The Secret Power of Envy Can Be Used Positively

Updated: Apr 1

How can we change our perspective from envy to admiration?

What is envy?


Envy is usually associated with a feeling of inferiority that you don't possess as nice a car as your neighbour, or that girl on some social media platform has an ideal lifestyle. It is nothing to be ashamed of, because our societies have been structured around the objectification of possessions and to see someone who possess an object that you desire, whether it is overtly advertised by them or not will evoke either envy or admiration.


Within any social environment there is a natural tendency to measure yourself against your counterpart, whether it is physically, intellectually, financially or hierarchically.


What drives envy?


From my perspective there are two potential causes;

  • The first is recognition of someone experiencing something that you are longing for, whether it is joy, success, romance, a material possession or a pat on the back.

  • The second is recognition of someone achieving something similar to your aspirations, whether your aspirations are known or not. This can be in the form of a promotion in work, setting a record in a marathon or any other number of objectively tangible feats.

Envy is the reaction of your ego to someone else’s achievement and it requires close observation prior to taking any action.

Admiration


I like to think of the opposing feeling to envy to be admiration and this is purely a matter of perspective. Admiration of other’s talents or achievements and appreciating them from a universal perspective, like you would your favourite band or artist can emote a good feeling. Whether or not you hope to achieve the same thing, having a universal view can result in admiration and all the more so if your subjective view reinforces the difficulty of attaining that achievement.


Misplaced Expectations


There seems to be a general misconception that if you put in the same perceived amount of effort into a task as someone else, accounting for human biases, you would expect the same results or better. Strangely enough, this is never the case. If you perceive your results to be lesser than your counterpart, do not be discouraged. If you were to perform an in depth analysis of where you ‘went wrong’ you would soon realise that there are myriad factors that contribute to this, be it natural talent, cognitive or physical skills nurtured in their upbringing, their social network, luck and most importantly their approach to the task, which has been garnered by a lifetime of experience. Even in the unlikely event that you were born into the same community or family, attended the same school and university, held the same IQ and shared the same interests, there are still infinite untouched factors that will result in one of you achieving ‘better’ results.

The point here is that no two people are the same, so why would one expect the same outcome as another?

No two of us are the same


Imagine that you are a physicist in the same field as your counterpart, researching the same niche area and your counterpart makes the first quantum leap, you would be devastated at having invested all this time, energy and expectation for what?


As mentioned earlier, you are not in control of your destiny and even if you were to perform a post-mortem, who knows which of the myriad differences in your respective lives led to them making the discovery sooner? They took a different route, over the course of a lifetime, with different abilities and in a different environment that yielded this result.


While you are questioning why the stars aligned for them but not you, you should be moving on and utilising this experience elsewhere. It is impossible to determine which factors and controls created this outcome for them. If you remove the egotistical force that drove you to undertake this work from the altruism that initiated your interest in this area, you should be content that this discovery was made because it is what the world needed, not that you did not create it. You may have contributed it in a number of ways be it the competition you offered to your counterpart, or the shared methodology which drove them to consider it from another angle.


Likewise, your friend that got the ‘amazing’ girlfriend because he went to a party that you missed. You were busy gaining life experience elsewhere for your journey. Your journey may not lead to the amazing girlfriend, but then that’s not your destiny at this point, however, much you yearn for it. Your destiny is great in its own way and one that others will be envious of, whether you intend it or not. If this is your truest desire, you will achieve it. Again, this is personal and comes from within not from external sources.


We regularly observe the rise and fall of athletes and high achieving professionals without a hope of understanding what has led to their success or failure so that we can emulate them. For many of us struggling to get by, merely changing remotely considered matters such as a sleeping routine or diet can have dramatic effects on our performance and vice versa, yet we only tend to focus on what we perceive as the 'most important' factors as the secret behind their success. While the most tangible assets are of great importance like the physical build of an athlete, hours per week they train and their diet, our failings are in trying to copy the formulas of others because it has worked for them.


