Do you ever fall into the wormhole that is Instagram-stalking? You know what I’m talking about: you see a photo (perhaps someone you know, perhaps something on the popular page) and you tap it. Before you know it, you’ve been stalking this person for hours, trying to better understand their life. They have a great body, a cute significant other. They take pictures in front of gorgeous scenery (maybe because they travel a lot) and they have selfies from glamorous corner offices.
What started as a fun time-killing photo binge turns into a sad ego-killing hour or so that ends in you resenting your body, your less-than-glamorous job and maybe even your single relationship status. How did you get here? Weren’t you just having a perfectly happy day? A small voice in your head tells you those people only post the pretty-seeming aspects of their life, but they leave out all the bad days and embarrassing moments. But the louder voice tells you that you don’t measure up to this person inside your phone.
Envy — the Demon and the Angel
Envy. We know it as one of the 7 deadly sins, but what is it really? Jealousy in itself is a biting emotion that makes us feel bitter and even hateful toward a person (whether we know them or not). Envy has to do with feeling unhappy about someone else’s happiness. Be it professional success or personal, when you see their achievements, you instantly start comparing them to yours.
Interestingly, envy helped us evolve as a species. It’s all about the competition and social comparison that forces us to self-evaluate. In a healthy scenario, we would see someone’s success and find motivation to match their achievements. But when it comes to envy, we instead want what that person has and we desire it so much that we feel unhappy and even angry about it.
Even if you don’t think you’re guilty of the social media envy I mentioned earlier, there’s a high probability you’ve still envied someone recently. Maybe you found yourself envious of the coworker who got a raise? Perhaps you scoffed at the announcement, knowing they slack off most of the day. Or maybe you envied your friend’s weight loss success, even though she worked hard for months and you haven’t been to the gym in a year. Sometimes we feel we have the right to be jealous or upset, but other times, we can’t exactly justify our feelings.
How Envy Is Slowly Killing You
So we’re all guilty of envying others. Fine. But here’s the thing: when you allow that feeling to permeate all of your thoughts or emotions toward that individual or yourself, you lose sight of your own reality. See, when you can only focus on what those other people are doing on their greener grass, you fail to realize yours only looks darker because you’re standing under a rain cloud.
You only have one life, yours. And if you waste it comparing yourself to other people and feeling envious about all the things they have that you want, you won’t have room for motivation because you’ll be so consumed with all that negativity.
How to Stop Envy From Taking Your Life
You don’t have to experience envy on such a negative level. There are ways to see things people are doing and view it as a motivator rather than a murderer.
First, take a moment to realize how you react.
When you see a close friend achieve something great, do you cringe because you’re envious, or celebrate their victories? Alternatively, if something bad happens, like a job loss or failed test, do you commiserate with them, or celebrate that your life is better than theirs?
Delete your Facebook.
Okay, fine. You don’t have to delete it. But you should limit your time with it and be hyper-aware of how you use it. If it’s a time killer while you’re standing in line at Starbucks or a way to share pictures with that one distant aunt that feels like you two are closer than you are…then fine! But if you spend an excessive amount of time on the site envying your acquaintances new job or baby or boyfriend…then you might need to take a step back.
Remember you’re impressionable (sorry, but you are).
If you spend most of your time with people who value materialistic items and social status, then it won’t be long before you share the same values. This spirals into a constant need to have the most and the best amongst those people and anyone else you encounter. It’s exhausting, unrealistic and not to mention expensive! There are so many important things to care about in this life. Don’t get caught up in the false idols.
Instead of comparing with others, compare with your past self.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the illusion that everyone seems to have it better than you. They’re thinner, prettier, more successful, happier…but you don’t know any of that for sure. Instead of getting so wrapped up in the idea that you are lesser, compare yourself to something tangible: your past self. I know I look back at photos of me, old articles I wrote, clothes I wore…and I realize how far I’ve come. My weight has gone up and down, but I’m more driven now than I ever have been to get healthy and stay healthy instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for myself.
I look at the group of friends I have and I’m so grateful I got rid of the toxic “friends” I once cared so much about. And of course, I dress much better! The point is to recognize the aspects of you that are better now than they were before. Keep the comparison healthy and personal, not fantastical and bitter. When you are comparing present-day-you with your own self, you see the progress you’ve made and you gain the satisfaction. No envy, just happy!
Put yourself into the others’ shoes (the people that you envy).
There’s a saying that I’ll paraphrase here: Don’t ever envy someone. You don’t know anything about their journey.
The idea of the saying is simple: someone may appear to have it all, but behind closed doors, they could be broken and struggling. Though you can never truly know what someone may be going through in secret, you can still try to imagine what it would be like to switch places with them. If you were to become the person you envy, imagine what it would be like (the good and the bad).
To make this example generic, let’s pretend I’m super envious of Lady Gaga. If I were to be her, I would have fame through music (pro), an attractive lover (pro), constant body shaming (con), no personal space because of all the paparazzi (con), a struggle to make the music I want vs. what my label demands (con). While this is obviously a fictionalized take on her life, it could very well be accurate. And really, I don’t think I’d want to switch places with her.
When you can imagine both the upside and downside of something, you’ll stop envying people you may not actually know anything about and start to appreciate what you have more and more.
Recently I found myself guilty of envy and some negativity in general. I was too “in my head” about things and it was resulting in a lot of unhealthy stress. I love to journal, so I decided to devote one page to gratitude. The premise is simple: when I think of things that make me grateful, happy, joyful, I write them down. And it’s not an intimidating list at all (think: cold brew, rainy days, sleeping in before a big brunch date), so when I say you can practice gratitude right now, I mean it.
Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io