I'm sure we've all felt envy. Maybe it's the green monster that flared up when your office nemesis got that promotion for which you've been working weekends. Or perhaps you are more familiar with the stomach-twisting sensation you got when you found out your neighbor just bought the sleek car you've been dreaming of (but definitely can't afford).
While we're all familiar with the feeling of envy, did you know that it's actually survival mechanism? It's a primal response that protects our needs. When you feel envy, your body and mind are sending you signals about how to make decisions. Envy is meant to help you choose the best mates and resources, as evolutionary psychologists Sarah Hill and David Buss explain in The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy
Envy and jealousy are quite different. Envy is when you want to be like someone else or have what they have, such as success, possessions or particular qualities. Jealousy is being afraid you'll lose something, like love or security (think of the primal fear of losing your partner when you see him or her flirting with someone at a party).
It's simpler to be envious of a stranger or office nemesis. We can easily disguise our envy with gossip, criticism and other forms of trying to demean the object of our envy. But putting down someone else may be a way for us to avoid taking a good look at the parts of ourselves we are neglecting.
The secret about envy, like all other feelings, is that it's trying to tell you something. Specifically, it's a kick-in-the-pants sign for you to be more and have more — more of what you deserve. Envy tells you these three key messages (and more):
1. What you envy is what you desire
Whether you're envious of someone else's car or vacation, envy tells you what you want. It's actually quite simple. So choose to accept it (or at least try!) rather than resisting it.
Your desires often show up as envy when you're not fully aware of what you want, or when you don't allow yourself or give yourself permission to want what you want. Like a shooting star from your unconscious, envy tugs your attention to your deepest desires for yourself.
Envy is not only about things like money or a home, attributes like beauty and talent, but also about feeling-states, like the believing in yourself, happiness, or excitement.
So when envy shows up, get really curious. Why exactly am I envious? Is it that your friend gets to travel a lot? That she makes a lot of money? Or maybe it's the way she bubbles over with excitement when she talks about her job? Dig deep: curiosity will bring clarity.
2. You're worth more and can have more than you believe
Envy shines the light on an area where you feel a sense of lack. It takes you by the hand to where you feel the most scarcity. It points out your holes of self-worth, emotional wounding, and what you believe is possible for yourself.
The thing that makes envy so much worth most of the time is the fact that we resist it. We judge it. We want to hide from it, or blame ourselves for being bad friends or siblings because we feel envious of what someone else has. But making envy into an enemy is why we tend to think of it as such an unpleasant feeling. If we can simply learn to accept envy, and recognize that it is pointing something out to us, then it becomes productive, rather than destructive.
3. You can change this feeling of "I'm not" into "I am!", and "I don't have" into "I have!"
Envy points to your potential. It allows you to daydream and think big. It speaks quietly, but has a forceful message. Envy whispers sharply, "Psst! There's more to you than who you believe yourself to be. You can have more than you believe you can have. You have the potential for much, much more!"
In this way, envy is really not about the what: the accomplishment, the person, the thing or the goal. It's always about how we want to feel when we are, have or do.
One question I've found powerful to help my clients open up to their potential and possibility is to ask them "What If…?" In fact, here's a brief "to-do list" to keep in mind the kinds of toopls and questions that will show you how to transform envy into a new reality for yourself:
- What if you could be or have what you're envious about? How you would feel? What you would do?
- What do you need to do have that feeling? Make a specific list of steps.
- Implement one small thing every day.
- And remember: appreciate yourself for the steps you're taking.
What are some other ways you've used envy to grow? I'd love to hear them in the comments below.
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