How can I stop being so envious of other people's happiness?
May 29, 2016 12:44 AM   Subscribe

My life isn't at the greatest place right now and it's hard for me to hear about other people's good fortune. How can I get through a shitty period in my life without turning into a monster who is constantly envious of other people?

Honestly, my life sort of "sucks" at the moment. I'm in my late-20s and basically my worst-nightmare is happening. I'm an only child and my father has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He's actually doing great at the moment, but who knows... he could be dead within a year. My mother has issues of her own, which prevent her from being primary caregiver for my father. When his cancer gets worse, I'll be the main caregiver.

Aside from my dad's cancer diagnosis, I just feel like my life isn't where I want it to be at the moment. I still live at home and probably won't be moving out anytime soon given the circumstances. My career actually isn't going anywhere, my romantic life is non-existent, I don't have many local friends at the moment, etc.

It's so difficult for me to hear about the wonderful, happy things that are happening in other people's lives. It's just painful. I know it's not them personally I'm envious of, but I just don't know how to cope with this envy. For example, today at work I overheard one coworker tell another about her upcoming wedding, her new house, what her parents think of her fiance, her plans for her future family, so on and so forth. I wasn't involved in the conversation because I was working on something else. She sounded so happy about her life (and why shouldn't she be!?), but I physically just wanted to throw up. She's a fine person and a great coworker, but I just had such a visceral reaction to her happiness that it scared me. I couldn't stop thinking about how if I ever get married my father will never see me get married. It made me feel so profoundly sad and angry. Just typing this making me well up. The second their conversation finished I basically ran to my office to book an appointment with my therapist.

Anyway, how the hell can I get through this period of my life, which is just something I'm going to have to live through, without CONSTANTLY being envious of other people? I don't want to have to book a therapist appointment every time I hear about something GREAT happening to another person.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
People are engaging in impression management and they are only telling you the good news.
posted by k8t at 1:01 AM on May 29, 2016 [31 favorites]

Firstly, if you have a therapist you should see them on a regular schedule. Having an emergency appointment every time you experience a blip is not how therapy works best. Regular sessions mean you can work through this difficult time consistently, instead of an ad-hoc, panicked basis.

Secondly, my personal advice: Everyone has a shitty time in their life. Everyone. A good proportion of those shacking up in their late twenties will divorce. Or their spouses will suddenly up and die and they're left widowed and a single parent. If they sail through the next few decades with a lovely home, family, and career and everything peachy, still eventually they'll have to cope with a parent dying or getting dementia. Their kids might get really sick. They might get laid off. Their home might get destroyed in a natural disaster.

Basically, what I'm saying is that shitty things and grief happen to everyone, and if you can realise that it might make you feel less viscerally angry at your own situation. In a way, you're in a better position than them, because you're going through something really really awful at an early stage in your life. You'll know anger, grief, resentment and frustration, and you'll have learned ways to cope with them, instead of them blindsiding you when they come around later in life. Life always has its ups and downs. Your ups will come, and the people who currently are in their up-times will also have (and may have already had) their downs. Life isn't fair, but it isn't fair to anyone. You've had some shit thrown your way early, which sucks majorly, but this isn't your whole life.

People who sail through life and only meet hardships later on are gonna be way less equipped to cope with them, and, in my opinion, will have less meaningful lives. Think about it like high school. The well-off people who were mega popular and had the best time in high school don't tend to be the most interesting or genuine adults, because they have always felt comfortable and haven't had to struggle or get inventive to make good things happen for them. Your dad may not be there to see you married like your colleagues' dads. That's so sad. But sadness is life. You're not alone in having that happen to you. And, for example, you can choose to incorporate some memorial to him into your marriage ceremony, which will have a great poignancy and meaning because he's gone. You can and will shape your life in a way which honours your tribulations and also gives them the big fat finger, because you've grown from them and made your life special and beautiful in your own way, despite them.
posted by mymbleth at 1:15 AM on May 29, 2016 [30 favorites]

I just wanted to say: feel what you're feeling. Allow yourself to feel it even it's ugly and "inappropriate" or it hurts. Working on this in therapy sounds like a choice you've made on your own which is great, and your therapist can give you more ideas. I'm not speaking to that but just about everyday life. Your dad is dying. It's okay to be envious and pissed. Your envy doesn't make you a monster. It makes you a normal human person, reacting in an expected way to a really shitty situation. And allowing those emotions to just exist rather than trying to stop them might paradoxically lessen them.

