How to quell envy?
April 27, 2015 5:20 PM   Subscribe

How do I give my deep feelings of envy the smack-down? for that matter, is what I feel actually envy, or something else?

I am about to make a life-change - moving to a much cheaper apartment in an attempt to rescue myself from financial oblivion. (for anyone following my shit-show epic, I have posted an update here)

This seems like a good time to address something in my life that has been a major hinderance.
I am so often consumed with envy...of people's lives, experience, successes, careers, and stories.
Now, I totally understand that everyone experiences life differently; I get that. In fact, I don't believe my feelings have any connection with how they may have experienced thing, positive or negative...hmm, as usual I'm struggling to explain myself.

OK, some examples:
Travel - I have wanted to travel for forever, far or near...never was able to, due to lack of funds or time, or often fear. So many people I know/have known do travel, sometimes often. I don't know anyone who hasn't...anyway, I am very envious. But not in a way that I wish they didn't - I am very interested in the stories, the photos, I ask questions and I am happy for them but I am sad for me.

Music - music is a sweet poison that burns in my veins and makes me crazy. I have many hang-ups
that will take years of therapy to work through and I really should give up on it but I just can't. I've been at it since I was 13 and nearly 30 years later I have done nothing with it really. I have quite a few friends and acquaintances who are musicians and do neat things...many quite small and local and some bordering on big-time. I am proud of them and supportive, and yes, inspired...but deep down, I am extremely disappointed with myself that I am up to nothing.

Or, even something so stupid as tattoos - I have wanted to get inked for 20 years or so, again never had enough money to do it...yet, as it happens, I have very many fiends who are tatted up. I admire their beautiful body art, and as always ask questions, where did you go, what was it like, etc. I just end up wishing I had been able to do it too.

There are so many other things as well, education, interesting jobs, neat clothes, motorcycles...

So, what I'm trying to get across here is I have no ill will toward anyone who possesses what I wish for myself, nor do I have an attitude of "oh, that looks cool, I want that too..."
I know people who have jumped out of airplane and I am not one bit envious, since that is not something I am interested in. (though I still love to hear about it.)

My envy involves the things and experiences I naturally wanted for myself and never achieved. To be clear, I have not accomplished much at all, thus I am accumulatively envious of so much.

Additionally, I imagine I would feel better if I thought I could still reach these goals, but alas I regret to say I don't. Travel is not in the cards, I don't even have a passport and can't envision having enough money to get one. The tattoo thing is so stupid I should be shot for even considering it. The music aspect scares me the most, I know I'll never be happy in life if I don't try to get myself out there, yet I'm paralyzed. (I have asked and been given much advice, but I can never process it and I stay frozen.)

But I do know this - nothing will improve until I stop being consumed with envy and regret, or whatever it is I feel. I know nothing can change the past, and stewing about what I didn't do will do no good. But as long as I am envious of everyone and everything, I will not see clearly. I am ashamed for feeling this way, and I need to stop.
As I stated earlier, with a small victory in my pocket, it seems like a good time to address this...maybe I can finally live some semblance of the life I wished for.
posted by Soap D. Spencer to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Don't be ashamed. Courage is a muscle and needs to be worked to gain strength. Your 'courage muscle' is weak, that's all.

Improve your courage strength and you will find your envy will be dissolved by the pride of your (small is ok) accomplishments.

Start small but do something everyday. For example:
* get the application paperwork for a passport
* set aside a coin jar for your (small) 'courage' tattoo
* pick a piece of your music and put it out there. If is already out there, notch up the promotion to the next level by, say, starting a facebook page or something for your music.
* write a very long, very private, very honest list of all the things you would like to do or be in your life. Ignore anything that is about 'having' or about how you want other people to see you.
* become mindful of the times when you don't do something because of a weak courage muscle. Think about them and work out a way to make another choice next-time.

