Envy Is Like Masturbation.
Everyone does it.
No-one admits to it.
And you don’t want to get caught indulging in it.
Envy is something we all experience, whether we like it or not.
Envious… Or Just Jealous?
It’s easy to confuse envy with jealousy – the two words are often used synonymously – but they are in fact different things.
Jealousy usually consists of emotions such as resentment, inadequacy, anger and disgust. Or, as we used to call it my house: Christmas.
But jealousy isn’t the particular curve we are looking to flatten here. Jealousy happens when we act negatively and instinctively because we are afraid of losing something that we have.
- Jealousy happens when your partner laughs slightly too much at the 26-year old neighbour’s flirty jokes when he’s watering the garden in a skimpy pair of shorts.
- Jealousy is when you’ve been slaving over a work project for months and then a smart-arse young graduate rocks up to the office and your boss starts giving them all the high-fives and flat whites.
- Jealousy is when your child shuns your attention because they would rather stare, open-mouthed and unblinking at a YouTuber playing Minecraft for four hours.
Or so I’ve heard.
No, the emotion we are looking to track & trace is envy. Envy is the wish to obtain something we do not have.
- Envy is the desire to have the neighbour’s body that appears he’s smuggling a barrel-load of grapefruits under that tight designer t-shirt.
- Envy is seeing the boss’s house / car / holiday home / cocaine habit and wishing we could afford it.
- Envy is the feeling of seething bewilderment that a 14-year old Minecraft player makes more money in a week shouting gibberish into his YouTube channel than we can hope to earn in a year.
Envy consists of a feeling of inferiority, resentment, sadness and desire to possess whatever our rival has. So it’s a bit like living in London.
But Why Talk About Envy Now?
After all, we’ve all felt envious in the past. Looking at the lives of others in the way a hungry dog peers through the window of a butchers’ shop, greedily salivating at the thought of the delicious things we’d like to get our paws on if only life wasn’t so damn unfair.
But then Coronavirus hit, and it was destined to be the great leveller: The life-changing, traumatic pandemic that was supposed to stop us feeling envious and force us to focus upon what we had, to concentrate on what really mattered.
When the shock of lockdown wore off, the envy returned like a green-eyed monster riding a second wave of resentment.
We became envious of the people who were coping ‘better’: those individuals who could somehow effortlessly run a successful business, teach their children Chinese, bake an artisan loaf of bread, tidy the house and run an online Zumba class before foraging in the garden for ingredients to add to their handmade tagliatelle.
Whilst we, on the other hand, are struggling to run a presentation on a Zoom call whilst trying to wipe a child’s arse and listening to the dulcet tones of the smoke alarm because our Pot Noodle exploded in the microwave before we realise there’s a dead pigeon decomposing on the trampoline.
Despite the fact we know it’s wrong – we realise it’s not big, nor clever – but we can’t help feeling a pang of envy when we compare our existence to the lives of others.
Nothing good comes from envy. It keeps us awake at night, it makes us act irrationally, it turns the nicest, most mild-mannered person into, frankly, a bit of a dick.
But it is also one of the most difficult things to fix. It’s like asking someone to stop feeling love, or anger, or hunger. It’s akin to a politician making promises on election night – easy to say things are going to be different, but a lot harder to put into action.
That’s not to say that people who are envious are ‘bad’ or in the wrong. But when you think the grass is always greener on the other side, you tend to stop paying attention to your roses and let the weeds grow under your feet.
Avoiding Deadly Sin
So how do we change our behaviour when we wistfully look at the lives of others and start saying to ourselves, “if only…”
Right here, right now
Firstly, it’s about living in the moment. Focus your energy on what you have, your life, the lives and happiness of those you hold dearest. If we spend more time concentrating on the things that really matter to us, we have less time and desire to worry about what we can’t control…like how our sister in-law can afford that car despite seemingly never doing a day’s work in her life.
Check your vision
Secondly, a healthy dose of perspective is required. No-one has a perfect life. All you see is the perfect smiles, the wonderful holidays and angelic kids.
But you were so busy getting your envious knickers in a twist that you overlooked the bad breath, the stomach bug that caused the family to fire it out of both ends during the entire two weeks in Dubai and the perfect kids who actually spend most of their spare time trying to lick the cat’s bum.
And – honesty alert – there will always be someone richer, younger, smarter, firmer and more beautiful than you. But they will always be missing out…because they are not YOU.
Face the monster
Finally, there is one proven cure for envy – but you won’t like it.
It’s very simple, but it might cause some short-term discomfort.
Find the target of your envy, buy them a socially-distant coffee, and say the words:
“I’ve been really envious of you. It’s not cool, and I’m sorry”
By voicing your envy to that person, they will probably open up and list all the reasons why you really have no need to be envious of them. In fact, it will probably make you thankful for your own problems (and if it makes you feel any better, a handy list of my own embarrassing problems can be found here)
Or if they are too busy / famous / cool / rude to accept your generous offer of a coffee…ask yourself:
Why on earth would you waste another second of your amazing life thinking about someone who clearly has no time for you?
And that, my friends, is how you send that emerald-eyed monster off into the sunset.
If only fixing the masturbation problem was so easy….