Envy image via Shutterstock
“Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.” ~Buddha
It’s in our nature to compare ourselves with others. The ability to weigh one situation up against another helps us make decisions and live our lives productively.
The downside is that when you constantly compare your own life with those of other people, you will always come up short.
Over-comparing causes envy. Envy is the feeling or sensation we have when we want to get something that someone else has and we can’t be happy for them when they have it.
Getting stuck in a cycle of envy is just about the best way to ruin your life. Fortunately, there are several ways to deal with envy that will guide you toward happiness and well-being.
Don’t Compare Your Cutting Room Floor With Someone Else’s Highlight Reel
Have you ever seen anybody post an unflattering photo on Facebook? Let’s face it, you rarely read about someone fighting with their spouse, hating their job, or declaring bankruptcy. Most people show you what they want you to see—a highly edited, glossed-up version of their life.
The next time you feel envious about someone else’s life, remember that you’re only looking at part of the story, the part they want you to see.
Think of something that another person has that you want. For example, maybe someone you know is far more popular than you. On the surface it may appear that they are surrounded with people who look up to them, and that they are well-liked and respected.
But in reality people might have a different view of them behind closed doors. In this case, the actual reality and what we perceive as reality are two very different things.
Even the most enviable lifestyle has downsides. For example, many people covet the glamour and glitz of the rich and famous. But have you every sat down and thought about what kind of life a famous person has?
Ask yourself if you’d enjoy someone jumping out of a bush and taking a snapshot of you in your grubby tracksuit pants while you’re collecting the newspaper from the front lawn.
There are always two sides to every coin. What you think you see is not necessarily the reality. So the next time you get caught up in envy, always remember that unless you are that person you don’t really have the whole story.
Isn’t It Already Here?
I am by nature a private person, but I wasn’t always that way. In my twenties I was invited to every party, had scores of friends, and was (in my own mind, at least) funny, clever, and popular.
As the years went by I became more introverted, and not too long ago I started beating myself up for not having many friends. Why wasn’t I popular like other people?
One particular couple that my husband and I love catching up with came to mind. Whenever we wanted to see them, we had to literally book months in advance because they were so busy with other social commitments.
Then I started to really ask myself, what is the essence of what I think popularity will bring me? The answer was simple: I wanted to feel a sense of connection and belonging.
It was at that time I realized that the essence of what I wanted was already here. I have a loving husband, a great family, a couple of good friends who would do anything for me, and plenty of time to do what I want.
I also realized that I would absolutely hate not having a moment to myself; being popular would probably make me pretty miserable.
So the next time you feel as though you’re missing out on something that somebody else has, drill down into the essence of whatever you think that thing would give you and ask yourself, is it already here?
Do You Really Want What They Have?
If you really want to play the comparison game, remember that if you want someone else’s life you have to be willing to do a complete swap; that is, you would have to give up your life as it is and swap over to theirs.
Here’s an exercise that will help you decide if you really want out of your situation and into someone else’s:
When you’re ready, think of someone you know who has the kind of life that you envy. Then take a piece of paper and in the left hand column write the heading “What I have that they don’t have.”
Then in the right hand column, write the heading “What they have that I want.” In this column you are going to make a list of all the things this person has that you want. Write down whatever comes to your mind. For example, do they have a lot of money, a nice house, nice clothes, or the perfect partner?
When you’ve finished doing this, move to the left hand column. Write down everything that you value in your life. For example, family, friends, pets, and everyone who is important to you.
One caveat: the other person may indeed have friends, family, and pets just like you. But in this case you’re not so much looking at what they have (i.e.: a dog, a child, a husband), but the unique relationship and connection you have with your pets and loved ones. So remember to write down the names of your family members, friends, and pets.
Be as specific as you can. Get really clear and what you love about your life. It could be something as simple as being able to finish work early on Thursdays so you can go to the gym.
Now its crunch time; you’ll probably find that the list on the left hand side is much bigger than the list on the right. So ask yourself, is there anything in this list you would be willing to give up in order to have the life that the other person has?
What you’ll likely discover is that everything you have in your list is as valuable as or more valuable than the things that the other person has.
One of the reasons we feel envy is that we often take the good things in our own lives for granted.
The happier you are with your lot in life, the more good things will come to you. Happiness studies show that truly happy people are not necessarily wealthy, powerful, or famous.
They have simply made a choice to be happy by paying attention to the good things around them. Since whatever you focus on will become the inclination of the mind, this makes perfect sense.
Every night before I go to sleep I ask myself the following questions:
- What do I take for granted in my life?
- Who are the important people (or animals) in my life?
- Who is in my corner?
- What freedoms do I enjoy?
- What advantages have I been given in life?
This allows me to take stock of what is important and gives me a nice feeling of contentment before I drift off to sleep. Try it for yourself!
Our society has conditioned us to believe that your net worth equates to happiness. Accordingly many people strive to be more, do more, and have more.
But none of those things actually cause any lasting happiness. They are all impermanent and subject to change. Most importantly, they represent other qualities of heart that can be achieved regardless of net worth.
Ask yourself the question: “What really makes me happy?” Is it actually the money, possessions, or reputation? Or is it freedom, joy, peace, and serenity?
Happiness is the ultimate currency, and there’s no law that says there isn’t enough of that to go around.