Envy: How It Helps Us

August 10th, 2022

By Jack Adam Weber

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

“I used to see what I wanted, and felt poorer for not having it. Now I “envy and acquire” or “envy and realize my desire.”

—M. Burke

Envy is a two-edged sword. In its positive spin, envy inspires us to achieve what we find lacking in ourselves. It causes us to marvel at what another has, or imagine the person we could be if only we had better luck. Envy inspires us to better ourselves, to cultivate what we lack.

The negative and violent side of envy causes us to hate and deride, criticize and blame. We do this when we feel only the lack, maybe even the regret and remorse, for not having what we wish we did and are unable to integrate these feelings. As a result, we may lash out by shaming or ridiculing.

To prevent envy from getting the best of you, challenge yourself to see all accomplishments or advantages by others as inspiration, as a signal from your soul to expand your horizons. Especially notice the subtle ways that envy operates, such as when you judge or lambast someone else for something they have or are doing—like taking a vacation, taking a nap, buying a new pair of shoes, making time for fun, or cultivating a meaningful relationship.

And, when you simply don’t have the talent or wherewithal to pursue what you are envious of, strive for the equivalent of what you can. And use your good thinking. Don’t merely get owned by your emotion. Feel it, acknowledge it, and admit that you are envious. Call it “envy,” so that you know its parameters and character, so that you can work with the beast and not let it own you. So you don’t project and displace your anger and desire for what you don’t have—for what you don’t have yet, if you set out to achieve it, which requires dedication and hard work.

Sometimes you may not want to work to achieve what another has. Notice this. Ty to find peace in it. Because, if you can get it and simply don’t want to, there’s nothing left to deliberate. But if you do want what you envy, and you are willing to try to achieve it, however begrudgingly you trudge through the process, you can reap the boon within the burden of envy.

I think it’s also important to question both the power and the object of our envy before we believe it outright. Do I really want what Emily has, or am I just in awe that she has something so beautiful or wonderful? Maybe what I really want is not what Emily has, but something that is valuable to me. Emily has a gorgeous car, and while I feel envious of what she has, upon examination, I recognize that I don’t really want her car. What I really want is to get my electric bike fixed so that I can get around in a way that is meaningful to me.

Or, I don’t really want Meg’s good looks; what I really want is a partner that values me for who I am. Sometimes envy is a sign that something is missing from our lives, which masquerades as the object of our envy, but isn’t what we truly desire.

Many confuse jealousy for envy. Psychology defines the difference this way:

Envy is when we lack something enjoyed by another.

Jealousy is when what we cherish is threatened by another.

Envy involves two people, while jealousy involves three people or more.

When you can only achieve a modicum of what you envy, try to summon the self-compassion and humility to accept this. Pat yourself on the back for trying, for making some progress, and for accepting what you cannot control, which are your limitations. Everyone has limitations. Some are adept at conversation and making friends, while for others it’s a shortcoming. And this brings up a last point about envy: the benefits of comparison.

When you are envious of another for what you don’t have, pause to notice what you have that they may not, and appreciate this disparity. For, it’s the same inequality that you perceive in the other for the qualities or things they have that you don’t—or which you perceive they have and you don’t. An attractive person might think that their friend is hotter, or has attributes they don’t. This is often untrue, at least not objectively, for prettiness is subjective. So, examine your beliefs to find out if they are really true objectively, or if it’s just your inaccurate perspective. Your perspective of lacking something, such as looks to someone else, might be a defense against—a decoy—to realizing that you lack something deeper like self-respect, self-confidence, or feeling truly loved.

So, we see that envy can be a help, a welcome guide to fulfillment, what the Greeks called a daemon. Yet, envy can also be turned into a demon that works against us. The end-result depends a lot on how we work with feelings of desire that arise in us, the actions we take to cope with the uncomfortable feelings we have, and the accuracy with which we perceive ourselves and others. I hope this writing has helped you to identify the places in your life that need tending to, as communicated to you by your envy, so that your life can be more what you want it to be.

Recommended articles by Jack Adam Weber:

About the author:

Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac., is a licensed Chinese medicine clinician with over 20 years of experience working with patients. He is also a life coach, climate activist, organic farmer, artist, and celebrated poet. Jack has authored hundreds of articles, thousands of poems, and several books. His most recent creation is Climate Cure: Heal Yourself to Heal the Planeta comprehensive guide to help navigate all manner of crisis.

Jack is an advocate for embodied spirituality and writes extensively on the subjects of holistic medicine, emotional depth work, mind-body integration, and climate crisis, while encouraging his readers to think critically, feel deeply, and act boldly. He also developed the Nourish Practice, a deeply restorative, somatic meditation practice that doubles as an educational guide for healing through the wounds of childhood. His work and contacts can be found at jackadamweber.com.

If you've ever found value in our articles, we'd greatly appreciate your support by purchasing Mindful Meditation Techniques for Kids - A Practical Guide for Adults to Empower Kids with the Gift of Inner Peace and Resilience for Life.

In the spirit of mindfulness, we encourage you to choose the paperback version. Delve into its pages away from screen glare and notifications, allowing yourself to fully immerse in the transformative practices within. The physical book enriches the learning process and serves as a tangible commitment to mindfulness, easily shared among family and friends.

Over the past few years, Wake Up World has faced significant online censorship, impacting our financial ability to stay online. Instead of soliciting donations, we're exploring win-win solutions with our readers to remain financially viable. Moving into book publishing, we hope to secure ongoing funds to continue our mission. With over 8,500 articles published in the past 13 years, we are committed to keeping our content free and accessible to everyone, without resorting to a paywall.