It happens to most of us at some time or another.
A neighbor will buy something extravagant, like a gorgeous new car, and you look at your older car in the driveway and feel some envy.
A relative will get a great job and make more money in a year than you ever have. You’ll overhear talk of that person’s salary, think about your own salary, and feel some envy.
You’ll visit an old friend who has a huge, nice house with plenty of room for their family and some really beautiful decorations. You’ll go back to your own small home or apartment, look around, feel like it’s a dump, and feel some envy.
Envy. It’s an emotion that we all feel at some point.
It’s also a really dangerous emotion when we’re trying to build a strong financial life. After all, envy encourages us to make some pretty poor decisions.
Envy causes us to buy things to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Envy causes us to get in way over our head with a car loan or a mortgage or a furniture loan.
Envy causes us to start buying lots of luxury brands that we can’t really afford, draining money away from much more important things.
Envy is pure poison to a healthy financial life.
Like every other character flaw, however, envy can be overcome. You can directly reduce the envy itself, or you can at least reduce the bad choices you make as a result of envy.
Here are seven strategies I use to cut envy out of my own life.
Take time to focus on the good things you already have. Even if you don’t happen to have everything that other people have, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have an amazing life. Almost everyone’s life is full of a lot of amazing things if they take the time to consciously look for them.
Look for the “amazing” you already have in your life and feel grateful for it. Look at the people who love you. Look at the positive things you’ve achieved. Look even at the simple pleasures, like the warm feeling of a ray of sun on your skin. Your life is loaded with goodness, so make that the focus in your life.
ACTION: Take a few minutes each day to write down five things you’re grateful for. Do this in an ordinary notebook, and make it part of your daily routine.
Remember that no one has the “perfect” life and you’re often merely seeing a carefully prepared “public face.” It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that other people have a “perfect” life – or one that’s much closer to “perfect” than your own.
However, one needs to always remember that when we see people in public, they’ve often got their public face on. They’re trying to show themselves at their best, most of the time.
When we see people on social media, they’re almost always showing their best. They want to show the greatness of their life, not the flaws.
Don’t judge your own life by comparing your whole to only the positive facets of the lives of others. You’ll almost never win that comparison, and it’s a false comparison to boot, so just don’t bother with it.
If you must compare yourself, remain mindful of what’s not seen in their public appearances and their social media profiles. What’s just outside of the camera lens? What’s
ACTION: Reflect on the sacrifices that person had to make in order to have that thing you’re envious of. How many years of study did it take to get there, earning very little and suffering difficult situations? How much debt are they taking on to buy that thing? Is that really a tradeoff you want in your own life? Likely, when you step back and look at the sacrifices involved, it’s not just a big positive and it’s often not even a trade you’d want to make for yourself.
When someone else succeeds, celebrate it rather than be envious of it and remember that the world is an abundant place. Envy often is born from a view of the world in which every winner must be paired somehow with a “loser,” that for every person who gains, there must be a person who loses in return.
That’s a false view of the world. The world is an abundant place. Take love, for example; a loving relationship has no loser. Both people win. A productive professional relationship has no loser. A good friendship has no loser.
Thus, when a friend finds something good, you didn’t “lose” because of it. No one did. They merely had a good thing in their life, and that’s worth celebrating. It is good for everyone when a friend finds something good in their life.
When your friend sees success, be happy for them for their own merit. That success does not mean that you lost – it merely means that your friend won, and that’s something to truly be happy about!
ACTION: Whenever you notice a friend’s good fortune, don’t dwell on what you don’t have. Consciously choose to be joyous for what your friend has gained, and express that joy publicly in honest congratulations.
Cultivate relationships with people who publicly aspire to the values you aspire to. Look for people in your communities – online and off – that espouse the values that you aspire to and make it your goal to cultivate relationships with those people.
The reason is simple: the attributes of your friends rub off on you, and the closer the friend is, the more likely you are to pick up on those attributes in your own life. Thus, it makes a great deal of sense to surround yourself with people who are not envious of others, with people who instead are humble and genuinely happy for others.
ACTION: Identify an acquaintance that exhibits the virtues you desire, particularly virtues such as humility and reliability and trustworthiness. Cultivate a friendship with that person and try to emulate those good traits within that friendship. If you’re becoming friends with a humble, courteous person, be humble and courteous yourself.
Avoid people who publicly present values you don’t want in your life. The flip side of the above strategy is to slowly divest yourself of relationships with people who exhibit traits you don’t want in your life.
Avoid people who are envious and critical and negative in their attitudes toward others. Avoid those who try to show their value in terms of the things they own and have bought. Avoid those who brag of their personal and professional and financial successes.
ACTION: Look through your list of friends and identify those who often bring negative traits to the conversation and make a conscious effort to spend less time with them. Replace that time with more time spent with those who are more positive.
Recognize marketing at work. We are often made to feel envious by clever marketing. We’ll see ads of beautiful people enjoying products and, on some level, feel envious of that life and want it for ourselves – and lo and behold, here’s a product that will supposedly give it to us.
It’s even more insidious when it appears inside of the programs themselves, when “news” reporters fawn over how great the latest product is or a beautiful actor or actress uses a particular product in their beautiful home. You’re meant to feel envy. You’re meant to want that product.
ACTION: Be aware of how marketers use not just advertisements, but the programming itself, to make you want products. Watch for product placement in television comedies and dramas and reality shows and be aware of how blatant it can be at times. By deconstructing these kinds of things, you make them less powerful.
Choose to be generous with your own time and money. When you give your time and energy and money to others, you see how something that doesn’t have as much value for you is incredibly valuable for others, and you begin to realize how much value you have and how much you have to give.
For example, the simple act of carrying a couple bags of food to a person’s car when they can’t get around very well is an example of how just a little bit of your own effort and time saves that other person a ton of effort and time. Not only does it feel good to do this, it also reminds you of how much abundance you actually have in your life.
ACTION: Perform a random act of kindness each day for someone, even just a small one. Carry someone’s groceries to their car for them. Catch someone’s cat for them if it gets loose. Pick up someone’s dropped wallet and return it to them. You’ll feel great, and you’ll realize how much abundance you already have in your life, which cuts back on the amount of envy and jealousy you feel toward others.
In the end, envy comes from a sense of not having enough and a sense that others have, somehow unfairly, found more than you. The truth is that most people have an abundance of good things in their life, once they see them, and that others may possess wonderful things but often have to pay a price for them.
Just because someone has something great in one area doesn’t mean life is unfair. It means that they made a choice and made sacrifices to have that success, that the success is something they wanted and were willing to sacrifice for, and that it’s worth celebrating openly and honestly. It doesn’t mean that you must have that thing in your life. You already have an abundance.