Envy can inspire you into excellence.
I have turned red with embarrassment, blue with melancholy, yellow with cowardice, gray with boredom, pink with happiness, purple with relaxation, and white with fear. Of all the colors, the one I am least proud of is turning green with envy.
Envy is the pain I get from seeing others’ joy. Envy means wanting what the other person has, wishing he or she didn’t have it, and willing or inflicting harm to him or her. In envy, I have experienced the first two, and I hope I never experience the third one.
Envy originates in our mind’s nature to compare. The magic mirror on the wall won’t forever call you the fairest in every aspect of life. Further, when you look around and see the disproportionate distribution of material goods, success, and other worldly things, you will conclude that the world isn’t fair. Effort isn’t always rewarded, and laziness or bad intentions aren’t always punished. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. Envy is thus natural.
My envy is my prison. Envy makes me empty and blind—depleted of positive emotions and blinded to my own blessings. Envy demoralizes me. I quit my efforts, feel like a victim, become resentful, and sink into apathy. The green of envy also can easily turn into more sinister colors, making me aggressive and insensitive and depersonalizing the other person in my mind. Many wrongful, unthinkable acts have happened in this state.
A parallel sentiment to feeling pain in others’ joy is feeling joy in others’ pain. When you are attracted to the news showing the fall from grace of someone rich and famous, you experience “suffer entertainment,” also called schadenfreude. When we read negative press about someone we envy, we activate our brain’s pleasure center. While we may quickly recover our righteousness, I have no doubt the pleasure centers in your brain and mine regularly participate in suffer entertainment.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If I choose, seeing suffering can evoke compassion in me, and feeling envious can inspire me. Here are seven ideas to help envy inspire you:
• Validate others’ hard work—Look deeper and search for reasons why someone else received more than you did. Often, you’ll discover tremendous hard work (with, of course, a side helping of luck).
• Remember and be grateful for your blessings—Before you get envious, be grateful that without knowing or trying, you may have received countless gifts from the world. We don’t know why one child is orphaned from birth while another gets pampered by hundreds. We can only be grateful for the love and nurturing we have received.
• Recognize others’ suffering—Most people are good at hiding their pain. While you see material success, you seldom can see the daily emotional struggles. Assume that most people are struggling—even the ones who look perfectly balanced and cheerful, who seem to have it all.
• Minimize comparisons—Every person has his or her strong domain. Honor individual strengths and be kind to individual weaknesses.
• Focus on self-improvement—When you see others doing well, instead of labeling it unjust or getting into the victim mode, use that as an inspiration to improve yourself. Wish for yourself without unwishing for others.
• Change your seeking—Instead of seeking just material success or fame, seek the virtues you gain from good deeds and altruistic intentions. Be envious that the other person is helping so many, and get inspired to rise to that level or higher.
Ignoring envy won’t help. Envy is instinctive, and it’s often the first response to seeing someone’s success. Recognize its nature and learn how the glitter of the world attracts the mind. Harness envy to inspire you toward a more meaning-filled life. Never let envy translate into inflicting harm on others or feeling joy in others’ pain. Finally, remain humble and kind so your success doesn’t create envy in others, recognizing that your humility and kindness may still not protect you, as perhaps Snow White could tell you.
With deeper insights when you truly shed your envy, you’ll find the space filled with love, to which the space truly belongs.
May you be inspired into doing good by others’ success and into humility by your own success.
@AmitSoodMD (on Twitter)