We all want the best. We want it for ourselves, our families, friends, children, loved ones, etc.
No one in their right mind ever wishes ill-will upon another, right?
So why do we sometimes feel such a contradiction of emotions when someone we know has a good fortune? Why is it that we suddenly feel consumed by feelings of envy and disdain?
According to a paper from the University of California, San Diego, feelings of envy are much, much more common than you might guess. More than three fourths of all study participants reported experiencing envy over the past year (more so with women 79.4 percent versus men 74.1 percent).
So why is this? Is it natural to hate other people’s success?
Could it be because we suddenly feel inadequate with our own accomplishments?
Or does it have more to do with evolutionary instincts?
In this post, I’d like to dive into what it is that makes us feel this way. But more importantly, I’d like to see what skill we can use in overcoming envy. Perhaps the true battle has more to do with battling our own insecurities about who we are and what we’re capable of doing.
The Evolution of Envy
So first of all, is there anything inherently wrong with wanting what other’s have?
If you think about it in the context of our history as a species, absolutely not!
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, physiological needs (the needs for food, water, shelter, etc) rank as the most basic but most important layer of needs for human survival.
Since the days of cavemen, humans have banned together in small groups as a means for surviving. The strongest of the group could provide for the others who were not as lucky at hunting.
But this didn’t come without a price. The stronger and more “successful” of the group would get the best meals, find the best mates, and more likely live a longer life.
In our modern society, we can draw a lot of parallels. Though we’re no longer hunting for buffalo so that the tribe can eat that night, we do the same through our jobs.
Those who can work and provide for their families (through money from their paycheck) will provide the much needed food and shelter for their families.
But then it doesn’t stop there. Even after those basic needs are met, we still compete (sometimes aggressively) for other ranks within our social norms through the attainment of:
- Powerful job titles
- Higher salaries
- Better looking spouses
- Bigger houses
So then can we really blame ourselves if our DNA has been programmed by our ancestors of the past?
Feelings of Envy and Social Media
Ask yourself: How many times have you walked over to your colleague’s desk and fed into your own feelings of envy.
Your colleague holds a better job title than you and likely makes more money. But they might be younger or perhaps even more inexperienced. You see a picture on their desk of a happy, beautiful family on some exotic vacation. You can’t help but start to experience feelings of resentment. Or worse, you start to feel unsatisfied with what you have in your own life.
These feelings are not at all uncommon. And it doesn’t stop at the office. In fact, you don’t have to look much further than your own phone or computer screen.
According to mental health experts, Social media is a HUGE contributor to feelings of anxiety and envy. Every post and picture is carefully crafted, filtered, and cropped-down to feature the best of the best events in our lives. They serve as our proverbial trophies.
Post the most trophies, and socially, you’re the winner.
The rest of us … we can’t help but feel like the losers …
Overcoming Envy and Recognizing an Opportunity
Okay. Just because you’re programmed to be jealous of your neighbor’s house, your co-worker’s success, or even your friend’s good fortune doesn’t mean you have to give into your primal urges.
One of the great things about our species is that it has the potential to evolve. And it is through the realization of what these things actually mean that we can find a way how to overcome envy and deal with the situation for what it is.
Here are a few of my tips and strategies.
1- Realize it’s all B.S.
Those outrageous social media posts. Happy times. 10,000 followers. Fancy vacations. Outward displays of wealth …
It’s all complete B.S. It’s all just nonsense.
If you were really a fly on the wall in the homes of your friends and co-workers, you’d see the same things that everyone else experiences: Bad days, fights, failures, … times you wouldn’t want anyone to know about it.
They’re just as normal and messed up as you. Don’t forget it.
2- Advertising is preying on you and making it worse.
As if people throwing their money around and social media wasn’t bad enough
Feelings of anxiety and envy are something that marketers are well aware of. And they won’t hesitate for one second to use it against you – even if that means preying upon your feelings in a desperate attempt for you to buy their garbage.
How many times have you opened your news feed or been walking through a mall, and everywhere you look, you see glamorous pictures of people living the high-life and having a great time (or better life than you).
Again, it’s all FAKE. It’s all carefully staged and designed to get you to believe in a lifestyle that you think you can “buy” your way into.
The problem is that, for most of us, that life can and never will exist. Recognize this for the complete B.S. it is.
3- Define success on your own terms.
Just because some people think having a powerful job position, more money, or a big house makes them out to be more than they really are doesn’t mean you have to.
You can define success any way you wish. If that means throwing yourself into your passion, pursing a hobby, helping out others, or doing something else to enrich other lives, than so be it! Live your life by your own terms, and don’t worry about what others think.
