Welcome to Envy
“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” (—Harold Coffin)
To be envious is to regret one’s failure to achieve good fortune or to regret the successes of others. It is often accompanied by a false sense of entitlement. Instead of working for what they want, envious people may believe they deserve it merely because they want it. Also, in their twisted perspective, they may imagine that the gains of others have been taken from them, so they are filled with resentment. The envious suffer twice, when they don’t succeed and when others do. Their negative attitude makes them unpopular, which further escalates their envy.
Envy manifests itself in three stages. The first is the regret of one’s perceived loss. For example, you may have been in a golf tournament, beauty pageant, speech contest, or a political campaign. And despite your best effort, you may have had to watch someone else win. To feel a bit envious at that time is hardly surprising. As long as you lose gracefully, congratulate the winner, and wish them well, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Occasional losses are helpful as we can use them to develop our strength and character.
This first stage of envy is harmless, but not so for the second stage, which is to resent the good fortune of others. This animosity may be expressed by ill will toward others. For instance, to increase our chances of winning, we may wish our golf opponent lands his ball in the sand trap. A beauty contestant may hope her rival falls off the stage during her dance routine, or a speaker may prayer that his challenger freezes in fear and forgets his speech. And a politician may hope the opposition drops out of the race because of a blunder.
What’s so bad about wishing our rival a streak of bad luck? After all, thoughts can’t harm anyone, can they? Wrong! Firstly, they can harm us by festering in our soul, for as the Greek Dramatist, Antisthenes, wrote 2,400 years ago, “As iron is eaten away by rust, so the envious are consumed by their own passion.” Second, where do malicious acts originate? Don’t they all begin as thoughts? That’s what makes the second stage of envy harmful. It has the potential of reaching the third stage, which is action taken to hurt others.
So you see, if we’re not careful, a little “innocent” envy can develop into hateful actions. This is why envy is treated seriously in the Bible: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” (Exodus 20:17) Again, “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30)
Those who act maliciously because of envy usually begin by criticizing and maligning others, as well as lying and spreading rumors. Although the envious are troublesome to others, they are a torment to themselves. As they sink further into despair, they may engage in violent behavior. Thus, envy can lead to hate crimes and more. Envy and its harmful results cause one to feel ashamed and may lead to self-loathing. Envy springs from a sense of emptiness or unworthiness and the resultant thoughts and malicious acts are done to dull, soften, or conceal the pain. The cure for envy is goodwill, benevolence, and generosity. The secret is to focus on others instead of ourselves. It is only by helping others that we will be helped.
Is there someone you envy? The best thing you can do is to befriend them. When you express your admiration for their accomplishments, they will be happy to pass on tips on how you, too, can be successful. Instead of nurturing resentment, inspire yourself by their example, and emulate their success. Focus on, “How can I achieve that?” instead of “I wish I had that.” Use your negative emotions to help you grow. Life is like photography; we need negatives to develop.
If someone is envious of you and treats you coldly, try to be compassionate. They may act cruelly, but it’s not because they dislike you, but because they’re unlike you. They lack your strength. If they belittle you, they’re just trying to cut you down to their size. Yet, if you extend your hand in friendship, you may have the power to change their life. By your own example, you will be able to teach them that blowing out another’s candle will not make their own shine brighter.
Real Life Example
A reader writes, “One of my biggest challenges is overcoming envy and resentment. My Father was very successful but became ill about 10 years ago and stopped working and lost a lot of money.
“A lot of my friends have extremely wealthy parents and for some reason I resent it very much!
I pay my rent every month and am doing extremely well for myself but for some reason I keep focusing on what I don’t have and what my friends do have.
“Most people would do anything to be in my position; yet, I’m still focusing on what I don’t have. And it bothers me that I will have to work so hard to get everything I want.
“Do you have any suggestions?”
Answer: Envy is pervasive and, therefore, makes an excellent topic. Even though it is widespread, however, the degree to which it is troubling varies from person to person. Yet, there is good reason to try to remove it from our lives, for envy is a thief that robs us of happiness. Or, as Buddha put it, “He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.”
