30 Tidbits Until 30 - Day 4: Why Envy Doesn't Make You Evil
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Category: Mental Wellbeing
I was recently out for dinner with a close girlfriend when the topic turned to envy. Specifically, we were talking about how awful the feeling is, with my friend even exclaiming that it's one of the seven sins. So not only is it a terrible feeling to experience, society has also embedded this idea in us, that to feel it, makes you a bad person. I disagree - it's not that simple.
Before diving into the subject of envy, let's distinguish envy from jealousy. Admittedly, until I started writing this blog post, I was using them interchangeably. After doing some googling, I've found dictionary definitions and an article from Psychology Today which agree on the definitions.
"In common parlance, “jealousy” is often used synonymously with “envy.” But they are distinct emotions. Whereas envy is a reaction to another person’s seemingly unfair advantage or possession, jealousy is a reaction to a perceived threat of losing someone you already “possess” in some sense—usually a person with whom you have a special relationship—to a third party."
Now that we've covered that, let's get into the subject of envy.
The dinner conversation with my friend, turned to envy when we started discussing our careers.
During my time in the music industry, I've watched other up-and-coming artists achieve milestones such as getting signed to labels, management, have their tunes played on major radios, get onto official Spotify playlists etc. I always cheer on my colleagues, but sometimes, when you feel you're working just as hard as everyone else but not meeting the same milestones, it can make you envious. The friend I was having dinner with expressed how envy started becoming more prevalent at her former job. For over a year she had been promised a promotion, but it kept on being delayed. All the while, her colleagues around her were getting promotions. She's one of the most positive, supportive and hardworking people I know, and so I can confidently vouch that she’s not a bitter young woman wishing ill on those around her. What I’m trying to show is, that even the most supportive and kind souls can experience envy. And I don't think that it makes you a bad person.
I recently saw an interview Jay Shetty did with Mel Robbins, where she talks about turning the experience of jealousy, into something positive (I know I distinguished the difference between jealousy and envy at the beginning, but Mel's message is still relevant, though I do think she interchanged the words). She says:
"You cannot be jealous of someone or something that you don't truly desire. Jealousy is a clue. It's a directional signal....aim it (jealousy) into inspiration" - Mel Robbins
I highly recommend watching the 2:23 minutes because what she says is golden.
After watching Mel's interview, I felt a shift in mindset, in the sense that I stopped beating myself up for sometimes feeling envious. When I’ve felt envy, it hasn’t been towards the person specifically or thinking they are not deserving. When Jane and Bob sign record deals and their tunes make it onto major radio stations, it's not that I stop cheering them on or wish ill upon them, it's that I too would really like to achieve those milestones. My envy of their achievements, is simply a sign of what I too desire and am trying to achieve.
So, when my friend talked about her shame of feeling envious, I told her about Mel Robbins’ words. From years of therapy, I know that feeling ashamed for feeling some type of way, really doesn't do you any favours. And I think that's where my problem with society’s take on jealousy and envy lies. Human beings are born to feel emotion and at some point or another, most of us will make it through the spectrum wheel of emotions; jealousy and envy included.
Even trying to find a meme for the picture of this blog post, solidifies how ugly we feel envy and jealousy are. Most memes are proclaiming that the person feeling jealous/envious isn’t whole, or is bitter, or is a hater, or a slew of other unredeemable qualities. But is this really the truth? I don’t think so.
I think we think of jealousy and envy as being all-consuming feelings that eventually turn the individual feeling them, into a bitter and brittle person. Why can’t the feeling just be fleeting? A fleeting moment where an individual goes “man, I wish that was me” then goes about their business trying to achieve their goals without so much as a second thought about the thing they just saw that made them feel a twinge of jealousy and envy. Because honestly, I think that’s how most people experience those emotions. I don’t know one person (granted I don’t have a massive social circle) who uses their existence brewing in envy and jealousy. It isn’t some all-consuming feeling that completely derails a person’s character, and I think we need to stop acting like it does.
The danger of feeling envious or jealousy, is if you let the emotion fester and make you bitter. It becomes problematic if you start making it personal, for example, you stop cheering on Jane and Bob for achieving something you also wanted.
I’m going to propose that the next time you experience envy in your life, to let yourself experience it. It’s just a feeling and you are not your feelings. You don’t need to beat yourself up for experiencing something society has filed under the category of “feelings that make you ugly”. Have your moment, then move on. The way I see it, as long as you’re able to center yourself (just as you would after a long cry or receiving bad news), you’re not a bitter and ugly person. You’re just human.