The Upside of Jealousy

No one is proud of being jealous.

It never makes you look any better.  It’s not exactly endearing or cute. Because it’s such a negative feeling, it is often assumed that jealousy is to be fully avoided.  After all, being jealous does nothing to improve your life, right?

Worse, since it is seen as a “bad” feeling, most of us will do our damndest to pretend it’s not there at all.  We’ll shove it aside, ignore it or try to out-think it. I’m not jealous!  Of course I applaud my friend’s successes!  We assure ourselves that we’re happy for that coworker who just went on her dream vacation.  We can’t stop smiling about so-and-so’s fabulous wedding. We’re genuinely excited to see that acquaintance’s impressively-ripped fitness selfies! 

Except of course that we’re all human, and watching other people succeed can make you feel like your own life is lacking.  That’s ok. Experiencing jealousy is completely normal. Wait, let me say it again, just in case you missed it…

Getting jealous is normal.

It doesn’t make you bad, or immoral.  It is not proof that you are a terrible person or a terrible friend.  It doesn’t mean that you are weak, or that you have failed. It only means that you’re jealous, which is a thing that happens sometimes, and when it does happen it’s worth exploring.

Why? Because far from being something we should shove aside and deny, jealousy is actually useful. Jealousy shows us what we’re missing and where we can improve. It can illuminate your path for you.  What if your jealousy is really a compass, trying to show you which way to go in life?

You may notice that you never get jealous of people doing things you have no interest in. Instead, people tend to develop envy around others with similar backgrounds, experiences and life goals. You’re more likely to be jealous of someone who is a lot like you, but who has accomplished something that you haven’t. .  

For instance, there is a much greater chance of my experiencing jealousy over someone’s successful writing career than over how well they play football.  I may be able to admire a player’s physical strength, ability and speed, but I can’t imagine watching a football game and feeling envy! But then, it’s not as if I ever dreamed of becoming a football player.  It’s not something I have any emotional connection to.

Jealousy, on the other hand, is deeply emotional.  It awakens a dissonance within us. It reminds us of the distance between our actual achievements and our dreams.   This internal dissonance between reality and our goals is a wonderful clue as to where we should focus our efforts. You don’t need to internally reprimand yourself for being jealous.  The important thing is how you deal with it.

Because, yes, there’s definitely a wrong way!  There’s a reason why jealousy has a bad reputation.  Shoving down your jealousy until you can’t take it anymore, denying it or letting it fester will almost certainly produce disastrous results.  Instead, we must strive to hold jealousy up to the light for further examination.  

Notice that I am not talking about blaming yourself, I am only saying that you should acknowledge those feelings.  Observe them without judgement. Ok, this person has inspired this uncomfortable feeling. Why? What’s this person got that you ain’t got? (Be as specific and detailed with yourself as possible!) What do you feel is lacking in that area of your life?  What can you start doing to change that? This type of analysis is insanely valuable. Your jealousy is really motivation in disguise. Use that jealousy to help you uncover what is making these successful people so successful, and then channel that fire into your own efforts.

A funny thing happens when you analyse jealousy, too.  It tends to fall apart. Seriously! Typically, once you’ve teased apart your jealousy enough to understand your own motivations, you’ve taken all of the vitriol out of the feeling.  After all, YOU got jealous because something is unfulfilled in YOUR life. Now that you’ve acknowledged this (instead of burying it), it’s easy to see that the target of your jealousy is not the problem.  If anything, they were just the messenger.

Once we take on the jealousy and work through it, it will lose its power.  Then the jealousy becomes a little friendlier. Softer. Much more socially acceptable. Boil jealousy down into its component parts, and I believe that you’ll ultimately be left with inspiration. And feeling inspired to work toward the life of your dreams is something you can be proud of!

 

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