4- Hatred only consumes you.
Like we’ve said, it’s perfectly natural to feel envy and anxiety. But if you feel it building up into hatred, stop yourself and talk to someone.
Hatred can be dangerous and counterproductive to your own success. The resentment you might feel towards a co-worker, friend, or neighbor will only sabotage the relationships you could be building. In the end, the only person it will hurt is yourself. Don’t let it.
5- Nobody’s fault but my own.
To borrow a line from a really great Beck song, you need to realize that your life is “nobody’s fault but my own”.
You are the sum of your actions and decisions. Though you might want to blame others for your misfortune, what you choose to do each and every day with your time is up to you.
Take some responsibility and carve out the life you want instead of one you’re simply settling for.
6- Don’t get mad, get even.
Let your competitive side shine!
So maybe you really want that big promotion at work. Or maybe you want to achieve some big accomplishment.
Stop “wishing” for it and go do it already!
If you never try, then you can never expect to ever succeed.
7- Learn from their good fortune.
If there’s one good thing that can happen for you because of someone else’s good fortune, its this: You might learn what steps to take to get there.
This is absolutely why I love reading about the financial freedom success stories of those who have achieved early retirement. Every time I do, I pick up one or two new details or strategies that I can then blend into my own way for trying to accomplish the same thing.
8- Keep things in perspective.
Its okay to want more. We all do.
But sometimes we get so caught up in our desires that we forget about the things we DO have.
Don’t take for granted the things you HAVE accomplished and what it took to get there.
To someone else, you may be THEIR idea of success.
Readers – Confess! Do you feel just a little a little frustrated or angry over other people’s success? Be honest. More importantly, what do you do about overcoming envy?
Photo Credit: Pexels / Wikipedia / Flickr
Kris @ BalancingMoneyandLife says
Envy is such a tricky thing; don’t we all wish good things happened to us? I think my biggest issue with envy is not that I don’t want others to succeed, but I can’t seem to find effective ways to duplicate/compete.
I’m working on it, but it’s difficult sometimes.
This is a tricky mix of emotions! I think a lot of people feel this way but are embarrassed to admit it.
I agree I’m 33 and I feel these emotions but all it does it builds a cloud in our heads and we get stuck but in all reality I wish the best for everyone plus we can’t be mad or angry at someone else’s success because it all comes down on our CHOICES!! plain and simple ether you wanna be successful or not. Don’t hate participate go and find ways to get it..I’ve been working on this my whole life and I’m finally understanding I’m making better choices I’m feeling better about myself another example be around positive people if they are negative you have a choice there too don’t be around them I feel this envy everywhere even my own family,friends,my ex wife I used to make bad choices and everyone will talk bad about me and when I tried to do good and better choices people will still envy me even more and I said to my self what’s the point of changing or try to do better then there I go to my old bad habits but guess what I’m not giving my power to others no more I will succeed with you or without you so either you are with me or against me your CHOICE……good luck everyone
PS….find yourselfs be happy and nice to others and you will see a difference I promise
I certainly get a little annoyed when I see other bloggers raking in piles of cash. It’s tough because you put in just as much work as they do and you don’t get to see the same reward for your labor. However, at the end of the day I just move on and focus on doing what I need to do to get where they are.
I get annoyed too! I say we pool our advertiser contacts and rake in piles of cash together!
[email protected]&More says
I wish I could be that successful but I know they have been working harder at it much longer so I use it to inspire me to get to that point. I am slowly getting there so the inspiration seems to be working.
It can be inspiring to know that someday we might be pulling in +$1000 per month from our blogs! Hearing news like this on other sites does let us know it is possible.
John @ Married (with Debt) says
I’d be lying if I didn’t get that twinge sometimes, but we all have our unique place and unique talents. Sometimes we can make excuses to feel better, and sometimes they are legitimate. Oftentimes you will learn that you don’t have what you want because you really don’t want it.
That’s an interesting twist on the situation. Perhaps maybe we’re more caught up in wanting to feel success than what it really stands for?
Budget & the Beach says
Great post! Yeah I have suffered from this emotion more in the past…but I’m getting a lot better at it. Why? Because if you are feeling jealous, that’s a big red flag that you aren’t too happy with your own life, and now is the time to examine why. Once you can find reasons in your own life to be happy and proud, then you can more easily celebrate other people’s successes. And just like the FB phenomenon that everyone else’s life appears better than yours, it;s sometimes an illusion. Remember sometimes people only post the good stuff. There may be more that they are dealing with that’s bad and we just have no idea. Always better to keep your side of the street clean.
There are plenty of people who never show you their ugly side. Facebook has seemed to make almost a “sport” out of this. How many ultimate-good-times photos do people really have of themselves?
