5 Ways to Deal with Envy and Feel More Satisfied
This article is part of a series on how to cope with common feelings that can be tough to experience. Here, experts provide simple strategies for acknowledging and managing feelings of envy.
Your best friend got a new car, and you’ve been driving yours for 10 years. Your classmate got a good grade on the final exam, but you got a D. Your sister got diamond studs for her birthday, and you’ve wanted a pair forever. If you can’t help but yearn to be in their shoes instead of your own, you’re feeling envy.
What Is Envy?
Envy is the longing or painful feeling for what someone else has. This might leave you feeling unhappy and resentful. “Essentially it’s about wanting something or someone that you feel you can’t have,” says Tess Brigham, a licensed therapist who practices in San Francisco.
You could be envious that the person has an object like money or the new shoes you’ve been pining after, says Cortney Warren, Ph.D., board-certified clinical psychologist in California and adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “It could also be a trait or characteristic we wish we had, like an ability to easily speak in front of a large crowd or a fearlessness of flying,” she says. “And we wish we were more like them or had what they have.”
Wait, but Isn’t That Jealousy?
It’s important to note that envy is often confused with or used as a synonym of jealousy. But psychologists say there’s a difference: Jealousy is when someone feels protective or insecure about losing something they already have to someone else—usually there are three people involved with jealousy. So you might feel jealous about a friend spending more time with another person than she does with you. But you’d feel envious if the friend took a vacation you wish you could afford.
“Envy and jealousy are highly interrelated—they both are tapping into wanting something more or seeing ourselves as lacking in comparison to someone else,” Warren says. Understanding and naming which feeling you’re experiencing—or even that you’re experiencing both at the same time—can help you know how to handle it.
5 Steps for Dealing with Envy
It’s normal to feel envious of others. “It’s a very natural human emotional and cognitive experience as we evaluate and compare ourselves to those around us,” Warren says.
But often, envy is the thief of joy. Constantly comparing yourself to others makes you feel lacking, says Gauri Khurana, M.D., a psychiatrist practicing in New York City who also works as a clinical instructor at Yale School of Medicine. That feeling of dissatisfaction or of not being good enough can be nagging and may lead to unfavorable behaviors like overspending.
“Someone is always going to be better or more than you in [some way],” Khurana says. It’s difficult not to evaluate your life and possessions in relation to others, and if you find yourself doing it, you can take actions, like the following five steps, to help you deal with envy and move on.
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings
“The best way to deal with your feelings is to acknowledge them,” Brigham says. “When we do that, it’s easier to move on.”
Brigham gives the example of a woman who’s having a hard time getting pregnant and is envious of people who conceive easily. “That’s hard and it’s unfair,” she says. “It’s okay to feel these feelings.”
2. Remember: No One Is Perfect
Envy tends to develop when you see a partial picture of someone’s life. For example, when you go on Instagram, it may look like your friend has an amazing life, since she’s earned many awards at her job. But remember: You may not know that she works late hours and doesn’t like that she never gets home in time to put her kids to bed.
If you’re feeling envious, look inward. “I’d ask [someone who can’t let go of envy] why they are spending so much time worrying about this person and how it relates to where they perceive they are in their life,” Khurana says.
People may feel this way for an array of reasons. Some were constantly compared to others by family members when they were younger, for example. Others focus on another person to avoid thinking about their own situation. “For some, it’s easier to be angry at others and external factors than to make changes in their own life,” Khurana explains.
3. Give Yourself a Reality Check
Envy might help you ask yourself the tough questions. For example, let’s say a person has more money than you. Ask yourself: “Would you be happy doing what they do to get it?” suggests Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.,, a licensed psychotherapist who practices in Long Beach, California.
If that person’s job or lifestyle isn’t right for you, then you know that’s not the path for you and you might more easily let go of your envy.
4. Practice Gratitude
Your home may not be as big as Susie’s, but your life is filled with positivity and goodness. Expressing gratitude for that can increase life satisfaction, research suggests.
“Gratitude journals have been shown to generate feelings of goodwill towards oneself and others,” Khurana says. She suggests listing three things you’re grateful for each day—in the morning, evening, or both—to counter the tendency to think negatively. Work at developing it into a daily practice. Khurana says it takes 21 days typically to create a new habit, so stick with it.
5. Get Motivated
In some cases, when you feel envious, you can use those feelings for motivation. For example, when you hear about your brother’s promotion, you might be inspired to ask your boss how you can get on the promotion track, too.
“Envious feelings … can be generated into positive competitive ones that fuel a powerful motivation for excelling,” says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a psychotherapist specializing in children, couples, and families, who has a private practice in Beverly Hills, California. “Rather than getting stuck in a paralyzed position of the victim, one [realizes they need to] go out and get it.”
When to Seek Help
If you’re having trouble coping with envious thoughts, consider talking to a therapist. “When it gets in the way of a person being able to focus on themselves, it’s a problem,” Khurana says.
A licensed therapist can help you find strategies to help you deal with envy and find ways to regain satisfaction in your life.
“It’s shallow to live a life that is always trying to be better than someone else,” Khurana says. “It would be far more useful and more satisfactory long term to figure out what would make you happy.”
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