To quote the cartoonist philospher poet, Michael Leunig:
There are only two feelings.
Love and fear.
There are only two languages.
Love and fear.
There are only two activities.
Love and fear.
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
two results.
Love and fear.
Love and fear.
posted by Thella at 5:47 PM on April 27, 2015 [14 favorites]

Here's what I've said in response to multiple previous questions about this (sometimes with a different username):

No matter what you do in your life, the rest of the people in the world are still going to exist. Your friends and everyone you've ever met are going to have the same talents and successes and failures and strengths and weaknesses no matter what you do or what your connection is to them (with the exception of situations where you play a role in those successes/failures/whatever). So, once we've taken note of this point, why would you think you'd be better off not having these people in your life?

For instance, I have a friend who went to Yale Law School, widely considered the best law school in the US. I went to law school but could never have gotten into Yale. Is that worth me spending one second of my life feeling jealous about? Of course not, because after all, no matter who my friends are, Yale Law School is going to have a couple hundred new law students year after year after year. Why does it matter that one of them is this friend of mine? I should only feel good about the fact that I know the outstanding people I know.
posted by John Cohen at 6:07 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

First things first, envy as well as several other "unpleasant" emotions (loneliness is the first to come to mind) exist to inform us that we are not fulfilling our basic needs. Just as hunger and tiredness exist to inform us that we need to eat and sleep, envy is telling us that we aren't meeting certain quotas in our lives.

The easiest one to explain is loneliness. Human beings are social animals and require varying levels of socialization and interaction with other humans in order to maintain good mental health. Feeling lonely? Join Meetup and go spend some time with other humans. It's your mind telling you that you're not *DOing* what you need to be doing.

Envy? We evolved to have envy because it motivates us to get off our butts and do something. That's it, that's why we feel that emotion. Back when we were hunter / gatherers, those of us who got off our butts, survived long enough to make babies.

Start doing something you think would bring you enjoyment... Start with something realistic. Learning an instrument is a long haul kind of thing but going on a 3 day weekend mini-vacation is more doable and has immediate results. What cities are within a 4-6 hour drive from where you live? AirBNB or Couchsurf for accommodations. Bring your bike or if you're like me your longboard. Explore the new city aimlessly, get lost, see some sights, talk to some strangers.

Your choice, start doing something or distract yourself into a short and unfulfilled life.

Book suggestion - When Misery is Company by Anne Katherine
To some degree, this applies to you. It applies to many many many of us these days.
Comfortable in the misery we know.
posted by mrflibble at 6:17 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm going to suggest acceptance. There are a lot of wonderful things in the world and even if you have unlimited time and money you aren't likely to get to try all of them.

I think there's a balance you can strike between the energy that your appreciation / longing brings to your life, and a grounded acceptance for where your life is right now. Make some plans that will put you on a path towards the one or two goals that are most deeply important important to you. And then shift the rest of the focus into grounding yourself in the life that you have. Maybe this means reading books by the great explorers, practicing your music, going through tattoo designs and picking out the one you will get the day you have the money, even if that's 20 years down the road. Or maybe it means making a subtle shift to appreciating things that are a little more simple - a garden, excellent cooking skills, joining a choir, etc.

There will always be more wonderful things in the world that you long for. Don't give up on those things, but look at what's good in the life you have and appreciate it.
posted by bunderful at 6:20 PM on April 27, 2015

The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to be More:

The urges are not based on anything meaningful. They come from reading a magazine, or someone’s blog, and thinking, “Oh, that would be cool!” I read lists of things I should do someday, places I should go, achievements others have done … and the idea pops into my head that I should do them. Hey cool, let’s suddenly pursue a new goal! But this new fantasy in my head isn’t based on anything that matters, just a cool image that I have in my head about how awesome my life will be once I achieve this goal.

My life isn’t more awesome after achieving the goal. I always learn something from these pursuits, but the result isn’t the life that I fantasized about. I ran the ultramarathon, did the Goruck Challenge, got the leaner body, learned a bit of programming … my life isn’t any better. The fantasy was never real.

