idle mind, and that action – however small – dulls it, somewhat?

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      • Yes I think any emotion preys more on the idle mind. That thing about it being the devil’s workshop is totally true!
        The tough love part is to bring out sanity – why feel envious of a person who has probably worked quite hard to get where they have? Especially when I haven’t done anything towards my goals, so it would be unfair of me to complain.

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  7. Over the course of three odd decades now I have envied all and sundry, right from the small kid next door who had a better cricket bat than me to my colleague in the next cubicle who earns more than me and has a flashier phone than I do. However, I have learnt to control such envious and jealous feelings using a combination of thinking objectively about the actual causes for such envy, making a mental note of them, discussing them with my wife and getting off the causes off my chest.

    Like some of the other commenters have already stated, it is but human to get envious, but it is the ability to overcome the same in whatever manner works for us, that makes us happier, calmer and feel more fulfilled in the long run. After all, there are always going to be people and things that we will feel envious about for the rest of our lives in any case.

    Yet again, a lovely topic to post on and the post itself was so well organized and well written as well 🙂

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    • Thanks for your thoughts, Jai.

      It has struck me quite hard these last few days about how little we speak to people about these ‘dark’ emotions. And yet at least half of our human experience is composed of these, isn’t it? We’re discouraged from speaking about it, from seeking advice, from confiding. For instance, I was conscious of a sense of shame when I wrote this piece. I had to motor through it and pretend it wasn’t there. But it was.

      It’s a pity that each one of us is left to work these things out for himself. Even with famous, successful people, these questions are hardly ever asked. No one asks Amitabh Bachchan, for instance, what he’s envious of and how he works through it.

      A study into the darker emotions of people whom we see as successful will do a lot to tell the rest of us that yes, it’s not wrong to feel them. It’s only wrong to not acknowledge them and take steps to thwart them before they blossom into actions.

      Like

  8. This one is nice & wonderful Post Sharath…we all have dark sides…we all have emotions….reg those it’s the choices how we handle our dark desires…being ambitious is one thing but being jealous & than seething into those negative thoughts is what we all have to learn. When I quit my job a decade back, I was always wondering when everyone around used to ask me- why did u quit? or when sometimes seeing co-workers reaching those heights which I have dreams of obviously have made me sad many times. But than like you did, I also introspect my life, my choices & than after a decade, I am back to pursue my passion, for myself. Cheers to these dark sides as if these weren’t there how would we know about good sides…Angels are there as Evils exists 🙂 Good Wishes. Wonderful post indeed!

    Like

    • Hi Ruchi!

      Good to hear from you. I’m glad you liked the post. I agree with you that these dark emotions are important. After all, they must be serving some evolutionary reason. That’s why they exist. It may even be that the most ‘successful’ people are driven by dark emotions such as anger, lust, greed and envy. Contentment is great at a personal level, but if the entire human race became contented suddenly with what they have, will our species survive? Not for very long, I guess.

      So you’re right. They’re necessary. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. First off, well done on sharing such stuff in the open. I think that’s a win in itself. Also I liked how u tackled it : Making a list of grateful things. It helps you remember what you do have. It is fine I guess to run after a certain something : a strong emotion or desire. In the process though you can ignore all the good that is already there. Yeah accepting that such emotions arise is the first step. While in the past I would push them away I totally accept whatever comes up. Because it’s fine. I am not perfect. The point though is not to brood over it. Sometimes these emotions are justified and sometimes maybe not. If they crop up regularly I try making myself better: Self-Improvement to a point where they dont arise. And it’s actually fun and exciting cause this way I first ask myself :

    A. Am I happy with my own skill level?[ Of Science | Writing etc ]. Is my skill level holistic? Am I just excellent in certain areas but ridiculously poor in others? Am I improving?

    B.When A is satisfied I am open to learning from others. [ And since for now I am working on A…building my skills to a point where I am very satisfied B doesnt arise ]

    It means being hard on yourself and I dont know if it is the best way…but that’s they way I deal with it…for now.

    I keep telling myself : We have one short and wonderful life really, best lived with love. And it’s good to dream big but we can constantly review ourselves to see if we are not clinging on to some narrow view of things. Do we know what is it that we are chasing?

    Yeah accepting that they arise is the way to go and if you have someone understanding you can share it with ,then that’s superb. The act of accepting whatever comes up instead of pretending it’s not there [ because it will come back] itself has made me realise that certain thoughts/emotions are actually quite foolish and they dont bother me much at all 🙂

    Like

    • Hi Vishal,

      Thank you for a wonderful reply. One of the great rewards of writing this post has been the overwhelming (and if you know me, I don’t use that word lightly) number of responses I got – both here and on email – from readers sharing their own stories, their own ways of combating envy. Once we realize that we’re not alone, it almost stops becoming a big deal. As you said, accepting it – whether in public or in private – is the first and crucial step.

      As for devising ways to deal with it, again I think you’re bang on the money. It will come back. No matter what you achieve, there will be SOME things in life that someone else will have that you won’t. And envy will find away into your heart again. So it’s important to be ready for it, and though it sounds impersonal, have a plan which will enable us to tackle it when it arrives. Because it IS a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’.

      Thanks again for sharing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. True, social media has become all about numbers. Sometimes writers end up attaching too much value to it. That is not something completely wrong as long as it’s helping you understand the importance of the subject that you have written about but it does become an object of being obsessive about the same.

    I had read somewhere: “No matter what it is that belongs to you or is a part of your life, you should be a bit detached from it”

    This has a very deep interpretation if one tries to plunge deep into the meaning of it but it does help.

    Lovely write-up! 🙂

    Like

  11. Well, Sharad..It is a nice post. I am new to Blogging world. On advice of a friend, I started browsing and Lo..on the first day itself, I could read a really thought provoking post which has brought out complex human emotions in a very open, clear and simple way. Yes, jealousy has always been there, be it in profession,love or. friendship. Sometimes, people go to unimaginable lengths when ridden with envy. But the analytic method tried by you does always helps in getting out of such situation. And perhaps that is the main difference between a rational mind and an irrational mind…!!

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