Envy

😌 — Reflections on social comparison

Can you be happy for someone when they get something that you want for yourself?

A lesson I’m currently learning is to compare myself less to other people. I’m learning to feel more joy than envy in interactions with others.

We only react emotionally when something is at stake that we find valuable.
— I learned this from German philosopher Michael Bordt

So when we let envy or anger or self-doubt get the better of us, we learn that we find something valuable. Maybe we learn that we like it more than we admitted because it was easier to play it cool.

My first lesson here is to admit that I want something. Admit it and commit to it.

The more we get to know ourselves this way, the more we start to prioritize our own desires and goals. We give them an emotional reality check by exploring how they make us feel. This way we also learn that some things leave us cold. That’s usually a sign that we don’t care all that much and should re-evaluate it if it's high on our agenda, i.e. if we spend much time & energy on it.

This emotional check helps us focus on the desires and goals that will drive not only our rational but also our emotional well-being. And we’ll stop chasing all that glitters and that ads try to make us want, pulling us in 24 different directions, and instead focus on the few things that matter to us.

An unhealthy belief here is to interpret scarcity in every situation. “But there’s none like it and now it’s gone” is far less true than assumed in that situation. Having faith that I will find and deserve what’s right for me combined with knowledge of what I actually want and makes me feel good — this faith and knowledge are the superpowers needed to filter the noise and focus my energy on new opportunities.

I know that many of you will reflect on this lesson in love relationships. My most recent survey on this (from 23 May 2021 with over 15.000 participants) tells us that 4 in 5 people (77%) believe that we have more than one soulmate. Let that and its consequences sink in.

Another unhealthy belief related to envy is to demand fairness. Two things speak against demanding fairness: first, I don’t know the full story. I don’t know all the players involved and even less their stories. It is therefore egoistic and arrogant to demand something that someone else might have earned way more than I have. Second, fairness puts me in a passive, receiving position. I give up on my control and expect a sort of overlooking master eye to acknowledge and evaluate everything and everyone and hand out perks & consequences accordingly. So rather than waiting to receive, I should actively pursue what I seek.

My second lesson is that life is not a competition. Life does have a finish line though and that is the grave. And the more you chase achievement after achievement after achievement, the more you chase validation, the sooner you’ll get there. And the later you’ll practice joy & gratitude for what is.

We humans are social creatures. Although individualism has been on a rocket rise for the past ~100 years, the most recent pandemic has demonstrated how much joy & meaning we get from social interactions. Meaningful social interactions. Deep talk. Hugs. Shared adventures.

Looking at our common human history and our great achievements that make us proud is a great reminder as to what we can create when we work with and for one another, as opposed to against each other.

So instead of asking for something someone else got, ask what we can create together?

Instead of feeling envy for someone who got something, let’s try to be happy for that person.

I’m sure that in the longer run, those are the kind of feelings you want to associate your personal history with.

♡ flow