It can happen without you even realizing what’s going on. You’re driving home from work and see a shiny new SUV in your neighbor’s driveway. Gee, you think, I’d really like to upgrade our vehicle too. I wish we had enough money on hand for a down payment. Or maybe you’re scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and see a newly posted album of your friend’s kids. It seems like they’re always so well behaved, you sigh. I’m lucky if my boys will stay still long enough to take a picture – forget having clean faces and combed hair.
It’s true: Most of us compare ourselves to – and try to keep up with – the proverbial “Joneses” on a near-constant basis. And according to Todd Patkin, that’s definitely not a good thing.
“Being in the clutches of the green-eyed monster can really sabotage your overall happiness,” says Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and – Finally – Let the Sunshine In. “That’s because envy makes you focus on what you don’t have instead of all of the great things you do have.”
Patkin points out social media has really exacerbated the extent to which envy affects our lives. Think about it. Sites like Twitter and Facebook allow people to live their lives in full view of others…and sugarcoat every aspect of them. When you log on, you’re bound to see pictures and posts that read, “Most beautiful wedding ever!” “This was a dream vacation in paradise!” or “Drinks on me – I just got a promotion!”
As you’re scrolling through this never-ending list of good news, it’s all too easy to feel like you’ve gotten the short end of the stick and say, “Woe is me!” And, of course, it doesn’t help your Facebook newsfeed doesn’t ever go away. You can always torture yourself by taking a look at how much “better” everybody else has it.
“But here’s the thing: While you’re living your life in a constant haze of jealousy, you don’t see the other side of the coin,” Patkin said. “What social media might not tell you is the friend who got a promotion might also have just had a huge fight with her spouse. But unless she is one of those people who thrives on drama, she isn’t going to post those details of her personal life…and you won’t know things aren’t as perfect as they seem.”
The bottom line is, jealousy doesn’t do anybody any good. It makes you feel needlessly unhappy, and it can negatively affect your relationship with others. Here are six of Patkin’s tips to help you banish envy the next time it starts to rear its ugly head:
• Admit envy is a problem. To some extent, envy is natural. You can’t go through your life without feeling jealous from time to time. So first, simply take note of when and why the green-eyed monster makes an appearance. (You may not even have consciously realized what you’re feeling.) Specifically, be aware of how strong your emotions are and what effect they have on your attitude and behavior.
“You don’t have to take your emotional temperature every five minutes, but being generally aware of the role envy plays in your life can really make a difference in your behavior,” Patkin said. “For instance, if you’re carrying around a lot of anger toward a coworker because the boss liked his project proposal instead of yours, it could be making you unnecessarily snarky, critical and negative. That means you’re ruining your own day and hurting your performance…and you might also be burning some office bridges you’ll regret later!”
• Remember “happiness” looks different for everyone. When you’re constantly comparing yourself to the Joneses, you’ll suffer several unintended consequences. First, worrying about how you don’t measure up robs you of your present happiness. Plus, it leaves you unable to think about how you really want your own life to look.
“We talk about the American dream of a house, a pool, two cars in the garage and the proverbial white-picket fence,” Patkin said. “But the truth is, the same cookie-cutter mold doesn’t work for everybody! The lifestyle that makes your neighbor or your cousin or your dentist happy might not work for you. And if that’s the case, who cares if it’s flashier, more glamorous or ‘cooler’? Trust me, when you give yourself permission to live your life on your terms instead of letting others set the bar (and feeling jealous as a result), you might be surprised by how good you already have it.”
• Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Yes, living with an “attitude of gratitude” is a clichéd concept. But infusing it into your life will also totally change your viewpoint…especially if you have a chronic case of “the envies.” The fact is, it’s very easy to take things for granted: the information your coworker emailed you, the fact your car is running and even the food you’re eating for dinner. Most of us have gotten into the habit of ignoring all of the good things in our lives, and instead, we focus our mental energy on being upset about what’s wrong. But Patkin promises it can be a true game changer when you reverse the time you spend thinking about each.
“Over the course of my life, I have learned it’s smarter to thank others because of how they make your life better instead of secretly resenting them because they have something you don’t,” he said. “And yes, it does take a while to make this change in how you habitually think. To start tapping into the power of gratitude, just say ‘thanks’ to the people who help you out during your day. (You might even work up to writing thank-you notes, as I do.) And beyond that, try to notice all of the blessings in your life. For me, my wonderful wife and extraordinary son top the list, as well as the fact I finally get to do what I love – help others live happier lives. In time, you’ll start to notice most of your envy has miraculously left the building.”
• Focus on others…but in a different way. If you have an hour or so of free time, you could spend it by trawling Facebook (and maybe watching a reality show that highlights the lifestyles of the rich and famous in the background). At the end of that hour, you’ll probably feel dissatisfied with your own lot in life, if you’re not outright angry at how “good” other people have it. Or, you could spend your free time helping your kids build a fort in the backyard, using your financial know-how to help a friend set up a much-needed budget or even volunteering at a local organization that needs an extra pair of hands.
“If you choose the second option, you’ll be a lot happier – guaranteed,” Patkin said. “Instead of focusing on how much you think your life sucks, focus on how you can use your strengths to help others’ lives be better. It will take the same amount of time but will be so much more uplifting and productive. We all have a choice: We can choose to look to the right and see people who have ‘more,’ or we can choose to look to the left and see others who aren’t as fortunate…and whom we can tangibly help. I firmly believe the greatest fulfillment in life comes not from satisfying ourselves, but from helping others.”
• Be generous. You’ve heard the saying, “The more you give, the more you receive.” Well, that goes for happiness, gratitude, help, friendship and more! When you are generous with these things, you’ll invite them back into your life, too. People who are positive, supportive and loving experience life very differently from those who are jealous and negative.
“Here’s an easy example of what I mean,” Patkin said. “Say your friend just got engaged, and you’re still looking for your own Mr. (or Ms.) Right. It’s OK to feel a twinge of jealousy at first. But instead of feeding the fire by scowling at a newly posted album of engagement photos and wishing you too could change your relationship status to ‘engaged,’ call your friend and congratulate her. You’ll have to acknowledge she didn’t say ‘yes’ with the intention of making you feel bad, and you’ll probably also hang up the phone feeling happy for her.”
• Pay more attention to the little things. If you think about it, a lot of us experience envy over the “big” things: relationships, wealth, career opportunities, vacations, houses and more But it’s also true all of our happiness doesn’t come from, say, getting a new car – a lot of it also comes from a variety of little things that add up.
“Take a few minutes and think about what makes you happy on a day-to-day basis,” Patkin said. “It might be eating a delicious meal, taking a few minutes to read a chapter in your latest book or taking a walk with your spouse. Then, make an effort to incorporate those things into your life as often as you can. Think about it this way: You can’t give yourself a promotion at work, but you can definitely get yourself a yummy cup of coffee on your way into the office. When you let the little things make you happy more often, there will be less room for envy to creep in.”
“Don’t underestimate the insidious power of envy,” Patkin said. “If you allow it to take root in your life, it will bring you only bitterness, isolation and disappointment. But the good news is, it really is in your power to take charge of the green-eyed monster. Just remember, if you always try to focus on what is going well in your life, you will feel much more balanced and look back on your life with much less regret. I promise, taking gradual steps to banish jealousy will make you happier each and every day!”
About the author:
Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and – Finally – Let the Sunshine In, grew up in Needham, Mass. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next 18 years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.