If you were to ask my closest friends to describe me, envious would not be an adjective that I would expect to hear from them (at least, I hope not!). Today, as a young woman in my mid-20s, I am thankful that envy is not a burden in my daily life, but it has not always been like that.
In first grade, I cried when I discovered that a friend invited another girl over to play after school. Just the memory of my reaction makes me cringe because it’s such a clear example of what envy is: sorrow at something good happening to someone else. Love, by contrast, moves us to rejoice for them.
I remember recognizing, even as a 6 year-old, that I did not want to be an envious person. I did not want to be at the whim of something as corrupting as envy. I began a decades-long journey to combat this vice.
Years of striving, failing, and trying again have brought me to a place of freedom: freedom to rejoice in my friends’ engagement and pregnancy announcements with pure, uninhibited joy; freedom to promote and advance others’ professional accomplishments authentically and naturally; and freedom to rest in God’s plan for my life, without having to compare it to another’s to see how it measures up. Today, I am largely unfettered by the insidiousness of envy, but every so often, it still rears its head. In those moments, I remind myself that I am made for more, and that envy only hurts myself and my relationships.
If you’ve ever struggled with envy, maybe you’ll benefit from the strategies I’ve learned to lean on when the first signs of this vice creep in.
I remember that it’s not a zero-sum game
Sometimes when I feel the comparison narrative beginning to play in my head, I just need to do some common-sense talking to myself. My co-worker’s relationship status does not have a consequential bearing on my own, just as my friend’s love for his job should not detract from my contentedness at work. We are not competitors in this game of life, as though we’re all vying for part of some finite sum of “happiness.”
Learning to operate from a place of abundance, not scarcity, has helped me stand up to envy. So one of the first things I tell myself when I notice envious thoughts is, “There is more than enough to go around.” With time, this can become an internalized belief that determines how you act and see the world, but until then, don’t be afraid to remind yourself of this truth, no matter how many times you have to repeat it.
I actively work for that person’s success
This is the classic fake-it-til-you-make-it strategy, but ever since a priest recommended that I give it a try, it has upended my relationship with envy. When I recognize the first trappings of envy upon seeing a cousin’s apartment or hearing of a friend’s marathon time, I do the second-best thing that I can do in that moment: I actively choose to be a champion of the person who has become an object of my envy.
With consistent practice and the grace of God, this deliberate decision to support and celebrate that person can become habitual and, eventually, automatic. But until the point when your outward actions naturally flow from an internal joy in others’ success, fake it until you make it. Thanks to this strategy, championing my friends’ careers, fitness goals, relationships, hobbies, and faith lives has become my favorite and, dare I say, most natural act of love.
I know my triggers
Yes, it’s good and holy to strive for perfection of virtue, but let’s not make it harder on ourselves by walking into environments that prove themselves fertile occasions of envy or by surrounding ourselves with people who seem to provoke it. Learn your triggers (this applies to any vice, not just envy) by reflecting on where and when you have struggled.
For me, I know that time spent on Instagram before bed is an open door for envy to walk through. So, I decided to forgo scrolling in bed (and I am imperfectly working to make it a habit!). Additionally, I noticed that whenever I got together with a certain group of friends, I found myself walking away feeling worse about myself, which made envy that much more enticing. So I limit my time with them and, when we do interact, anticipate those feelings and come armed.
I know to counteract those first thoughts of inadequacy by speaking truth to myself, using favorite Scripture verses or affirming statements like, “I am kind, strong, and loved;” or, “I am doing my best.”
I practice gratitude
I have found that intentionally calling to mind the things, people, and experiences for which I am grateful is akin to punching envy in the nose.
There are so many creative ways to do this! Two friends and I text one another each night with three “gratitudes” for the day. My sister keeps a journal next to her bed and writes down a moment from the day for which she is particularly grateful. Others incorporate a gratitude practice into their nightly prayer or around the dinner table with their families or roommates.
It is an undeniable fact that other people dream of the things that we take for granted, be it our educational backgrounds, safe places to call home, travel opportunities, stable health, or supportive spouses. Cultivating the habit of gratitude allows you to recognize the good in your life, especially when envy seeks to blind you from seeing it. Gratitude not only disarms envy, but also leads to generosity, which delivers the ultimate knock-out punch to this cunning vice.
Finally, I trust that the person I envy bears unknown crosses
I am not privy to all of the crosses that people carry, whether its those of the co-worker in the next cubicle or the woman in front of me at the grocery store. A stunning Instagram post, toned muscles, a big house in a desirable neighborhood, or an impressive graduate degree do not remove the hidden crosses of infertility, financial strain, job discontent, mental illness, broken-heartedness, or loss of faith.
Before you envy another person’s circumstances, remind yourself that there are always unspoken pains and weighty crosses that he or she carries — we all do! Instead of allowing envy to wreak havoc on your peace of mind and relationships, lift that person and his or her struggles, known or unknown, up in prayer.