Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Envy: Comparison with an Attitude

Today is Wednesday, October 23, 2013.

There would be no envy without the ability to make comparisons, and it appears that human beings make comparisons all the time, naturally.  It's part of our mental programming, and it can serve a useful purpose in our lives.  As long as we compare things in a totally neutral way, simply noting similarities and differences, comparison is an essential reasoning tool.  As well, when we notice something about another person that we'd like for ourselves, it sometimes serves as an impetus for us to improve ourselves and our life circumstances.  

"Comparison is an act of violence against the self," wrote Iyanla Vanzant.  Jean Vanier put it a different way: "Envy comes from people's ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts."

The problem starts when our comparisons engender feelings of discontent or resentment toward others.  That's envy.  Psychologists have distinguished two types of envy: benign envy has an element of inspiration in it.  "If she can do it, so can I," we think.  The feeling may still be unpleasant, but at least we can do something about it.  Malicious envy, on the other hand, is "bitter and biting, driven by the need to make things equal, even if that means tearing another person down," according to author Christie Aschwanden.  In fact, studies have shown that some people are even willing to tear others down, even if it is at their own expense. 

Remedy for Envy: Focus on the Whole Person

When we envy someone, we generally focus on one quality that they have, or the object or status that they possess that we do not.  It's like focusing on someone with a magnifying glass.  We are so focused on that one thing about them that we forget to look at the whole person.  Whether the thing that we envy about the person is just part of their genetic make-up or an accomplishment on their part, we forget that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  We forget, also, to take into account how much hard work they may have done to achieve their accomplishment.  We forget to realize that no matter what they may have accomplished, they – like everyone else –  have their own struggles in life.  In order to combat this myopic view of ourselves and others, we must keep in mind that everyone has struggles at some time in their lives, and unless we know them very well, we may never understand the hardships that they had to rise above in order to get where they are now. People like to show off their accomplishments, but they try to hide, as much as possible, their struggles.  

Remedy for Envy: Acknowledge It and Find Its True Origin

Envy is most dangerous and destructive when we are in denial.  When we are unaware of the real reason for our feelings of envy, we have no way of correcting the situation.  Envy always has to do with a dissatisfaction about ourselves, or a lack in our lives.  When we realize that it's about us, and not about the other person, we can decide what, if anything, needs to be done.  If there's nothing we can do to change the situation, we can at least alter our attitude about it by putting ourselves in a more positive frame of mind.  If someone we know is successful, the thing to do is figure out why they are successful, then apply the information to our own lives.  Did the other person work harder than we were willing to?  Did the other person make sacrifices that we refused to?  Whose fault is that?  Why weren't we willing to work hard enough or make those sacrifices?  Was there a subconscious fear keeping us from achieving what the other person did?  Where did that fear originally come from, and how can we overcome it?  When we dig deep, we find that fear is the basis for most feelings of envy. 

Remedy for Envy: Focus on the Process

When we envy someone their accomplishments, it's time to focus on how they got there and try those things for ourselves.  What did the person have to do in order to reach that particular milestone?  How many hours of hard work were involved?  How much frustration did the person have to battle to get there?  How much help did the person have?  What did the person have to sacrifice in order to achieve?

When we envy a quality in someone's personality, it's a good idea to look at what that quality really means, and how it shows up in a person's actions.   You can't tell that a person is kind or trustworthy just by looking at them.  You tell these things about a person by their actions.  If you want to cultivate a certain quality in your personality, the thing to do is look at the actions of a person who is manifesting that quality and do what they do. 

Remedy for Envy: Change Your Attitude

Sometimes there's nothing we can do to change the situation.  We'll never be as tall as the person whose height we admire.  We'll never have a thick head of hair with lots of body like a co-worker of ours.  We didn't have the advantages of growing up in an affluent family the way so-and-so did.  

The trick is to re-frame our attitude.  Harold Coffin wrote, "Envy is the art of counting the other fellow's blessings instead of your own."  To counter envy, we must make a habit of counting our own blessings.  What we focus our minds on is what we draw into our lives.  When we focus on our lack, then lack is what we pull into our lives.  When we focus on gratitude and plenty, then the energy of Creation fills our lives with plenty of things to be grateful for.  

As well, it is important to be realistic about the fact that we all have imperfections.  It's OK to be imperfect.  That's called being human.  No matter how perfect some other person may seem, they are imperfect, too.  Count on it.  Everyone is on a journey of unfoldment that never ends.  If it were possible to be perfect, then there would be no more potential left, and life would have no meaning.  

Remedy for Envy:  Celebrate Other People and Yourself

This is a practice that you can cultivate on purpose.  Just find one person each day whom you can celebrate either for his or her accomplishments or simply because the person is what he/she is.  To reinforce this, you may even decide to keep a "celebration journal" for a while, and write down something positive about the person.  At least once each week, find something to celebrate about yourself. 

Remedy for Envy: Do Everything in God's Name

When we envy someone, we want something for ourselves that will make us feel better, but it won't necessarily be a good thing for others around us.  When we do everything in the name of God, we consecrate ourselves to service to All Life.  Our focus becomes service, the highest good for all, rather than material gain or a boost in status for ourselves.  Let us take the focus off ourselves and train our focus on God, the Source of our being.  :-)

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