Your friend drops 15 pounds…and you secretly resent her slim figure. Your coworker gets a big promotion…and you’re not exactly cheering. If this sounds like you, it’s time to overcome your envy and find a way to feel good about yourself.
“We could spend a lifetime researching why some people are more prone to envy than others,” says Carl G. Hindy, PhD, a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor in Nashua, N.H. “Childhood and early family experiences may have something to do with this. Recent past experiences, hurts and losses also play a part in how happy you feel for others.”
Try these expert-tested tips to conquer these feelings once and for all.
1: Reframe your mental state.
Being gracious about others’ successes is one of those things that sounds easy, but may not be such a cinch to put into practice. If you’re struggling with this, stop and think of why you may not be jumping for joy when a friend shares good news. “It helps to step back and examine more carefully, more objectively, what you’re thinking,” Hindy says. You may just have had a bad day, which has nothing to do with your friend’s accomplishment.
2: Keep things in perspective.
If a co-worker is promoted, this honestly has less to do with you than you think. “A promotion is really just that -- a raise and new title -- not a call to take action against yourself,” says Audrey Cleary, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Miami.
3: Beware of Facebook envy.
On Facebook, it seems like just about all your friends are living a life of bliss -- and researchers have found that this can accelerate jealous feelings. “Everyone has the most attractive and smartest children, the most loving relationships, and even [the best] dogs and cats on Facebook,” Hindy says. “We are prone to look at that and think, ‘What's wrong with me?’ But remember that a Facebook profile is like a brochure about the person. It's a collection of the high points, of what they feel best about. It would be a very different social media if our profiles were comprised of what we each feel worst about.”
4: Make a distinction between envy and jealousy.
There’s a reason these are two different words, explains Fran Walfish, PsyD, a family psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, California. “I define envy as ‘I wish I had it and she didn’t,’ while I define jealousy as ‘I wish I had it, too,’” she says. “It’s absolutely normal for adults to feel jealous, while envy has a tinge of meanness to it and needs special attention to get to the root cause.”
5: Be good to yourself.
Coveting your friend’s new Coach handbag? Practice some self-empathy. “You might say, ‘I wish I had that bag,’” Walfish says. “We can’t always have what we want and that’s a disappointment. But consider this: Each time you experience a disappointment, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to grow.” You’ll also feel better if you put a concrete plan into action: Start a savings account for a special splurge, sign up for an exercise class to lose weight, or research classes to boost your work skills.
6: Do the “deathbed test.”
As morbid as this sounds, asking yourself what your priorities will be when you’re 101 years old can help keep envy in check. “At that point, you won’t cherish a slimmer body or a bigger promotion,” Hindy says. “You’ll cherish the people with whom you were close and open, who valued you for being yourself -- not for being some brochure of what you wish you were.”
7: Look at yourself through others’ eyes.
One of the best ways to keep things in perspective is to assess yourself objectively. What would a stranger envy about you? “You don’t have to agree with those things,” says Cleary. “In fact, there may be a tendency to discount the value of those qualities that you perceive yourself to have, while exaggerating the value of those qualities in which you perceive yourself to come up short. But it’s a great exercise to try.”