9 Ways to Deal With Envy When It Pops UpIf Susan gets to go on one more European vacation...
We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling away and suddenly feel super envious: of your cousin’s effortless career trajectory, of your coworker’s amazing vacation, of a high school friend with the perfect house and car and dog. So it makes sense if you're in need of some expert-approved ways to deal with all that envy. And we got you.
Envy is an incredibly normal and even “ubiquitous” emotion, and understanding that is the first step to dealing with it. It basically happens when you feel someone has something you want, like that perfect career, home, or relationship. The key to envy though is that this person didn’t take something away from you. You just also want it, which is fair! That’s what separates envy from jealousy, where there is a real or perceived threat of someone taking away something you have—like someone stealing away your partner or taking the job you want (you can dive deeper into the difference between envy and jealousy here).
So, why are we like this?
A variety pack of evolutionary, cultural, and socialization factors all mix together to determine how you personally feel and deal with envy, says Raquel Martin, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and scientist. For starters, there are obvious evolutionary advantages of having the “higher status” we envy (better lifestyle, health, longevity, etc.). In terms of culture, maybe your family or school placed a huge emphasis on competing with others, so you’re more prone to feeling envious when you think you’re falling “behind.” Or maybe you’re just a person who exists in the world with social media and you’re constantly seeing the highlight reel of other people’s lives and wondering how the hell you can get what they have.
Basically, envy happens to all of us. But the cool thing is that you can actually make envy work in your favor. Envy helps us see what’s important to us, because the reality is you wouldn’t be feeling envious of someone’s trip or job or millions of followers if you didn’t also care about those things too. Remember, when we feel envy it’s not because this person has actually taken away something from you, so you can stop demonizing your cousin who most likely didn’t get that job to spite you. And once you realize that, you can focus your envious energy in a more productive way.
“Envy can often serve the purpose of making our goals in life more clear,” says Jen Douglas, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. In other words, you don’t have to stew in vain over your friend’s home purchase or dream wedding. You can start working towards some wins for yourself.
Here, we asked the experts for their top tips for managing your (totally normal and valid) envy when it strikes.
1. Separate yourself from your envy.
“You are experiencing envy, you are not an envious person,” says Dr. Martin. In other words, you can observe and address your emotions, like envy, without defining yourself by them. “Emotions are not right or wrong, they just are. Shaming or guilting yourself for experiencing the emotions won't help you heal. This is the first step to managing any and all feelings in my professional opinion,” Dr. Martin says. So there you have it: You are not your envy.
2. Notice when you feel it.
Get to know your patterns around feeling envy, says Dr. Martin. Do you experience this when you are around certain people? Do you notice these feelings are more prevalent during certain times of the year, or maybe times of transition?
Once you notice a pattern you can take steps to address it. Like, if you’re envious when you’re around a certain person, says Dr. Martin, prep yourself first by saying some affirmations before you see them, or making sure what you’re wearing makes you feel amazing. Or even asking them about how they got to where they are.
If social media is triggering a lot of envy, do a spring cleaning of who you are following. “If seeing someone’s posts always makes you feel envious, and you never feel connected or happy when engaging with them, hit the unfollow button!” says Dr. Douglas. “While a little bit of envy is good to tell us what we want in life, following 100 celebrities and feeling envy for hours a day on social media is not healthy.”
Also important: Get familiar with how your body reacts to envy, says Dr. Douglas. Do your muscles tense up? Does your heart race? Getting a handle on how your body expresses emotions helps you identify the emotion more quickly. Next time you notice this, try some physical relaxation techniques like mindful breathing to help calm yourself in the moment if the feeling is intense, she says.
3. Make a list of your envy triggers.
Getting clear on what you feel envious of will help direct your energy to a more positive place. For example, if that friend from high school is very successful and you find yourself envious when you see them on social media, think about what exactly you want that they have, says Dr. Douglas. “Do you actually want a white Range Rover? Or is it that they seem to be in a happy relationship? Depending on what you are envying, that will tell you what to put your energy into obtaining for yourself.”