You're also allowed to put up boundaries in your own life, and be like "Look, I'm going through a hard time etc, I can't talk about or be exposed to certain things". That's completely your right too. This also might be helpful.

I think in these situations people will tell you to edge back on your emotions, or to try to find gratefulness, and that might not be a thing you are ready to do. You don't have to learn anything from this, or become stronger or wise, or think about how other people have it as bad or worse than you. You can engage with those things, but you also don't have to force yourself to.
posted by ariadne's threadspinner at 1:35 AM on May 29, 2016 [23 favorites]

I can't give you any advice, but for what it's worth, my reaction to the openining paragraphs of your shitty life is what an admirable person you seem to be, someone I'd want as a friend or a partner.

I suspect I would not have the same reaction to the opening paragraphs of the lives the people you envy.
posted by smugly rowan at 1:57 AM on May 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

You aren't the only one who has ever been in this position. There are many people in similar positions. Your friend is happy now, but she has problems of her own and will have different problems later. Such is life.

I think you need to factor in getting respite for yourself in some way, of figuring out how to not completely be drained of hope and optimism.
posted by discopolo at 2:27 AM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was going through something similar, my totally-unsuitable relationship broke up and I just could not cope. In hindsight it was absurd - it hadn't been working for months, I never even liked them that much in the first place, I'd had other breakups that were way more deserving. I cried and raged and felt entirely lost in the universe. At the time I thought it was all because of the breakup.

I now realise that, of course, it was not because of the breakup at all.

What I'm trying to say is that I think you're experiencing anticipatory grief and maybe you're projecting a little bit, because it might be easier to feel guilty than sad. Facing those sad feelings is really really hard, and you might not even think you're entitled to feel them yet, because your dad is still alive and reasonably well.

Anticipatory grief is a normal thing, and so is caregiver stress, and so is feeling envious of people with normal lives when yours is upside down. Let yourself feel whatever you feel, and I am here for you and the rest of metafilter is here too and so are therapists and books (On Grief and Grieving helped me, for what it's worth). This is an enormous event in your life, not just a normal thing that everyone goes through (though it's that too).

I send you strength and love.
posted by superfish at 3:58 AM on May 29, 2016 [7 favorites]

While I totaly agree with ariadne's threadspinner that it doesn't do much good to force yourself to have Deep Revelations about gratitude... I think it can still be helpful to work your reading/ viewing material in ways that expand your field of view past a tiny, relatively happy group of peers, so you can understand your experience in the broad spectrum of horrible shit human beings have had to deal with over time.

There was a study a while back that said (IIRC) people's happiness varied most directly not with their absolute good fortune, but with their position relative to neighbors on their block. So can you voluntarily expand your"block" a bit? Read sad novels about entrenched poverty and social injustice and cruel relationships (Dickens is my favorite for this, but there are probably good modern ones, too). Watch History Channel documentaries about disease and famine and war and the awful, awful lives people had in the past (Metafilter's also good for this!). Again, I wouldn't then force yourself to then reach some explicit saccharine conclusion about being so lucky, because you legitimately have some very difficult things to deal with, and you deserve to be allowed to feel sad about them. But I wonder if just adding some different stories to the mix, with the resulting touch of schadenfreude, might not help lift that feeling of grinding envy and injustice when you see someone happier than you.
posted by Bardolph at 3:58 AM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Firstly, if you have a therapist you should see them on a regular schedule. Having an emergency appointment every time you experience a blip is not how therapy works best. Regular sessions mean you can work through this difficult time consistently, instead of an ad-hoc, panicked basis.

