The kids who gets the bike you wanted;, the girl with the brand name sweater your mom said she couldn’t afford; the boy with the good basketball skills that makes you look like a moron on the court; the sibling who does everything right in your parents’ eyes; the guy who got a date with the person you were trying to get up the nerve to ask; the winner of the scholarship you applied for; the ‘skinny’ friend who doesn’t even diet; the annoying co-worker who got promoted; the friend who never has time for you but is always hanging out with other mutual friends; the musician who got signed for the label you’ve been trying to attract; the person flirting with your spouse; the neighbor who has it all together; the high school friend who is constantly travelling to warm climates; the teammate who always has the latest gear; the woman with the ‘perfect’ children; the guy who got published while your manuscript just attracts rejection letters; the neighbor who just renovated their whole kitchen…
Jealousy. It shows up throughout our lives at various levels of intensity depending on how satisfied or unsatisfied we are with our selves, our journey and our relationships.
When thinking about the kinds of things we are jealous about I thought about four main categories:
1. Other peoples’ possessions,
2. Other people’s successes,
3. Other people’s appearance or talents
4. Relationship jealousy – this includes sibling rivalry, friendship issues and intimate parter jealousy
This post will cover the first three. Stay tuned for “Jealous Much? – Part II” for Relationships jealousy.
1. OTHER PEOPLE’S POSSESSIONS
As children, it is not uncommon to ‘covet your neighbour’s toy.’ Toddlers are notorious for being perfectly satisfied with what they have until another child picks up a toy that they had no interest in two minutes ago. At that point, the only thing that will make the toddler happy is if they can get the toy from the other child. No amount of reasoning about the apparent irrationality of this sudden ‘need’ and the unfairness of taking a toy that was previously not in use, from the child who picked it up is helpful. We seem born to want novelty and respond to others’ highlighting novelty. This seems appropriate for our cognitive development.
If we were always completely satisfied with what we had, from the start of life, we would never learn to walk or talk, let alone become independent.
As we grow older, depending on the disparities between our socio-economic position and that of those around us, our dissatisfaction with our possessions our sense of ‘not having enough’ is heightened. Studies on perception of poverty show that individuals who live in places where there is an equal level of wealth or poverty have a greater level of satisfaction with their economic status that those who live in societies with large economic disparities. We, in North America live in a society with high and growing levels of economic disparities. “The rich get richer the poor get poorer.” We are faced with this on a daily basis, in real life, in social media and in entertainment media. We are very aware of what we don’t have and what we could have. We live in a ‘consumer culture’ where the goal is to ‘sow dissatisfaction’ among the citizens and tell them that this can only be satiated with more.
We believe that someone who has something we want, is somehow happier or perhaps, better than us. If we feel they are underserving, we might believe that we’ve suffered an injustice.
There are injustices in this world and not everyone gets what they deserve. In fact, because of greed and racism and biases, some of us are actually blocked from obtaining what we should be able to obtain. In these cases, consider how to determine if this is happening to you. Consider the statistics for the group you belong to. Consider the historical context for people like you and the experiences of others within your group or who share your identity, which compares to yours. Find out if others are speaking up about these things? Decide what you want your role to be? I would caution “going it alone,” do your best to connect with others, and work not only on calling out injustice but also on solutions. Figure out what this issue means for your life. Big, systemic issues are rarely resolved within a day, sometime not within a life time. They are worth fighting for but we need sustenance to carry on with our own lives, despite the slow pace of change in the world. Build meaning and beauty for yourself as best as you are able. There is a difference between jealousy and anger at injustice. Anger at injustice can help motivate change and the ability to speak up. Jealousy at perceived unfairness, or just due to our own unresolved or misplaced desires, is not productive.
Moving past jealousy of other people’s possessions involves reminding ourselves about what is really important to us. It might mean re-evaluating our participation in the “more is more” ideology. It might mean considering ways to be more intentional with our own money and time to ensure that we are investing in the things that actually matter to us. This is not a quick process. It often requires regular re-evaluation and self-reminders of what you are working towards.