Modest Money says
I think it’s completely natural to feel envy since most of us are at least somewhat competitive. It’s rare that I get angry or hate a person out of envy, but I do get frustrated that I haven’t reached that same level of success. I actually find it helps a lot with pushing me to work harder and achieve those things too. Without envy people would just lead subpar lives and be content with minimal success. So I think it should be embraced but just without the negative emotions attached to it.
That’s great you have some control over this, even if you still get frustrated. I feel the same. I get really frustrated with myself when I’m not feeling the same amount of success as other people I know. But that just means I need to think smarter!
Debt Free Teen says
Absolutely, I think all of us have encountered envy before! I think we’d be lying if we said we hadn’t. I think envy comes into play when we think there’s only so much success to go around. In reality, there’s enough success for all of us to have some.
When I get envious, it also reminds me that others may be envious of my success. This reminds me to be careful in how much and what I talk about with peers. I want a balance between being real and genuine without bragging.
I’ve got a post coming up about that very topic! We may be “hating” on others, but there is always someone else that is “hating” on you and jealous of what you’ve got!
Keeping things in perspective is important. I think that’s true with anything in life. You never know what other people are dealing with or what’s going on in their life. You only see what they want you to see.
Very true! Lots of people put on a horse and pony show for others. Whenever you think someone else has got it all, dig a little deeper. You’ll find that you’re really not that different.
I like “Learn from their success” and realizing that everyone has their own definition for success. I’m really trying to be a more positive person, and eradicating envy is one of the hurdles to overcome. By forcing myself to truly celebrate with them, maybe I can learn from them and achieve what I want out of life, as well.
Thanks! I have had to make a conscious effort to congratulate others as well. Why should my own jealously or envy get in the way? They earned it, and I should be happy for my friends. If I’m really smart, I can take away a few lessons from their success to try to get there myself!
Justin @ The Family Finances says
My wife and I are friends with another couple that comes from a lot of family money. They go on trips every year, their parents give them cars after they’re done with them, and they seem to catch every break imaginable because they know so many influential people. I’ll admit that it’s hard not to feel envious at times, knowing that I’ve had to work REALLY hard to get to where I am. But I remind myself that life is not a zero sum game. Every good thing that happens to someone else doesnt mean there are fewer good things available for me.
That’s a great perspective to have Justin! We’ve got those types of friends as well and I know what you mean! We’ve had to work double hard just to be where they are because of their background. But they say easy come easy go. And we feel so much more fulfilled having “earned” our way versus just having it handed to you.
Tackling Our Debt says
I agree that we all deal with envy at some points in our lives. It could be over who is earning more money, who is prettier, who is more popular at school, who got a better raise, and so on. A wise woman once said “that the quickest way to kill our own self-esteem is to envy others”.
Sometimes envy wears us down and sometimes it motivates us to do better. I think it depends on where we are in our lives.
Despite where they come from, you can use your powers for good or evil! I agree with you! If you’re strong, you won’t let your own insecurities destroy your chances for success!
Kathleen @ Frugal Portland says
Envy comes from not knowing the whole story. Sure, I’d love to bring in $4k a month from my blog, but am I willing to sacrifice time with friends, time with family, and some of my sleeping time? Alternatively, do I really know just how much goes into making that kind of money on a blog? No, all I’m envious of is the result.
I agree with you completely. I do get envious of other bloggers who make a ton of money. Sure it would be awesome to bring in a lot of money from a blog but it’s not possible for me to put the amount of time necessary to do so. Every time I get envious I ask myself what is the whole story, what did this person give up to get where they are at.
I’m convinced that to make some of those figures you have to spend TONS more time than I’ve got for it! Or outsource everything – and where’s the fun in having a blog if you do that?
That’s a great spin on it! And I think that’s where a lot of us go wrong! We all want to be better looking, richer, smarter – those are all ends. But we could care less about the means. Chances are we would never put the effort into it to make it happen. So who should we really be mad at – others? Or ourselves for not trying?
Mo' Money Mo' Houses says
Oh I have definitely felt some envy when reading how much some other bloggers made, but I definitely think putting things back in perspective is important. Everyone’s journey is different, I still love writing my blog, so who cares if I’m not making thousands of extra dollars each month from my blog right now.
That is 100% – we do all take a different path. I’m a big believer that most of those paths will lead to success as long as we play our cards right. We just get there at different times. You’ll be making your thousands before you know it!
I am definitely guilty of having feelings of envy towards someone’s success. I know people who just seem to constantly have horseshoes up the you know where. There will always be someone who has had more success than you, and at the same time there will always be someone who has had less success.