Cultural Influences


It is difficult to see your path because you are surrounded by billions of people each on a unique journey, each ascribing different value to everything and touting their idea as the only one that matters. This can be overwhelming, particularly as there is an immense desire to take part.


Some are more passionate than you about football, yet not as excited by technology. Some prize politics more than you but care less for spiritual practices. The confusion starts when communities of people agree on an idea. This homophily creates a more influential idea that will touch your life and understanding of the world every time you see it on TV or in the papers or discuss it at the pub. I am not advocating for one moment to isolate yourself from everyone and any medium of information but recognise that everyone is leading a different narrative and has a slightly nuanced interpretation of everything. On an individual basis not a single person agrees on a certain subject to the same degree as someone else and may vehemently disagree on numerous other matters.


How to deal with the green monster


One common approach to marshalling away envy is to create a negative narrative of that person (bear with me). In the age of social media this is done in a superficial way, whereby you see someone publicising how successful and happy they are in one respect, but you can imagine that they may be overcompensating for their reality, which may be an abusive relationship or a gambling problem. Basically, you try to balance your envy by creating a narrative in which you are superior to them in another respect. You are trying to restore balance in the universe which is admirable but this just doesn’t seem like a healthy way to approach the issue. The question we must ask ourselves in this situation is why do I feel inferior in this specific area?


This leads me on to the real tool to dispel envy. No matter what you may think, you are not in direct competition with anyone. You are merely living in a narrative that is the result of your upbringing. You are not in control of your destiny or the time it takes to achieve what you perceive as success.


Perspective


Sometimes you need to take a step back, but you only truly learn who you are in response to the rest of the world. Every experience from the moment you leave your house to the moment you drift away into the beyond is the world responding to you and your very own personal interpretation of it. I am not saying that we all perceive the colour red differently, but we do all perceive it differently. It probably evokes a different emotional response in all of us, and will evoke a different response tomorrow. Likewise, you are contributing to the defining of every other being on the planet and they will perceive you in their own way, based on their understanding of people and world. The question to ask here is Why are others not feeling as envious as you are are about a specific situation? Perhaps some of them are but do not mention it, but it largely relates to your perception of the situation.


You can work to manifest the life you want and that should be your focus. Others will achieve similar feats seemingly quicker and with relative ease, but will struggle in other areas, areas more pertinent to their life goals, meaning or ambitions. They may have the gift of the gab which opens doors, but you have enhanced sensitivity which helps you understand people better. They inherited a small fortune, but you got the opportunity to build resilience through hard work and learnt the value of money. They are a faster runner. Either use it to encourage you to train harder or find the right calling for you.


We have no idea how people perceive us, as everyone does so in a different way. Your mission for your own sake is to project your inner / truthful self so that those that accept you can help you appreciate yourself. Those that mock or reject you are either closed off to your truth for a reason within them or they have cottoned on to your dishonesty.


How to use envy

If you cannot get past this feeling then there is something within you that requires dissecting. Jealousy is merely a manifestation of your desire that you perceive in another in another’s achievement. The concept is self destructive if not channelled in a constructive way.


Envy is a gift. It can be that kick up the ass that you need to face your fears and do the work. It is an emotional response highlighting some level of dissatisfaction in your life. It may manifest itself through man-made hierarchies and ideals but it shows that you want more from life, it is sometimes misdirected.


The envy highlights something we are lacking and should be a wake up call to pursue something you clearly identify as meaningful.


To say love is the answer, is clearly not a resolution, because we cannot merely turn our feelings into feelings of love, something that naturally occurs. When you come to a place of admiration rather than jealousy, this is in essence to love that person or a quality of that person, but getting there requires a journey inwards.


The feeling comes from within and is only elicited by external triggers, so my advice would be to stop and think about why you are envious and don't be afraid to go deeper.


This can be done through meditation, journaling, therapy, talking to loved ones and should shine some light on why you feel this way and what you can do to make use of this gift.


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