Recently I read in the Atlantic a column by the world famous journalist Arthur Brooks, Envy, The Happiness Killer. Brooks writes with such a clear voice that to paraphrase will do an injustice; hence I am choosing to share the article with you.
Envy plays tricks on all of us and has the capacity to make us feel less then. In truth there will always be someone better faster, smarter, richer, have more recovery, a better mousetrap than we do. Yet all envy can take us down resentment row.
Brooks defines different types of envy. “How people act in the face of this pain has led some scholars to distinguish between benign envy and malicious envy. The former is miserable, but is met with a desire for self-improvement and to emulate the envied person. In contrast, malicious envy leads to wholly destructive actions, such as hostile thoughts and behavior intended to harm the other person. Benign envy occurs when you believe that admiration for the other person is deserved; malicious envy kicks in when you believe it isn’t. This is why you might envy a famous war hero but wish him no ill, while enjoying the news that a handsome Hollywood actor’s ninth marriage has just failed.”
ENVY CAN STUNT YOUR MENTAL WELLNESS
Envy—especially when malicious—is terrible for you. To begin with, the pain is real: Neuroscientists find that envying other people stimulates the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with both physical and mental pain. It can also wreck your future. Scholars writing in 2018 in the journal Social Science & Medicine studied 18,000 randomly selected individuals and found that their experience of envy was a powerful predictor of worse mental health and lower well-being in the future. Ordinarily, people become psychologically healthier as they age; envy can stunt this trend”
Different people envy different things . Some people envy the way a person looks or how they dress or what material possessions they have, others envy the physical prowess of youthScholars have noted some general patterns in envy, however. For example, some research suggests that what people envy tends to change with age. Young people may be more envious than older folks of educational and social success, good looks, and romantic fortune. Older people generally shrug at these things, but tend to envy people with money. Men and women tend to envy different qualities. According to one pair of studies, men most envy social status and prestige. For women, it was physical attractiveness.
Social media envy is one that in the behavioral health care we all must look at.o feel envy, you need to have exposure to people who appear more fortunate than you.” That is simple enough in ordinary interactions. But the conditions of envy explode if we expose people to a wide array of strangers curating their lives to look as glamorous, successful, and happy as possible. Obviously, I am describing social media. In fact, academics have even used the term Facebook envy to capture the uniquely fertile circumstances that social media creates for this destructive emotion. And in experiments, scholars have shown that, indeed, passive Facebook use (although no doubt this is not limited to Facebook) measurably decreases well-being through increased envy.”
Brooks reports that if he could snap his fingers and eradicate envy he would, yet we all know that is impossible. What he suggests if we do not want envy. He suggests:
1. Focus on the ordinary parts of others’ lives.
The main way that we water that terrible weed is with our attention. We focus intently on the qualities we want but lack. For example, you might envy an entertainer’s fame and wealth, and imagine how those qualities would make your life so much easier and more fun. But think a little deeper. Do you really believe that entertainer’s life is so great? Is her money and fame bringing a healthy marriage? Does it eliminate her sadness and anger? Probably not; perhaps the contrary.
2. Turn off the envy machine.
Social media increases envy because it does three things: It shows you the lives of people more fortunate than you; it is easier than ever for anyone to flaunt their good fortune to the masses; and it puts you in the same virtual community as people who are not in your real-life community, making you compare yourself with them. Celebrities’ and influenrs’ posts are a particularly potent—and unnecessary—source of envy. The solution is not to ditch social media; it is to unfollow people you don’t know and whose posts you simply look at because they have what you want. Use social media to keep up with real friends, learn interesting and empowering things, and maybe have a few laughs. There’s enough envy among friends—don’t expand it to the world’s population!
3. Show your unenviable self.
While you are working to curtail your envy of others, stop trying to be envied yourself. Wanting to display your strengths and hide your weaknesses from strangers is natural. This might feel good, but it is a mistake. Obscuring the truth to yourself and others is a path to anxiety and unhappiness. And as my colleague Alison Wood Brooks and her collaborators showed in a 2019 study on entrepreneurs in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, when the participants were honest not just about what they did righbut also about how they failed along the way, observers experienced less malicious envy. But be careful: Your failures have to be authentic. So-called humblebragging, in which a boast is disguised as humility, can be perceived a mile off and makes you less likable to others.
In 1807, the British poet Mary Lamb wrote a few stanzas on the misery of envy, in which she imagines a rose bush that cannot appreciate its own gifts because it frets about not bearing violets or lilies. She concludes, “Like such a blind and senseless tree / As I’ve imagined this to be, / All envious persons are: / With care and culture all may find / Some pretty flower in their own mind, / Some talent that is rare.”
This is probably the best antidote of all to envy: gratitude and appreciation for your own gifts, whatever they may be. Lots of research shows that gratitude extinguishes envy, but you already knew that. So put this knowledge to good use: Next time the hound of envy barks inside you, quiet it with thoughts of the people who love you, the things you enjoy, the good fortune you have had.