I try to focus more on my own success thus far and continuing to strive towards other things that have the potential for success.
And that’s a good way to approach it! If you can take a step back and see all you have accomplished, I think most of us will find that we’ve got a lot going on for ourselves!
Early Financial Freedom says
Our motto is this: no matter how much you have or make, there IS someone who has more or makes more. Therefore, do your best and be happy with what you have!
P.S. Envy does play a role in friendship if the bond is not strong, personally witnessed to it.
Well said! With the right attitude, it can encourage you to challenge yourself! I like the part about envy with friends. You should be happy for those you truly care about. Otherwise, you’re not really as close as you think.
Envy is a tricky thing.. and you have to do your best to push it out of your mind when you start to drift that direction. I have felt the burn of envy in work, and in blogging.. But envy and the emotions that it triggers are just wasted..
Instead, why not be happy for the success of others, and use their story to help yourself grow and take some of their tactics as your own?
Exactly! Use that encouragement to build a better blog and do more with your career! Be happy for those that earned it and try to recycle some of their methods for success. Obviously they worked!
Nurse Frugal says
I actually do get happy for these people who are successful, then I try to learn from them. It would be a big bummer if these people who are bragging about their income from their blogs aren’t sharing the tactics on how to do it because then I can’t learn from them. What I would like even better is if those people posted a link of my blog to on their blog….now we’d be talking! Anyway, jealousy and envy suck so I try not to get involved. I’m happy with what I can and can’t do, and I figure if I can’t do it, learn how to.
Yeah, show me the link love! 🙂 I will say that most income reports seem to come with tips on what they did to get there. And for those, I am extremely grateful (but still just a little jealous) 🙂
as a human we always feel envy to succes people..
Hopefully I can overcome it after reading your post
I doubt it can be accomplished in my < 1000 word post, but hopefully you can take away something from it! 🙂
Cat Alford @ BudgeBlonde.com says
This is a great post. I always admire people who are in my field and do really well, but sometimes it kills me because they make it look so easy. One thing to help me overcome it is to realize that even though they aren’t letting on, they are working their tails off behind the scenes. This happens with my husband’s classmates in med school too. So many of them act like they aren’t studying to appear smarter or to intimidate, but I’m confident they go home and hide in their rooms and work just as hard!
p.s. thanks for the great comment on my site!
That used to bug me so much when people would pretend to not study but really they were staying up all night preparing! Just admit it people! I agree with you though – you know there’s always more to most people’s accomplishments than luck. They usually work pretty hard (or smarter) for them and it only encourages you to do the same.
I think I am fortunate. I have never really been envious of others success. I look at is as something to look up to and to strive to achieve more and be a better person rather than being envious I make it happen.
I am never envious at the success of others. I am happy for them. Why? Because I have had more than my share of success and have worked very hard to achieve it. I know that they have too.
When I see others receive without putting in the effort, I know it will escape them since there is no foundation. Easy come will be easy go.
This is why I am so hated by most and completely loved by the few that matter.
You certainly have the right attitude for this. I believe most people would find it easy to slip into their natural programming and simply want what others have without any regard for how to get there.
i learned today that my boss of 4 years is resigning.
She’s moving on to bigger and better things.
i’m really ashamed, but i am very envious of her success. She’s a success with everything she does. marriage, 2 kids, career. i don’t resent her for it, i really respect and admire her.
but, it’s extremely difficult for me just because it reminds me of my failures and shortcomings.
so, it really affects me.
it’s hard to be around someone so sucessful, when i feel i am a failure in so many ways (divorced, no kids, failed dreams, etc…)
i’m really struggling today and just thought i would write.
It’s perfectly normal to feel that way. And if writing about it helps you to deal with it, than feel free to do so.
Paul Smithberger says
Envy can ruin everything.
Instead of focusing on improving ourselves and looking for ways to emulate those that are having success in an area that we’re working on, we focus on how far ahead of us someone is and feel like they should help us.. just because.
The funny thing is this: it only happens when we are competing with others in a single area of interest.
We don’t envy those who succeed at something we aren’t interested in succeeding in. I mean personally, I don’t care how good someone is at playing the french horn. I don’t envy them if they get to play for the Cleveland Orchestra because I have no interest in doing that.
It’s only when we sense that someone has something that we don’t and feel like we deserve their success now and that, somehow, their success keeps us from having ours.
In reality, we alone determine our success or failure in all areas of life. It has nothing to do with the other person. They probably don’t even know that we are envious, so how could it be them and not us?
The best advice I’ve heard is to simply create and not compete. Then there is no need for envy. Really, the only person we are ever competing against is ourself.