How do you let go of jealousy? My friends and family seem to be having a good run of luck lately and I'm both genuinely happy for them but also really jealous and depressed that the same is not happening to me. It's driving me nuts! I feel like such a terrible person.
Green With Envy
Dear Green with Envy,
Throughout history and across faith lines, psychologists, philosophers, theologians and scientists have contemplated and parsed out in great detail the nuances of jealousy and envy. Distinctions are made between being jealous of people versus coveting possessions. From sibling rivalry to workplace jealousy, these feelings come in multiple forms and varying degrees of intensity.
As an aside, some argue that jealously can have positive effects by fostering competition and spurring us on to achieve our best. I completely disagree with this idea. If you compete against others, then they will set the bar for you and you will only be as good as (or slightly better) than your best opponent. Only when you compete against yourself can you achieve your personal best.
Regardless of the severity of your jealousy or envy, you are at least at a conscientious place where you are aware of the dissonance of loving and caring for your friends and family while simultaneously feeling jealous. You feel like a terrible person because, well, you are. Aren’t we all? Jealousy comes so naturally to us, it must be a universal human experience.
It reminds me of when I clean my fountain pen and drop the nib in warm water and immediately upon impact these delicious curls of black ink blossom and spread until the cup of water is murky and clouded. That’s what jealousy does. It clouds your vision and distorts your reality of yourself and your relationships.
Jealousy reflects your own negative self-image and broken hope. It’s a self-centered thing that sees everything going on around you in relation to yourself and what you have or don’t have. By its very nature, it forces you to think of yourself in terms of other people and whether you are thinner, smarter, wittier, richer, funnier. What’s even more messed up is that it doesn’t matter if YOU think you are X-ier, what really matters is if OTHER people think that of you. Virginia Woolf said, “The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” So does jealousy push you to achieve more? Earn more? Attain more? And the more important question is, to what end?
Tom Holmes recently wrote a piece about meditating in the cemetery (something I have done often and I highly recommend it for the same reasons as Tom). Steve Jobs said, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose." As a parent, I often engage in conversations about developmental stages. Death is a stage that we should all consider because it could be around the corner no matter what our current age. What do we take with us when we die?Instead of falling apart, disintegrating like dust scattered to the wind, what would it be like to become more robust with age? Because I would consider epitaphs like “He was really hot in his 20s” or “She was really rich with a spectacular house” as important as dust.
Yukio Mishima said, “Possessing by letting go of things was a secret of ownership unknown to youth.” In the same way, rather than focusing on jealousy (kind of like trying not to think about an elephant when someone says “don’t think about an elephant!”) I think the remedy for jealousy comes when you turn away from it completely and focus on other core issues. With that, here are three practical things to do.
Mend your hopes. I bet if you look back at the trajectory of your life, you will find yourself thankful for both blessings and bumps. Gold is refined by fire, and likewise, your mistakes are a part of your life experiences that make you who you are.
Be the you that you want to be. Dig deep and think about the ways you are disappointed with yourself. Also think about the disappointment you think others may have in you. Then go back to #1 and know that you are capable of being good, generous, kind, loving (fill in the blank here). Embody the you that you want to be today.
Remember how to love. Think deeply about your relationships with your friends and family. Remember the past, go way back and remember your shared experiences of hardships and joys. You know that deep in your heart, you don’t begrudge them any blessing. Then celebrate with them.
Lastly, long ago when I studied koine Greek, I remember learning about the aorist tense and its many complexities. One aspect that doesn’t really translate in english is that there can be an action that is final and done in the past or present yet has implications and continues into the future. Or something can be past tense without implying pastness. It may sound odd, but that’s how jealousy and its remedy work. Past actions can be past without implying pastness and can have ramifications into the future.
So when you feel that twinge of jealousy or envy when your neighbor gets a new car or your best friend gets engaged . . . let it go. Don’t take your jealousy and plant it, water it, nurture it and let it take root. If anything, plant your own hopes and nurture others’ hopes as well. The cumulative effect of your actions won’t stay in the past. They will have ramifications for the future.
Wishing the best for you,
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