Envy is a near-universal emotion and it is normal to feel that way when a loved one or a peer achieves something that raises their status, explained Caroline McMillan Portillo of Time, an American weekly news magazine. For example, you feel envious when your colleague “steals” the promotion you have been dying to have or when your friend has a grand wedding with their partner.
Piercarlo Valdesolo, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Claremont McKenna College, reminded that “these emotions aren’t all bad.” In fact, it can be motivating. However, if envy goes unchecked, it can escalate from a “nagging frustration into a relationship death knell.”
Envy Across Adulthood
Nicole Henniger and Christine R. Harris conducted two studies in 2015 to assess envy across adulthood, published in the journal portal Research Gate. In the first study, 987 participants were gathered from the Study-Response.com internet research panel to complete a series of demographic questions as well as questions on envy. Henniger and Harris found that envy was a common experience among the participants, with over three-fourths reporting that they had experienced envy in the last year.
More women (79.4%) than men (74.1%) reported envy experience. A total of 80% of people younger than 30 said they experienced envy in the last year, 79% for ages 30 to 39, 73% for 40 to 49, and 69% for people over the age of 50.
Interestingly, 52% of people older than 50 envied someone within five years of their own age. Moreover, 74.1% of men and 69.7% of women reported envying someone within five years of their own age. Henniger and Harris hypothesized that the participants envied those to whom they were frequently exposed and who tend to be of the same gender and age.
In the second study, the participants (843), who were recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk and an online participant tool, were asked to describe a time when someone else envied them. The sample size decreased to 809 and of those, 59% could recall such an instance. More women (62%) than men (54%) reported being envied by someone.
The relationship between the enviers and the participants were acquaintance (17.6%), a casual friend (18.3%), and close friend (21.4%). Regarding age, the authors found that older participants were less likely to report being envied.
They also found that occupational success was the only domain in which more men (37.9%) than women (23.7%) reported being envied. There were 23.1% of women who reported being envied for looks than men (10.9%), at least in the case of participants younger than 40. This might be due to “hardwired” sex differences, with physical attractiveness and financial resources for attracting men and women respectively, thereby “triggering” specific innate envy.
Apparently, health was only reported by 6.4% of respondents, showing little association with age. Henniger and Harris were surprised because they expected health to be an important domain for older adults.
Social Media Envy
Cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab surveyed 16,750 people across the world, finding that 65% use social networks to keep in touch with friends and colleagues. About 60% said they use social media to see entertaining and funny posts, 61% posted things that made them smile, and 43% told their networks about their holidays and vacations.
However, 59% said they have felt unhappy when they saw their friends’ posts going to a party they were not invited to. There were also 45% who shared that their friends’ happy holiday photos negatively influenced them while 37% said looking at past, happy posts of their own left them with the feeling that their past was better than their present.
“But the reality is that everyone is doing the same thing, so when we log onto social media we’re bombarded with images and posts of our friends having fun,” noted Evgeny Chereshnev, head of social media at Kaspersky Lab. It makes us think that our friends are enjoying life more than us.
5 Ways to Deal With Envy
Change Your Approach in Comparison
Let’s say your loved one is more successful than you. Have you ever considered your differences in skills and priorities? Think of it as the popular statement, “It’s like comparing apples to oranges,” Valdesolo said. “It kind of puts you in a situation where their successes and their status don’t really apply to you, don’t have implications for what you could be capable of.”
To illustrate, Portillo and her husband have different approaches to journalism. The latter is more breaking-news minded while she’s in the field for the people and storytelling. Naturally, those who write breaking news stories end up more on the front page. But news outlets also need journalists who are into in-person interviews like Portillo.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Avoid isolating yourself from an “otherwise functional relationship,” Valdesolo reminded. Bear in mind that there are other positive emotional states and feelings that stem from a strong relationship.
If you isolate yourself, you’re also short-circuiting a potential learning opportunity, stated Lois Frankel, a longtime executive coach for Fortune 500 companies and author of “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers.”
If you did not get the promotion you wanted, ask yourself, “What do I have to learn from this? Why didn’t I get promoted?”
Acknowledge Your Feelings Out Loud
Frankel recalled a time when her brother built an architecturally stunning house. She told him, “I’m not usually a jealous person, but I sure am jealous of that house.” Frankel made peace with her feelings while making her brother feel good. She said saying it out loud helped defuse feelings of envy. “It’s when things stay hidden and harbored that they tend to grow and fester like mold,” she added.
Find Your Competitive Advantage and Reach Out
It hurts to think that sometimes, someone is more deserving of that success or role. One of the most effective ways to defuse envious feelings is to acknowledge your best qualities and features, Valdesolo said.
Muster up enough confidence and ask the person you are envious of for help. It is not counter-intuitive. You can say you are envious of them and you are happy for them. But it is best to follow it up with: “Tell me, what did you do that I didn’t do? What do I need to do to be the next person on the promotion list or to be seen as someone who’s eligible?” Be clear with your rationale, and you are likely to get what you want.
Give It Time
Published in the journal Psychological Science, Alexander C. Kristal, Ed O’Brien, and Eugene M. Caruso conducted four experiments to shed light on how other people’s good lives sting less when an event is over, cited Jessica Baron of business news Forbes. The researchers found that feelings of envy did decrease after an event has passed.
For example, they asked 100 different people each day throughout the month of February to gauge their envy toward an imaginary individual’s glamorous Valentine’s Day plans. Feelings of envy increased up until February 14, but the next day, the participants’ envious feelings dropped for the rest of the month.
Let time do its job. Who knows? Maybe you will move on or be more motivated.
Social media has added another dimension to envy, thanks to the hyper-connected world we live in. We can be envious of someone’s vacation abroad or your peer’s new house or car. It’s normal for the green-eyed monster to loom over you, but letting it gobble you is unhealthy. Try to find ways to cope with envy and perhaps, you’ll be happier.