The pursuit doesn’t result in anything meaningful. Going after these achievements, always looking to improve myself … they don’t result in anything that brings meaning to my life. They’re all about fantasy, not about creating meaning.

posted by nightrecordings at 6:21 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

You're a little out there. The envy is caused by frustration. You compare yourselves to others and feel jealous because you don't have it or didn't do it. You're apparent solution is, live without jealousy like a Buddhist monk. I don't know anything about you, but you're not Jesus. This question is just swimming an uphill battle. You have some issue with yourself. I don't know what it is. You could be a great person, or a terrible person. The things that you've mentioned are just material and wont change who you are at all. For whatever reason, you don't like to take risks. But that's how we get to know ourselves and discover who we are.

A passport costs $100 (assuming you are in the US). Realistically if you can't even save $110 dollars, then you probably wont travel. My suggestion is that you invest and create the goal of saving $10k in five years time for a vacation. As for the tattoo, tons of people have tattoos. It's not a crime to like scarification. If you have wanted a tattoo for twenty years, my suggestion is take the plunge. As for music, that is more complicated. But all I can suggest to you is that you try, or else you'll live with this regret.
posted by skwint at 6:24 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I like thella's answer because it seems to me that your question is less about envying others and more about feeling paralyzed and unable to do the things that will make you happy. In your question, I see a lot of excuses about why you can't do the things that you would love to do. Pick something that's within your reach and will make you happy -- say, learning all the words to a song you love, and practicing singing it every day. Or drawing a design for a tattoo that you aim to get one day. And even if you're terrified or feel like it's stupid or you shouldn't want this, force yourself to do it. I think the feelings of envy will go away once you start focusing on making your life the way you want it, instead of looking around and wondering how it is that everybody else has achieved the things that you want.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:34 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm glad you found most of the money for your deposit! You did it! Despite what other people thought. You set your sights on your goal (and I'll note that other people didn't 100% agree with your goal, but you stuck by it). You worked hard. You're almost there!

There is no difference between what you did to get that deposit, and saving up for a tattoo or a passport or a trip.

I think you're blending the past and the future together, and turning it all into a big, inaccessible dream. The truth is, you can make all the things you've listed happen.

I remember an update you offered to another question, where you talked a little bit about your family. It sounded like you grew up with the idea that nothing you do can make a difference to your reality. That's not true. You just proved it to yourself (and to us).

What it will absolutely take, though, is the ability to break down your goals into steps that feel achievable. Are you currently getting treatment for ADHD? I think that will help you see what's possible and what isn't, and work out how to get what you want, step by step.

Action is the cure for envy. Keep your eyes focused on your path, straight ahead - no looking down, no looking back, and definitely no looking to the side.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:06 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: @Thella - Yes, courage...I find courage hard to come by. And fear...fear has always been a problem for me.
@ John Cohen - "why would you think you'd be better off not having these people in your life?"...I don't. I love the people in my life, and hold them dear. I love to hear their stories, and really everything I know of the world is through other people. And that's just it...I feel like I have lived vicariously through other people, and books and photos. I wish experiences of my a kid I was not allowed to join any teams, I never went to any dances, I missed out on all that. As a young adult, I missed out on what everybody I know got to do. And I mean for better or worse...not just a dreamy fantasy, but the hard stuff and lessons that helps you function in the world. I missed most of that. In many cases I couldn't afford it, or I was isolated...fear indeed often got in the way.
@nightrecordings - that excerpt is great, but I feel that is exactly not how I feel. Music, for me, is not something I saw in a magazine and thought “Oh, that would be cool!”. Music is perhaps the one thing so many years ago that set my dull little mind on fire and fascinated me. Unfortunately I quickly developed some severe neuroses around it. I want to travel not because someone else did but because I want to see the world with my own eyes...

Jeez, I got it -
Here is what I'm trying to say: I don't want what others have simply because they have it and It looks great, It's that others have/are doing what I want (and can't/couldn't/scared of)

@chickenmangazine - Once or twice a year I draw that tattoo...I lost count after 25 sketches. Each time I redraw it I throw the old one out. I wish I had kept them...the design has never changed.