2. OTHER PEOPLE’S SUCCESSES
In the late 1990’s I applied to the U of M school of music. I’d not had a music teacher in several years and was a bit rusty. I was applying as a pianist, the most popular instrument and, the hardest way to obtain a spot in the program. I was not accepted. I was devastated. That same year, a local musician, who was about the same age as me, previously unknown, was given 1.5 million dollar contract with Sony Music as a singer/songwriter whose main instrument was piano. She had less musical training that I and had dropped out of the program I’d just been rejected from. This contract was obtained, in part, due to a family connection with a Sony Music employee. I also wrote music and had hoped to study composition. This person became relatively famous and I still hear her on the radio, on occasion. I was jealous. For a long time.
Over the years, I’ve realized that music is something I love but not something I want to rely on for my income. Even if I were to “make it big” I have other interests and don’t want to have to sell my own creations or modify them to make them sellable when I could continue to enjoy them without that pressure by pursuing other interests. I don’t have Sony connections so this was not likely in my future anyway. The money might have been nice though;)
Author Julia Cameron speaks about the concept of ‘enough’ in her book, “The Artist’s Way,” when talking about jealousy in the world of the arts. She notes that the ‘spirit of competition’ that is prevelent in society does little for creativity. In fact, when we believe that there is no room in the world for our work we tend to shut down creatively, according to Cameron. She speaks about starting with the presumption that everyone has something unique to offer the world and the world needs more creativity not less.
Author and academic, Brene Brown, speaks about the concept of scarcity which prevents us from vulnerability and, I believe, increases our sense of personal harm when someone gets something that we have wanted or longed for.
We believe that there is not enough. Not enough to go around. Another person’s success is somehow our loss.
Again, we need to believe that we have something unique to offer and that new opportunities arise regularly.
Again the issue of disparity, favouritism, cronyism, racism and biases which result in injustice deserve to be addressed and challenged. If this is happening, I will repeat the necessity of finding others who support you and/or who have experienced the same things and are willing to stand by you, to find those who are already addressing these things. This is important as challenging injustice is exhausting and emotionally, psychologically and sometimes physically dangerous work. When you challenge power, it does not lay down quickly.
But there are times where the injustice is not systemic, it might be personal or it might not be an injustice. When I was rejected from the school of music, no injustice was done. I was not qualified and that was the end of the story. I needed to rethink my definition of success and what I wanted in life.
As yourself what is success to you? How will you know when you’ve achieved it? Once you have it, what will it do for you? Will it be enough? Are there other ways to achieve ‘success?’ Whose definition of success are you following? Who benefits from this definition? Who loses?
3. OTHER PEOPLE’S APPEARANCE OR TALENTS
We compare ourselves to others who we identify with, in some way. Someone who is more talented than us in our area of interest, or close to our age but whom we perceive as better looking.
We know, in theory, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but ‘the beholder’ in our society is a giant that eye is all around us, with a mouth attached by means of general and social media, dictating what is and is not attractive and convincing us that we are not there yet.
Talent or skill is either born or developed. If it’s born, than you can admire it but may never achieve it. On the other hand,
…you might consider how much energy your jealousy is taking away from discovering or developing your own skills and talents.
To envy a talent or natural appearance is a reflection of our own self esteem. By whose standard are we judging appearance, talent or ability as better or worse than another? In critical race studies, there is a concept called “internalized racism” where a group of people have been so marginalized and ostracized that they being to believe that they are inherently inferior.
When we see ourselves as inherently inferior this is a red flag indicated a need to examine where this message is coming from. Who told you that the way you look was less attractive than someone else? Who told you that your abilities were inferior or didn’t count or were not valuable? You can challenge these messages. It starts by identifying the difference between fact and feeling or opinion. Sometimes it involves challenging ourselves. Check out COGNITIVEdistortions for the ways we take feeling or opinion and make it into fact.
Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to celebrate others success, talents or prosperity. How can we celebrate others when we believe that somehow, in some way, this evidence that they’ve stolen something from us?
We need relationships where we can be with each other in times of tragedy and be there to genuinely celebrate each others’ triumphs, successes and good luck.
This is true friendship and love. Let’s keep working on this.
For more reading that might be of interest….