Managing Envy

Tough subject. No easy answers. Much pain tied to it. Let’s try.

What is envy?

The desire to have something we believe another person has but one lacks (or perceives to lack), i.e. power, wealth, accomplishment, intelligence, beauty, athletic ability, body type, etc. and is always accompanied by a measure of resentment. Why them and not me?

When not seen objectively, the feeling of envy will likely impair our judgment and lead to poor choices. Sometimes disastrous ones, as in hostile actions, conscious or unconscious, against the envied person.

But when having some distance from the feeling, envy allows one to review how we have used our energies. We may ask, how hard have we tried?

Envy that is acknowledged is a source of wisdom.

‘What I envy is not mine but yours. I cannot be you, nor should I try, so enjoy what is yours. In turn, I will look for what nature gave me and work with it. Did I give up too soon on a choice I made and now I envy others? Did I assess properly my abilities before embarking on my quest? Should I now refocus my energies, strive at something that is not what I have loved the most?’

As with all feelings, sharing them will have a soothing effect, if temporary… till we get back to facing the pain by ourselves and working through it.

If you set out to be a writer for instance, along the way you will be comparing yourself with others committed to the task, and you will see how you measure up. That will tell you how good your chances are of reaching the higher places.

We will always be confronted with the hierarchy that forms in every field. Do we look at it objectively or do we ignore it?

Let us take the case of a writer of modest ability. Does the person persist even though the likelihood is that the higher places will never be attainable? Persist regardless of the chances of recognition from others?

How do we define success?

Is it primarily recognition from others (acknowledgment or monetary) or the satisfaction the work itself brings us?

There are two camps here.

One camp is for people in whom the satisfaction of doing what they like the most is such that they tolerate that others are more accomplished. They are willing to sacrifice recognition. Or hope eternally for it.

The second camp is for those in whom the importance of achieving the recognition of others is fundamental. They will forgo great personal satisfaction from the work as the primary reward. If their choice of field is not bringing them praise or money, why stick with it?

The first camp is where romantics live. The second where pragmatists do.

We make the choice. Or Nature makes it for us.

Either way, acknowledging envy will help us function better. Which is why we should strive to manage it.

There is consolation for both camps.

Romantics can say that giving priority to satisfying their creative desires grants them a sense of personal freedom that defies hierarchies, bringing them a sense of a life well lived.

Pragmatists can say they planted their feet on the world as it is and, choosing to satisfy the needs of others, got worldly returns for their efforts.

We need the two.

There is a third camp, of course. Fewer people live there.

They can say, ‘I love what I do, love who I am, and the world loves me for it.’

They run the world.

Oscar Valdes is the author of Psychiatrist for A Nation and other books. Available on Amazon.

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