@cotton dress sock - You know, you are right...that is why I feel now is the time to try and change my outlook. As for my ADHD, my doc has not been very helpful. When I ran into money trouble I could no longer afford my script, which wasn't working anyway. I've been of for a few months now.
posted by Soap D. Spencer at 7:50 PM on April 27, 2015

I think you need to start meeting some other folks like you. (My guess is you already know dozens of people just like you, but your brain filters them out as noise so it can focus on the people who aren't like you, who your brain can use to make you feel shitty about yourself. Because from your responses to other questions, you grew up in an intensely abusive household, which has probably left you with some residual damage in your thinking patterns...did you ever get screened for depression?)

I say this because your surface situation, childhood abuse aside, isn't even the minority situation, much less a unique case. LOTS of people don't get around to traveling in any real way before they're in middle age. LOTS of people don't really get a handle on their favorite hobby or talent until then--if ever!

For example: my mother. Never had a passport, never had a tattoo, never was on a team or anything. Her experience growing up wasn't abusive but it was ... neglected? She was one of a bunch of daughters in a family that really only had ambitions for their sons, and while her parents loved her they just kind of muddled along raising her. So, she became an adult without a whole lot of help, and as a result, not a whole lot got taken care of, or at least not in that seamless, artful way that some people seem to take care of things. There were a lot of years she felt deprived and less-than and hard-done-by.

But hey, you know--she's middle aged now, and she's finally starting to acquire the skill of taking care of things. She got a passport--and renewed it last year. We (her kids) took her abroad, and later she started traveling on her own because she felt more confident. She now has about 15 tattoos. She's joined clubs and dating sites and all that jazz. All of it was scary as fuck. But it became less scary over time and as she became more skilled. And she had help--she had to ask for it, but it was there.

And that's what the key is: it's a skill. Which means you have to learn it, and practice it. Which means sometimes you have to get a thing wrong and learn that you don't die from getting a thing wrong. This is going to be a tough nut to crack if your background was abusive, because you have accidentally been taught that you MIGHT die from a mistake.

So I guess if there's a step-by-step it looks like this:
1. start befriending some ordinary, homebody, grew-up-in-Circumstances folks
2. keep on saving money the way you just did to fix your apartment emergency
3. therapy. it's out there, cheap and even possibly free. The MeFi wiki has resources. You're not in the US, either, which means you have a fighting chance at finding actual civilization.

And just repeat repeat repeat. Steps 4 and beyond will become clear from there.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:44 PM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

First off, I can give you a quick, easy and free way to do something towards your music urges - post something to MeFi Music! We'll give you feedback, encouragement and constructive criticism; if you want any help posting then give me a shout.

Secondly, regarding envy more generally, it might sound clichéd but it's true: happiness isn't in getting what you want, because there are a lot of "rich" people who aren't happy , people who had a great upbringing who aren't content (that would be me) because of other reasons, people who are successful in their creative outlet who aren't fulfilled. Remember this every time you feel like you've had a bad break in life - everyone could think that about themselves if they tried.

There is more to it than simply "being happy with what you've got" though. I think it's in finding that balance between joy and gratitude with the good things you have right now (a place to live, your health etc) and in keeping moving towards more and better.

There's research suggesting that retirement can be bad for you if you lose the momentum in your social life and recreational activities. Stopping is bad for you - so keep moving. Do one tiny thing towards every goal in your life every day, even if it's just singing one note and putting a single penny in the holiday jar.
posted by greenish at 3:41 AM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Domestic travel is a good way to start. You can get a cheap bus fare or car rental. Start with day trips. Not everyone has money and opportunity but you can build confidence and get into an adventurous spirit that way.

Who knows, maybe your short distance trips will inspire envy in your friends. It all depends on what you get from the experience.
posted by charlielxxv at 12:22 PM on April 28, 2015

Yes, courage...I find courage hard to come by. And fear...fear has always been a problem for me.

Fear is a problem for everybody.

If you want to be able to admire your own achievements, and thus not feel envious of others, you need to feel the fear and do it anyway. The more you take action, the easier taking action becomes. But you can't wait for the 'right time' or the motivation to take action; action comes first then motivation and the right time is almost always now.

In other words, there is no cure for your situation that doesn't come from within you.
posted by Thella at 6:38 PM on April 28, 2015

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