How to deal with envy

Because my husband and I now live in Virginia, we often find ourselves running into people we went to college with in very random places. Take for example this summer, when I was at the pool with my two boys, and a man walks by with his daughter...a man who I'm pretty sure I kissed at some hazy frat party almost twenty years ago. Weird.

And because I'm much better with names and faces than my husband, he recently sent me an email with a link to the bio of a woman, who graduated from college with us, and heads a direct marketing firm that his company is thinking of using. The woman was very attractive, and as her bio revealed, extremely accomplished. Not only does she serve as president of a successful marketing agency, but she's also president of the local Junior League chapter, heads the local mother's club, competes in an area tennis league, is married to an equally accomplished man, and has two adorable kids. She's perfect.

"Does this woman look like someone we knew in school?" my husband asked in his e-mail.

My response: "No, but she looks like someone whose head I"d like to rip off."

Ouch. Not exactly indicative of the Cool Broad I'm trying to become.

Envy: an emotion that occurs when a person lacks another's superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.

I admit, I struggle with the whole "keeping up with the Joneses" thing a bit (in some areas more than others). But as I mentioned in an earlier article, one of the rules every Cool Broad must follow is this: Cool Broads know how to control their jealousy and envy toward others and maintain grace in every situation...always.

Obviously, I have a little work to do.

Why do we envy?

In an article written by Michele Kirsch, The Healthy Side to Envy, Richard Smith, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, argues that envy is a social comparison-based emotion. That is, "it operates only in the context of comparing ourselves with others, and most often, with others who are people like us." So, because the aforementioned woman and I come from similar backgrounds, I might be more inclined to feel that her level of "success" just as well could have been mine (but isn't...dammit).

Professor Smith also points out that envy is a matter of scale. According the article, "[envy] can be a passing, benign feeling, a sort of envy-lite, which is closer to admiration (i.e., "Wow, she's got a great figure. I wonder how often she works out?"), or what Professor Smith calls envy proper, which involves some form of ill-will (i.e., "She's got a great figure...for her age. I wonder where her lipo scars are?")."

It can be argued that envy-lite is normal and in some cases, even healthy. Being envious of something someone has, or has accomplished, can serve as a powerful motivator (i.e., I'm never more motivated to go to the gym than when my best friend shows up 5 lbs. lighter than when I saw her last) and can challenge us to strive for our personal best.

Envy-proper, however, if not addressed, can lead to depression, resentment, anger, low self-esteem, and frustration, and may prevent us from enjoying what we DO have. Also, those toxic emotions are big stress inducers, which, as we all know, can cause physical damage to our bodies and adversely affect our health. Even the Old Testament teaches, "Envy and wrath shorten the life." (Ecclesiastes, 30:24)

And if that weren't enough, Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, writer, and Nobel Prize winner, said envy was "one of the most potent causes of unhappiness".

Well, everyone wants to be happy, and it stands to reason that happier people are more likely to be generous, and thus, "cool", so the question is...How DO you deal with envy?

7 Ways to Deal with Envy:

1. Acknowledge your envy

Realizing that the emotion you're feeling is envy is the first step toward overcoming it.

Accept the fact that you're human and that it's completely normal for humans to be emotional. Don't beat yourself up over it. It's how you choose to react to your emotions that will determine whether or not that emotion will create opportunities for you, or cause problems.
2. Explore the root of your envy and figure out how to make it work for you

Why are you feeling envy? What is your envy telling you? What are you afraid of? The answers to these questions can be quite revealing, and can identify any irrational thoughts or emotions that happen to be traipsing through your head.

According to Windy Dryden, a psychotherapist and the author of Overcoming Envy, identifying irrational beliefs and proving them to be false, illogical, and self-defeating is the key to turning unhealthy envy into healthy envy. And once you've identified what's really at the source of your envious feelings, you can then develop a game plan to attain what it is that you REALLY want.

For example: You're "green with envy" when your best friend at work gets a sweet promotion. But why? Is it because you think the promotion is undeserved, or are you afraid that there will never, ever in a million years, be another opportunity like that again? (hint: that's the irrational belief)

And while there will always be situations that are out of our control or even unfair (i.e., your best friend got the position because her boss is a family friend), making sure that you're taking the steps needed to further your career and accomplish your goals is something you DO have control over. So get that extra degree, work extra hard on that next project, or get another job (preferably at a company where the boss has no friends) and turn your feelings of envy into an opportunity to challenge yourself.
3. Don't compare yourself to others

THIS IS A BIGGIE. Everyone is unique and everyone's journey is different, so it really doesn't make sense to compare what you've accomplished, or what you have, to someone else's accomplishments or things. It would be like if you were a banana and you constantly compared yourself to the orange, chastising yourself for not being more round.

Henrik Edberg, a self-proclaimed positivity and personal development enthusiast, argues that because there will always be someone with more than you, "comparing what you have to what others have is a good way to make yourself miserable." While it might feed your ego to buy a nicer car or a bigger TV than someone else, once you realize that someone else has an even nicer car, or an even bigger TV (or when your credit card statement comes in), you won't feel so good anymore.

"A more useful way to compare is to just compare yourself to yourself. Look at how you've grown and what you've achieved. Appreciate what you've accomplished and what you have, how far you've come and what you're goals are for the future." Click here for 4 more ways to deal with and overcome envy.