Besides robbing us of happiness, envy also prevents us from enjoying what we already have. Worse than that is the physical damage done to our bodies by the toxic emotions of envy, resentment, and frustration. By the way, the knowledge that negative emotions have an adverse effect on our body is hardly new. For even the Old Testament teaches, “Envy and wrath shorten the life.” (Ecclesiastes, 30:24)
Even if you were to think of envy as a trifling matter, at times the smallest of concerns can lead to huge problems if we do not nip it in the bud. For this reason, the British Cleric, Poet, and Mystic Thomas Traherne wrote, “A little grit in the eye destroyeth the sight of the very heavens, and a little malice or ENVY a world of joys. One wry principle in the mind is of infinite consequence.”
When his family was well-off, our reader felt comfortable among his wealthy friends. But after they became impoverished, he felt that life was unfair. He wondered why this was happening to him and not his friends. After all, he was just as deserving, if not more so. Therefore, he grew resentful.
Why did misfortune strike our reader? Probably because life has better plans for him. You see, when everything is handed to us on a silver platter, we are denied the exhilaration and joy that follows success after a long struggle. True, if we inherit great wealth, we can spend it on various pleasures, but how short-lived they are! How shallow they are! Unless we struggle for our success, we will never know what it means to live a thrilling adventure, which is what life was meant to be.
The moral for our reader is embrace your turn of fortune. Delight in the knowledge that it represents an opportunity for you to reach undreamed of heights. You were placed on earth to live as a hero, not a beggar. Besides, why do you want to be like your friends? Greatness lies in following your own path. Strive for uniqueness, not conformity. The paradox is that very often having less is having more. For when we have less wealth, we often have more drive, more ambition, more direction, more purpose, and more adventure.
Also, please understand there is a great difference between those who have had wealth handed to them and those who have had to work hard for their success. The difference is the former can lose everything they have, for all they have is wealth. But if the latter lose their wealth, they still have the skills and knowledge they got during their struggles. Armed with know-how and the scars to prove they can overcome obstacles, they have the resilience to bounce back after a so-called defeat. They are true survivors, for it is not wealth that provides security, but resilience.
It also needs to be said that envy is ignorance of the problems that others have. Your friends may be unhappy, have relationship problems, be ill, worried about the future, be bored, feel lost, be unsure of themselves, or have any number of a host of other problems. It is only your ignorance of their complaints that makes you envy them.
Additionally, you seem to be confused about the true nature of wealth. Wealth is freedom from want. By “freedom from want,” I don’t mean freedom from a lack of possessions, but freedom from a need for possessions. What you, your friends, and I really want is happiness. Constantly bombarded by commercials, however, we are often led astray, believing the next great product will bring happiness.
But, alas, happiness does not come from having more, but being more. Being more cooperative, helpful, encouraging, accepting, patient, understanding, trusting, supportive, compassionate, forgiving, cheerful, and caring. This form of behaviour is aligned with our true nature, so when we act that way, we feel good and discover what it is like to have heaven on earth. Moreover, when we wish others well and celebrate their successes, we uplift ourselves and destroy any remnants of envy.
In the second paragraph, our reader writes “…for some reason I keep focusing on what I don’t have…” His behaviour doesn’t stem from some mysterious reason; it’s simply based on force of habit. So, it’s time to change the habit. It’s simple to do. Just start each day by writing the following questions and answering them in a journal: “What am I grateful for today? What am I excited about today? What am I looking forward to today?”
Answering these questions keeps you focused on the positive, energizes you, and jump-starts your day. Repeat this daily, and in a short time, you’ll begin to see life in a new way. Much has been written about the importance of gratitude and I’m sure you know all about that, but now it’s time for you to experience it.
For a book you may find helpful, see “Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Don’t“ by Michael J. Losier. This book is less metaphysical and much more down-to-earth and practical than other books on the same subject.
Summing up, I suggest our reader strive to become more rather than trying to have more. One way of doing so is by living by the creed of William A. Ward: “Blessed is he who has learned to admire but not envy, to follow but not imitate, to praise but not flatter, and to lead but not manipulate.”
“Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those we envy.” —Franois de la Rochefoucauld
- ENVY: A Theory of Social Behaviour by Helmut Schoeck
- Satisfied: Envy Free And Enjoying Life by Guy Jones
- Envy: Theory and Research (Series in Affective Science) by Richard Smith
- Envy and Gratitude Revisited (IPA: Psychoanalytic Ideas and Applications) By Priscilla Roth and Alessandra Lemma (Editors)
- The Psychology of Jealousy and Envy by Peter Salovey PhD (Editor)
- The Kabbalah of Envy: Transforming Hatred, Anger, and Other Negative Emotions By Rabbi Nilton Bonder