So much this. You should think of therapy as a place to learn long-term coping mechanisms and healthier thought patterns, not as a short-term fix to undesirable feelings.

When I find myself feeling envy, I usually remind myself of three things:

(1) Most people, excluding immediate family and close friends, show you a curated version of their lives. You hear about their good news, not the mundane, or the bad. You hear about their excitement, not about their depression. Maybe they're going through really hard stuff at home and you don't know about it.

(2) Happiness isn't a finite resource. Even if other people are truly as wildly happy as they seem, that doesn't preclude you from one day experiencing similar joy.

And finally,

(3) In my experience, emotion is pretty cyclical. Most bad patches seem to eventually give way to good times (and vice versa). You're not going to be in this rut forever, and the people you know with great lives are going to experience unhappiness and pain at some point, too. No one is either always happy or always sad.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:16 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I want to favourite ariadne's threadspinner's comment a million times.

I am so sorry you are going through this. It's not fair and it sucks shit. You are allowed to feel that way. You don't need to acknowledge that other people have it worse. You don't need to feel guilty for envying others. It's a normal response to a horrible situation. If you allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, those emotions will be less overwhelming in the long run than if you try to push them away, or feel bad about having them. Of course, it's not okay to take out your feelings on other people, but you're not doing that. Cut yourself a ton of slack--you are dealing with a lot right now.

You are allowed to limit triggers if you can (you can't always--sometimes they surprise you out of the blue like in the situation you described). When a trigger surprises me, I excuse myself from the situation if possible rather than forcing myself to sit there with a smile pasted on my face just because I "should" be able to cope. Give yourself permission to do that.

You are in survival mode right now and that is okay.

Also, I definitely agree with others that if you're not already seeing your therapist on a regular basis, now is a good time to start. And apropos of Bardolph's comment, do try to lean on the supportive people in your life, the ones who won't judge and will just listen to you. I have found that this kind of support is probably the difference between being able to cope and spiralling down into a deep pit that it's hard to get out of.

Big hugs. You sound like a very caring person and I am very sorry you have to experience this.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:18 AM on May 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't have a lot to add, but want to reinforce that feelings like this are normal and okay to be experiencing. Look for healthy ways to process and move through them; to give them their due without setting up shop there permanently. FWIW, this is the sort of situation in which I'd probably listen to Eddie from Ohio's "The Best of Me" over and over again.
posted by jon1270 at 5:28 AM on May 29, 2016

Everyone has problems, different shapes and sizes, but no one is excluded. Have you ever heard that old saying "If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back "? You don't know what other people are going through, not everyone verbalizes the problems they have but you can be sure they have them. People have happy moments in their life, that is why when you have one you cherish it and are oh so thankful for it.

We don't know why we have to go through what we do, but God has a plan.

I am sorry you are going through what you are, there are support groups for being a caregiver, I will say a prayer for you.
posted by just asking at 5:33 AM on May 29, 2016

I really liked superfish's comment - this honestly sounds like grief, not envy. The envy is just masking the grief. Since grief is a deeper more sincere emotion, it is harder to allow oneself to feel sometimes, whereas anger / envy is more easily accessible and thus can mask the deeper pain below.

So when you get a wash of envy and want to vomit (and I've so been there), step aside and tell yourself: it's ok to feel sad. And just sit with the feeling for a little bit. Allow yourself to go a little deeper in the emotion - not dwell, but just feel. It might help get past the envy and get you out of this stuck mode. So you can move from envy to something like "well at least someone is happy around here because I'm so blue!" Hugs.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:55 AM on May 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I was in a similar position to you, just as bad- I promise, in my 20's and very depressed... and I am happy to report that life got better and things changed and I found myself on the right path and now I have a life in my 30's that I am really happy with.

