Envy is universally acknowledged as a horrible thing. After all, it’s one of the 7 Deadly Sins and goes against the 10 Commandments. Maybe you felt it when a co-worker received a promotion you thought you deserved. Or when a friend bought their first house, while you’re stuck renting for life. It’s natural to feel envious of someone’s career, lifestyle, or Tesla Model X.
But envy does have a silver lining. In fact, it’s harmful only when it makes us feel resentful or inferior. Instead of thinking of it as a destructive force, know that you can use envy constructively. Here’s how:
Use envy as a motivator.
Imagine you and a friend ran a 10K and once again, you came in two minutes behind her. Don’t begrudge her victory; channel that envy into inspiration that pushes you to reach your own goals. It could be something as simple as adding an extra mile to your daily run to increase your stamina.
Remember, you have control over the situation. Humans are lazy by default, and we often fight against doing the very thing we want to accomplish. Even if the object of your envy seems too difficult, or too far out of your reach, try to break it down into manageable steps. As Mark Goulston writes in Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior, “If you use it to fuel you, envy won’t rule you.”
Think of envy as a guide, showing you what you really want in life.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with liking what other people have or do. Examine your envy to learn what it reveals about your own personal or career goals. Do you envy your best friend for having a fulfilling career? That offers a clue that you too want to have a job that you love. Do you envy your brother for his incredible vacation in Thailand? That might mean you also have the travel bug and are itching for an adventure somewhere. Envy offers insight about what you really want in life, and gets you closer to living more authentically.
Envy can lead to self-improvement.
In a blog post for Psychology Today, Dr. Richard Smith makes an important distinction between “benign” and “malicious” envy, arguing that cultivating the benign version is actually a good habit.
Let’s say you’ve always envied your super fit friend. He’s at the gym six days a week and bikes to work every day. He eats clean and rarely drinks. Meanwhile, you’ve put on 15 since college and can polish off a sleeve of Pringles in one sitting. Reframe your feelings so that you’re no longer envious of his buff body. Instead, admire his dedication to keeping healthy. Use that envy to inspire your own diet and fitness goals.
“When we feel envy, thinking incrementally about things we can do to improve ourselves, may steer us toward benign envy and its constructive effects,” Smith says.
Make the envied person your role model.
If you admire the person and want to be like them, emulate their path. Study their moves to determine how they have become successful in an area you also wish to dominate. Instead of sulking in the shadows, share your admiration with the person. Compliment them on their hard work. Put forward positivity, ask for advice, and try to engage them as a mentor.
We may never know how difficult the journey to success was for the envied person. Once you start seeing them as deserving of their accomplishments, it might inspire you to make changes that get you closer to your goals.
Try to turn your envy into gratitude. Don’t get hung up with shame for having those conflicted feelings. Look at your own life and celebrate the big and small victories. Are you healthy? Great! Do you have a solid support network of friends and family? Awesome! In the end, it’s those simple things that enrich our lives and make us #blessed.
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