Jealousy and Envy: An Invitation To Focus On Your Own Life

Jealousy and envy are raw, primal emotions. They can turn people inside out and make monsters out of mild-mannered people.

What’s the difference between jealousy and envy? Jealousy is when you are worried about being replaced by someone else. It makes someone feel watchful, paranoid, or suspicious.

Envy is about bearing a grudge or bad feelings towards someone because you covet what they have. In a milder sense, you can also envy someone without bad feelings towards them — you just simply envy something they enjoy or possess in a more passive way. So envy is wanting what someone else has. Jealousy is fear of being replaced by someone else (think relationships).

While mild feelings of envy or jealousy are normal from time to time, I don’t know many people who enjoy the effects they have. Both emotions bring up feelings of emptiness. It is very dispiriting to think that you or your life is not good enough. It is unsettling to worry about being replaced by someone. There are deeper reasons why some people are more prone to feeling this way, and we examine those in therapy. But to kick the basic feelings of envy and jealousy, I suggest:

  • Get busy with your own life. Find a project, hobby, or mission to dedicate yourself to. This will help your feelings of self-worth, get you distracted from ruminating, and help you build more of what you want and focus less on what you don’t have.
  • Make friends with the enemy directly. Jealousy, like anxiety, is often made worse by assumptions we make. Get to know the guy (or girl) who concerns you. Address your concerns directly with your partner (or boss, or friend…whomever you are worried about losing). Don’t let your paranoid mind run amok – go see for yourself.
  • Remind yourself that you are only seeing part of the picture. Don’t let chipper Facebook posts or glossy magazines trick you into thinking this is the whole story! We present the best parts of ourselves to others and skip the rest. The relationship you idealize, the home, even the daily activities contain plenty of drudgery and chores.

If you are often besieged by jealousy when in a relationship, or feel especially prone to comparisons with others lives, seek a few sessions of counseling to better understand why. You can fix this problem at the root level and keep it from destroying your relationships and quality of life.