CNN recently ran an article highlighting research from the University of Missouri showing how heavy social media use can create acute feelings of anger, frustration, and even depression – all caused by envy.
I know what they mean. Almost everyone these days has a profile on Linkedin. I suspect I’m not the only one who experiences a sinking feeling when a friend posts yet another article regarding a burning topic you would have really liked to have found the time to write yourself.
I like to see myself as someone who enjoys the success of others rather than being distressed by it. But is that true? What about the banker who told me a couple of months ago that he was convinced the world economy is headed for another collapse, so he had liquidated his pension fund as he needed cash to retire in a couple of years? Wasn’t it envy I felt about his superior market knowledge and being able to give up ‘work’ at the same age as me?
What about the ex-colleague I met recently, who I expected to be struggling, but instead had set up a successful green-tech fund? Wasn’t the first thing that crossed my mind: “Why haven’t I done that”?
The worst deadly sin
Psychologists and anthropologists seem to agree that envy is a standard human emotion, despite the fact that, as Joseph Epstein put it, “of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all”.
So if we all feel envy as a default setting, what can we do about it? One way could be to let go: realise that we are all interconnected, so your success is my success and something to be cherished. Or alternatively, you could regard envy as nothing but an illusion, created by an existential sense of lacking that has nothing to do with the achievements of others.
Accept it, don’t feed it
But whilst these may ultimately be true, it is, however, tough to conceptualise your emotions and feel better as a result.
Perhaps the best solution when you feel the familiar creeping fingers of envy is to simply remember that what you are feeling is completely normal – but not dwell upon it. Accept that the green-eyed monster is there, but you’re not going to feed it – after popping its head up it can just go back to sleep … at least until the next time it inevitably wakes up.