Envy and jealousy are both emotions that no one wants to admit they have, but unfortunately we all possess. Envy negatively affects the one inflicted and the person the emotion is inflicted upon. Like anger, envy can spiral out of control if it isn’t handled in a healthy way. It can spur deep feelings of inadequacy within ourselves, causing self-destruction and sabotage. Those possessed by this emotion get off on bringing the enviable down through critiques and secretly (or not so security) wishing them failure.
In the age of social media, it’s no surprise that this emotion is a common one. We see everyone’s highlight reel of personal successes and achievements on the regular. Rarely, do people share the behind the scenes look at their lives; the things that aren’t going so well or the years of work and subsequent failures that brought them to a place of success. While it should be ubiquitous by now, the content shared is usually the end result; the finished product. We wish we could obtain the motivation, skill, and innate talents the enviable apparently possesses. In short, we want what they have.
Envy is just another emotion though–one of the many in the wide spectrum we possess. Emotions can easily control us vs. the other way around, but with practice and using our rational mind, we can gain back control and therefore change the narrative of how we experience said emotion. This is one of the most important life skills we can learn and the first step in mastering our emotions step is to admit and label the emotion once we feel it. Acknowledge that we’re experiencing envy through labeling can then help us discover strategies to deal with it. We can feel the emotion fully then subsequently let it go, approach the emotion from a place of curiosity by asking ourselves why we’re feeling said emotion, or changing the narrative– turning the enviable into a source of inspiration; to fuel our own endeavors and goals.
In Robert Greene’s incredible book The Laws of Human Nature, he devotes an entire chapter to the topic of Envy. It’s here where I first learned about what German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche calls “mitfreude” or “shared joy.”
The premise is this: when we start to feel envy arise in ourselves, instead of festering in negativity and criticizing ourselves for not living up to the person whom we envy’s standard, try to really feel what the other person is experiencing. By seeing other people improve, cross the finish line of their first marathon, hitting a career or personal milestone, or achieve their aesthetic physique goals, instead of ruminating on feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth, we should instead, see other’s successes in life as a source of inspiration. Author Robert Greene writes that we can practice the art of mitfreude by “[actively] trying to feel [others’] joy, as a form of empathy.”
By practicing mitfreude, we in turn, give ourselves a gift. We’re able to deflect the pernicious emotions of anger, resentment, irritability, and hostility, and instead, feel inspired, motivated, and genuinely happy for others—giving us the ability to forge stronger bonds with others because feeling other’s joy is a reaction that is indeed a rarity. When we act that part, we become the part.
So when we feel envy arise, rather than internalize it as a reflection of oneself, really try to feel someone else’s accomplishment as if it was your own. Greene writes, “Such admiration elevates us above the pettiness of our day-to-day life and will have a calming effect.” Transforming envy into emotional generosity will in the end, make us all happier people. It will help us become better people by granting us the ability to see what the human species is capable of.
Oh wow, this is the first time I’m hearing about mitfreude too, and it’s a pretty useful thing to know, seeing how I do feel envy every time I don’t make the shortlist in a writing competition and seeing my fellow countrymen snagging the prize. Anyway, thanks for this post!
Agree with you that this emotion is a common one. Thanks for sharing.
Ingrid Fettell Lee has an interesting take on envy that I think mirrors what your saying here. https://aestheticsofjoy.com/2022/07/08/how-envy-can-help-you-find-more-joy/