4. Question the hell out of it.
Before taking your envy at face value, question whether you really want the thing(s) you don’t have, why, and if it is worth it, says Jaimie Krems, PhD, a social psychology researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University. For example, maybe you're envious of someone's career highlights posted on social media, but what if the real story is that they haven't taken a day off in six months? Would you still want it?
Also, is what you want even real? What’s behind those images are professional lighting, Photoshop, etc. Other people’s lives are never exactly the way they’re presented. Maybe your friend has an amazing house and car, but other aspects of her life are really effing hard. Or maybe your friends who seem like ~couple goals~ are actually on the verge of a messy breakup. Remind yourself that you never see the whole picture. “Envy is about wanting something someone else has,” says Dr. Krems. “But do they even really have it?
5. Be more realistic in your comparisons.
Don’t make yourself feel small when the thing you’re comparing yourself to will probably never be achievable anyway—and that’s OK! “Comparing my singing abilities to that of Beyonce is just ludicrous,” says Dr. Martin. “That is upward social comparison and it's going to make me feel crappy.”
Your example may not be as extreme, but are you comparing your achievements to someone who had advantages you didn’t? Are you envious of your friend’s #couplegoals even though they’ve been together forever while you just started dating someone? “Envy is unpleasant to feel, and sometimes we simply can’t get the things that we want,” says Dr. Krems. We can’t be 21 again. We can’t (all) date Harry Styles. “Don’t torture yourself,” Dr. Krems says. “Take yourself out of the situation that makes you constantly aware of wanting things you don’t have.”
6. See envy as a message.
“When you feel envy, take it as a message telling you about something that you would like in your life,” says Dr. Douglas. You can think of it as your wishlist. “So if I’m envious that a friend just got married, and I’ve been single for a while, that envy might be telling me that I should make more time for dating and relationships,” she says.
“Use your envy for good,” says Dr. Krems. “OK, someone else has a baller job, speaks a second language, is getting their PhD. You want that. Make it happen!” Envy does not have to be the end emotion. Take a few minutes and write down the smallest possible steps toward getting what you want, like pitching a new idea at work, or sprucing up your resume so you can look for a better-paying job.
7. Make a little gratitude list.
Yes, it’s been said a million times before, but hear us out. When you feel envy, you’re concentrating on what you don’t have—like that closet full of Chanel bags you saw in an influencer’s closet—and tend to forget all of the good things in your life (like your amazing group of friends, the car you saved for and bought yourself, or your pet that you wouldn’t trade for the world). Connecting with gratitude reorients your brain to focus on the good, rather than the lack of something, says Dr. Douglas.
And sure, that superstar entrepreneur may have been lucky enough to have family money to get her business off the ground, but you might be lucky in other ways. “Luck plays a huge role in life. Maybe you didn’t luck into the thing someone else has. But focus on what you did luck into and why you value it,” says Dr. Krems.
8. Do a brief values audit.
“Materialistic things are great, and I will not deny that money doesn't provide opportunities,” says Dr. Martin. “However, it is also important to identify the core things that drive you and motivate you as well.” Do you covet others’ money because it’s, well, money—or is it what the money means, like freedom to travel and support others? Is there another way that you can achieve those values?
If you’re hung up on why others have achieved a level of status (fame, fortune, popularity) you haven’t, Dr. Martin suggests an exercise called the “Life-Space Pie”. Draw a circle separated into ten “pieces.” In each piece, write something in your life that has meaning, other than status. Next, assign a percentage of your focus that you want to give to each of these pieces. “This is helpful because it broadens your focus on many important aspects of your life other than status, and can bring attention to areas of your life that aren't getting the focus that they deserve,” such as time with your family or that screenplay you’ve been meaning to start.
9. Talk about it with someone you trust.
There’s an element of shame that goes with feeling envy, so we often keep it to ourselves. “But negative emotions tend to fester and get worse if we bury them inside,” says Dr. Douglas. If your envy is really bothering you or getting in the way of other parts of your life, you might want to talk to a therapist about it. Even talking to a friend can help, says Dr. Douglas. Everyone has felt envy at some point in their lives. Basically any friend you feel close enough to open up to will be able to relate.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.