But I have to say, I didn't really struggle with feeling jealous per say. I heard this quote once- and sorry if I don't get it quite right, but it was "envy is wanting what other people have, jealousy is not wanting THEM to have it" and I never felt there was anything wrong in wanting the stuff other people had (nice relationship, home, job etc.) but I always rejoiced that THEY had it, and took it as a sign of what I might have one day too if I made the right choices and strived to create the life I wanted. And I have to say, it worked!

I think part of my own life turning around was the fact that I could feel happiness for (and with) other people, appreciation for my own fortune however small (a nice meal, a beautiful day)... and I believe that outlook drew the right people and things into my life.

But I definitely appreciate what I have a lot more than if it had been handed to me on a plate! So there is that...
posted by flink at 6:03 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is a small measure in the grand scheme of things, but if you use social media now is the time to unfollow liberally. When I was very depressed I got some small moments of honest-to-God delight by muting the people who got the jobs I was jealous of, or consistently posted about how blessed they were, or took vacations I couldn't afford. Think of it as an extension of ariadne's threadspinners' spot-on advice to feel what you feel. Stating your jealousy to those people obviously isn't appropriate, but blocking is a symbolic act of acknowledging that feeling, sitting with it, and doing something about it. Channeling anger into small harmless acts like that felt better to me than trying to force gratitude. YMMV.
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:14 AM on May 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am sorry you are going through this.
It hurts to see other's people happiness when you cannot make yourself feel happy for them.
I'm sure you do not begrudge the people around you their happiness. It's just that their happiness is a trigger for you right now.

For now, I wouldn't even try to FEEL happy for other people. You have the right to grieve and be sad. I would totally remove myself from the worst triggers if possible, and give myself a lot of patience and love. When people are raving about how happy they are you can just smile, say something nice and remove yourself from the situation. When my Dad was sick I sure went to the office bathroom A LOT.

Try to get rest and take care of your body. Give yourself a break if possible in areas you can afford to do so. Read comfort books, spend time with people who make you feel loved. Reach out to non-local friends.

And be assurred that good things will come your way. Because they will. Right now your job is to grieve. The dating world will still be there for you when you get out of this funk, as you will.

Feel free to message me if you want to vent.
posted by M. at 6:24 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's a Buddhist story about a woman whose child died, and she asked the Buddha to bring him back. He said he would, if she brought him some mustard seeds from a household that had never known death. She went to many households, but they had all been affected by death in some way. Then she understood that death is something that affects everyone.

I'm not Buddha, but I'll make you feel better if you bring me a penny from someone who has never felt like their life or career is going nowhere, and who has never dealt with a family member being seriously ill. (Actually, if we do find someone like that, then let's get the smug lucky bastard)
posted by Anne Neville at 7:03 AM on May 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

I am really, really sorry about your father's illness.

When our mother died, my sister commented that she felt she'd been living in a bubble before. Losing a parent any time, but especially this early, turns everything upside down in a way that few appreciate. It challenges your whole view of the world and of yourself (as a son or daughter). Whatever you do, please please try to go easy on yourself. Watch for signs that you are kicking yourself about other things because this very unlucky thing is happening to you and your family. Logic to the contrary, I think it's easy to get down on yourself at a time like this and have a feeling that it is somehow your fault. Read When Bad Things Happen to Good People. And remember to breathe. You deserve to feel good in yourself, and if you do, envy will be less of a problem.
posted by BibiRose at 8:05 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Definitely set up a regular weekly appointment with your therapist AND also find a support group for people in a similar situation as you. Your therapist or your Dad's hospital/doctor should have suggestions. I'm sorry this is happening to you, and you are wise to recognize how it makes you feel and wanting to do something about it.
posted by Toddles at 9:18 AM on May 29, 2016

It's just like k8t says. So, keep in mind that office and Facebook/social media are probably not the places where people will be honest about any troubles they might be facing. You'll hear/see/read only the good news.

