Why Envy May Actually Be a Good Thing For You

We all compare ourselves to others. We know we shouldn’t…but we do.

We either look at what they’re doing and wish we were doing it as well, or else we may look at them and make critical, maybe even cynical judgements.

It can be painful to accept but we all experience waves of envy and jealousy from time to time. Probably more often than we are comfortable admitting even to ourselves. In many ways this has only been compounded by the rise of social media and the sugar-coated perception that we have of other peoples’ activity through their photos and updates.

We live in a time where we inadvertently compare our own lives with our perception of the lives of others.

Envy is not a nice colour

Envy is not a pretty colour, we know that.

But what happens when we experience it? How do we respond when we look at what other people are doing and feel a deep desire that we were doing the same?

Shauna Niequist recently appeared on Jeff Goins’ Portfolio Life podcast and made an astute point. She said that envy can be a great teacher when we allow it to speak and we take the time to listen to what it is telling us deep down. And after a lot of reflection I believe she might be right.

It feels outrageous saying it but it’s better to understand than to suppress our feelings. Envy/jealousy are commonly experienced by all of us.

Jealousy vs Envy

Jealousy is the feeling or fear of loss. It’s what we feel when someone else got the promotion, your partner is dancing with someone else etc.

Envy on the other hand is the desire for something that you don’t have. For example, wishing you had someone else’s good looks, car, lifestyle etc. Homer Simpson nails the difference between envy and jealousy here. 

Envy speaks to us in subtle ways, it can nudge us to do things and to explore parts of ourselves and the world. It’s a natural part of how we interact with life. It directs our attention and shows us what we want to focus on.

Envy can inspire us to positively change habits and priorities. But as we all know it can also have a poisoning affect on our motives and objectives.

A lot of it comes down to whether we live with an abundance mindset (there is more than enough of everything to go around) or a scarcity mindset (life is a zero-sum game: if someone else has a big piece of pie it means less for everyone else).

So how can we shift our viewpoint to have a healthy and positive relationship with our feelings of envy?

1. It Can Speak

Shauna said that envy subtly guides you to your desire. You can hear it pointing you in the direction that deep down you maybe want to explore. You are drawn by a desire towards something. Why do you want it? What would you do if you had it?

Envy is not a place to aim for, it’s not something to encourage but it’s important to listen to what it is telling you.

Once we process envy, a lot of the time we can simply disregard it as materialistic and frivolous. But there are other times when we find a sense of calling out within – a voice pushing us towards something that we truly connect with; things that will allow us to get closer to living a more authentic expression of who we are (hobbies, jobs, careers, people, worldviews, lifestyles etc).

2. It Can Focus You

Envy happens. It’s a part of life. Do you allow it unthinkingly to dictate your actions, or do you pay attention and seek to understand what it’s saying?

Always make the most of those moments when the deep underlying voice comes up to communicate with you at the surface. Listen.

It can re-focus you when you are drifting and feel off course in life. You wish you had the clarity that someone else has? The focus? The success from the path they’re on? It’s time to make that change, listen to what your life is telling you about what it wants you to do. Now start your own journey.

3. It’s About You, Not Them

When you’re browsing photos on social media and an envious thought comes to mind, what is it that you’re really feeling?

It’s speaking to you about your own life not theirs. If you wish you were in the pictures at the social gathering then maybe you’re telling yourself to give someone a call, invite them out for dinner, spend some time with other people.

The photos your friend posted of them travelling – do you really envy that person, or are you telling yourself that it might be nice to take a little trip of your own? What is your envy saying about YOUR own choices?

4. It can be suppressed but…

When we suppress envy and therefore deny certain potentially positive and healthy deeper callings that we may have, we are not eradicating the poison. We are simply moving it to a place where it can have a more corrosive and long-term impact.

It bubbles up through cynicism, judgement of others, bitterness, resentment, and more envy. It grows back more aggressively. This happens when we allow external belief systems to dictate what we supposedly should and should not want to pursue in life and to forcefully override our natural passions.

5. It is a story

Envy is a story we tell ourselves about the life of another person. It’s not truth. It’s perception. Always remember that what we believe about the lives of others is rarely the reality.

Be careful with the aspects of someone else/their life that you envy. For example envy can lead us to believe that having what they have will make us happy. Or that doing what they do/knowing who they know is the key to contentment.

This is the perpetual lie of envy and why it can be a poison in our lives.

We must make the distinction: envy can lead us towards who we are deep down, but it can also lead us away from who we have the potential to be.

It is not your destination, it is not your motivation; it is the quiet voice inside us all that can provide clues to the reality of our deeper passions. Don’t dwell there. Accept it, understand it, and move on with an abundance mindset.

Over to You

How do you deal with the envy you experience? Do you channel it in positive or negative ways? I would be really fascinated to hear your thoughts on this. It’s something I’m still trying to get my head around so your insights would be extremely valuable to me.

  1. Let me just note when I said all people die: the Bible mentions two exceptions of this ( and Jesus, Who died and came back to life, and went back into heaven, seated at the right hand of God). However, these two followed God and were taken by God.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear that you think this way, Andy. However, the Bible lists envy as one of the things people who “suppress the truth” of God and have “debased minds” (meaning, reverted or corrupted) do. It is one of the things the Bible condemns as “…not fitting…” (Romans 1:28). However, most, if not all people do that, and are deserving of death in hell after we die “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This eternal life is found when we believe that because God loved us, the worst people, He sent Jesus Who is 100% God and 100% man, we believe that He died on the cross for our sins, He came back to life (there were witnesses – see the Gospels and the New Testament if you want), He ascended back into heaven, and we repent by asking God for forgiveness and, with His strength, swimming against the current of the evilness in the world and following the Bible – start in the book of John if you want) God bless you. See, envy is bad . When we commit it, we need to ask God for forgiveness and turn to Him with His strength. So help is God. You can respond if you want, and let me tell you that all people die and we don’t know when. After we die, it is too late to turn to Gid unless we do it now. As the Bible says: For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

    1. Hi Ayden, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! The humanness of envy is a really interesting thing to think about – what do we do with it? I’d be interested to know how you respond to the natural feelings. It strikes me as dangerous for someone to suppress or deny the truth of an authentic emotional response to something. And that it would be a much more grace, compassion, and loving position to build a healthy relationship with this stuff. Which is what I was attempting to explore in the post. There is a difference between a life driven by our envy (resentment of others and a desire to be better than others), and one in which we are self-aware enough to recognise where, how, and why envy shows up for us, and then taking an empowered position as we choose how to respond to it. An emotion is not something we ‘commit’ in the sense of choosing an action. What we do WITH an emotion is more of a responsible choice, for sure. The idea that we should feel ashamed of a feeling is not particularly healthy.

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