You know the feeling: Your friend just got an A in the class you got a B in, your roommate got an amazing paid internship over the summer, your best friend just got into a relationship. You want so badly to be completely happy for them because they deserve the best, but you just can’t. So why does your smile feel ingenuine, and why do the words, “I’m so happy for you!” sound sarcastic coming out of your mouth?
Jealousy is a distressing human tendency, and no matter how hard we try to shove it down, it’ll always buzz in the back of our minds. It’s easy to dismiss the great accomplishments of less familiar people because we know less of their story, and the distance makes any jealous spike fade rather quickly. But for the people we see daily or communicate with often, jealousy is rooted even deeper. Every interaction is a subtle reminder of something they received that we didn’t, and every mention of their accomplishment stings a little bit more, no matter how much we love the person and believe they deserve it. It hurts to acknowledge the possibility that we are not worthy of the same success. Likewise, being jealous of the people close to us is painful because it unearths the insecurities that have ever made us feel not good enough, and there’s nothing worse than associating the people we love with unintentional feelings of inadequacy.
The beginning of most jealousy is insecurity, whether it be about appearance, intelligence, academics, popularity, physical ability, or financial status. When the seed of insecurity is planted, jealousy can pop up any time, leading to sudden feelings of defeat and resentment. When we think about how smart our friend is, we can feel it bubbling, we can feel ourselves begin to spiral as we grapple for a reason why we’re not smart like her. Do I deserve greatness? we ask. Why can’t I be like them? Am I not good enough? Should I try harder? All of a sudden, we’re filled with doubt and self-pity, and we curse the world for not prioritizing our happiness; we’re looking for someone to blame but we can’t decide which inherent truth is worse: being inadequate or the world being unfair. The truth is, neither are true, and neither are at fault. We don’t feel this way because the world isn’t fair —we know this already. And we don’t feel this way because we’re actually inadequate, but because we think we’re inadequate. Those insecurities were there all along.
Comparison is not a necessary, nor sufficient way to measure worth, especially if our comparisons make us feel defective. As soon as we start to compare, we find reasons to be jealous and ultimately, unhappy. Sure, for the competitive spirit, feeling jealous may boost motivation. But for most of us, seeing someone else “win” invokes a feeling that we’ve got the losing hand. That shouldn’t be the case! Just because someone wins at something doesn’t automatically mean we are at a deficit; it doesn’t mean we are not accomplished or can’t be accomplished in the same way. We should develop more of an asset mindset which celebrates growth and the value we bring to our communities. We must be able to validate ourselves first by recognizing our strengths and building our confidence around the things we’ve achieved now and the things we will certainly achieve later.
We can take the steps to addressing our deeply rooted insecurities, but how can we alleviate the immediate twang of jealousy that may arise? Perhaps it’s best to focus on people’s accomplishments as standalone events that have no relation to us (even if we did take the same test or apply for the same internship). The more we separate ourselves from their accomplishments, the more we can direct our focus on their success and engage in an authentic conversation. Or perhaps we can internally exaggerate the extent of our involvement in our friends’ achievements to reduce competitive feelings. Say your friend just got a once-in-a-lifetime internship: think to yourself the ways you helped your friend reach that goal and the positive effects her achievement may have on your own life. Maybe you were actively involved by mock interviewing her or reviewing her resume. Or maybe small things you did—such as encouraging her to pursue the internship in the first place, or supporting her throughout the process—made just as great an impact. If you believe that your involvement in your friend’s life helped contribute to her success, you’re likely to shift away from jealousy and towards self-worth and pride. Sometimes telling yourself that you did something valuable makes you feel good and more likely to repeat positive actions in the future. In this way, treating the accomplishment like a team effort instead of an individual race is much easier to celebrate.
There’s no denying it’s hard to feel happy for others and express it without a subtle grimace, and it’s okay to occasionally feel jealous, sorry for ourselves, or just plain sad. But it’s reassuring to know that our time to shine will come; we’ll be in the spotlight one day and in the audience the next. It’s not a selfish thing to consider how our friend’s good grades might make them a great study partner for the next test, or how their new boyfriend might help us avoid mistakes when we have our own partners. Believe it or not, we all have a lot to gain from the successes of others. But again, before we can celebrate others, we must celebrate ourselves, which is why it’s important to target the things that make us feel most insecure and change our deficit mindset to an asset mindset. Only then can our happiness begin to extend outwards.
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