Tame the green-eyed monster within: How to learn from envy

I confess I learn from envy more often than I’d like to admit because I’m often wondering, “Why can’t that be me?”

As much as I have tried to be candid about my embarrassing shortcomings (like believing electric fans are deadly, hoarding condiments, and taking things for granted), I haven’t been forthcoming on the subject of envy. I am ashamed that I long for things other people have.

I know this is a common feeling. We all covet. Of course, we want others’ good fortunes for ourselves. It is natural. Yet, despite knowing this intellectually, I still feel guilty that I am not grateful for all that I have. When I feel envious, I feel small and petty. And, I suspect that you do too.

I heard or read that when you feel envy, it can be a useful indicator of what you desire or what you might want to achieve.

This made a lot of sense to me and I can see how it can be especially useful for caregivers. All too often I women say they are too busy taking care of loved ones, they don’t have time for themselves. And, even if they did have time, they don’t know what they want anymore.

So, here are some good questions I’ve been using lately.

How to learn from envy

The next time you find yourself feeling envy, try asking yourself to better understand what you envy:

  • What is it that you envy? Is it something she has, something about her, or something she does?
  • If it is material, like an object or money, what is it that this brings her? If you were to possess it, what would it bring you? What are the emotions you would feel if you were to obtain it?
  • If what you envy is a characteristic or a personality trait of the person, what are the benefits? What does it bring her? And, if you were to magically gain this trait, what would it bring you?
  • If what you envy is a behavior or something the person does, what is it? What does this do for her? And, if you were to do the same, what might it bring you?

After reflecting on what you envy and what the potential benefits are, try to pinpoint the underlying emotions or intangible notions, that it relates to. Some common ones are:

  • freedom/autonomy
  • mastery/competence
  • intelligence/skill
  • love/admiration/belonging
  • power/authority/strength
  • safety/comfort/ease
  • peace/calm

The idea here is to identify what it is you truly want.

Some possible next steps

Of course, there are circumstances you cannot change. That can be frustrating.

Other things may be within my control but they might take considerable time or effort. And, of course, that can be disappointing too.

In these cases, I think just sitting with such frustrations is not a bad thing. (For example, listening to Taylor Swift’s “The Man” soothes certain aggravations for me.)

After stewing a bit, what has helped me is to ask myself another set of questions:

  • What about me could cause envy in someone else?
  • What do I have, what is it about me, or what do I do that someone else might wish for?

We are designed to focus on what’s wrong. Therefore, the above questions retrain our brains to consider what is going right.

Finally, I try to consider what is within my control. More often than not, there is something that is within our power. So, ask yourself this final set of questions considering the emotions that you identified earlier.

  • What is one baby step you might do to increase that emotion within you?
  • What is something you might be able to emulate in a small way?
  • How could you do something similar in a tiny way? What you could do or try? Or, is there another path to that feeling you desire?

Your turn

What we learn from envy can become strong motivator. Rather than attack or chase those green-eyed monsters away, we may benefit from getting to know them a bit better.

I’d love to hear if you give this a try. Please let me know how you learn from envy.