I've seen it firsthand: a friend was grieving for their recently deceased partner and was absolutely devastated, barely getting through day by day, but their Facebook page was full of positive thoughts, "I Will Survive", love is eternal, etc etc.
posted by gakiko at 10:25 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was in a very similar situation as you, earlier this year, but I'm about a decade older than you are.

I found that I needed to take a "pretend day" once a month or so near the end when I felt completely overwhelmed. I'd pretend that I did not have a terminally ill father for whom I was the primary caretaker, and that I was successful and happy, had a future to look forward to, and spend the day (or part of a day) doing something new or otherwise pamper or treat myself to a small luxury.

Always knew that I'd have to return to reality, and it was probably really unhealthy, but... damn... sometimes I needed a break and those pretend days were an outlet.


If you haven't already, please discuss with your dad his preferences for end-of-life stuff, like DNRs, wills, funeral arrangements, etc. We were lucky that a friend had recommended an excellent mortuary service who provided a comprehensive checklist of what needs to be done afterwards (lots of government stuff, banking) and provided certified copies of the various certificates. If appropriate, having him assign who gets his belongings now can save a lot of grief later (not just fighting about who gets what, but he may have preference for disposition or know who might appreciate what). Talk to his oncologist(s) about the availability of palliative care (or not, if your father has different preferences) and how to request it and what the schedule for admission would be. Collect contact information for his family and friends that you don't currently have contact info for.
posted by porpoise at 10:39 AM on May 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

And be sure to find moments of joy and laughter -- watch cat videos, go to the zoo, watch birds in flight, sit in a park and watch kids play, whatever kind of things you really like and give you joy. Watch movies or read books that make you laugh -- it's good for the endorphins. I've lost several folk in my family and remembering funny times (if any) is a good mental habit. Best of luck and grief and joy and tears and laughter.
posted by MovableBookLady at 3:17 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm seconding what others have already said:

1. Try to see a therapist regularly, up to once a week if you can afford it.

2. Other people generally show you the "great" parts of their life, when in reality they are often struggling themselves. (Facebook is particularly bad for this.)

3. You are an admirable person for what you are doing.

I'm sorry you are having this experience. I've lost several family members to cancer. In our experience Hospice care was amazingly compassionate and helpful during those tough times.

I agree with everything in porpoise's post above too, very good advice.

In addition to everything else you do to take care of your mental health, consider finding some kind of weekly meetup group that has *nothing* to do with death or illness. Join a bowling league, enroll in a tango class, join a darts team at a local pub, play tabletop games, etc. It doesn't really matter what the activity is, just that you are regularly meeting up with the same group of people, outside of you home, and being reminded that there is a whole world outside of your immediate environment can really help you survive difficult times. Isolation, or absolute immersion in the caregiver experience, can be really dangerous to one's mental health.

When I was dealing with something similar, a friend sent me a copy of "God said Ha!," a stand up comedy monologue by Julie Sweeny (in spite of the title, it's not religious or anything, so don't let that put you off if you're atheist/agnostic like me). It's her telling her story of finally getting a good job and her own nice house, being ready to start dating again, only to have her brother come down with cancer and have to move in with her, then having her conservative parents move in with her, then getting diagnosed with cancer herself, then her cat getting cancer at the same time, etc... it's tragic and sad and heartwarming and also very very funny.
posted by ethical_caligula at 7:55 PM on May 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

hi there, i don't feel well-equipped to give sound advice like the rest here, but i just wanted you to know that you're not alone. we may not be living in the same state or even the same country or continent. but i too, am in my late twenties, i too, have a nonexistent romantic life, and i too, am the only child with a sick mother and a dad who doesn't talk. i too, have the tendency to compare and get envious when i see others happy. i am with you. hugs.
posted by eustaciavye87 at 5:17 AM on May 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

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