The Downside and Upside of Envy

Last Friday, I was on cloud nine walking home from work. I felt like I had to pinch myself because I was living my career dreams. I had impactful wellness coaching sessions all week long, I attended a luncheon as the corporate wellness ambassador for the CPARF (more on them coming soon), I gave a presentation on snacking at a departmental town hall, and by request, wrote a blog post on healthy eating habits for work that got published on a global level.

The next morning, I got up early to move – first taking a cycle class and then an advanced yoga class. You know what happened? I forgot about all of the terrific things that happened all week long and I got a bad case of envy. First at Cyclebar where the instructor killed it in a packed class while donning a half shirt (she’s close to my age) and then at Pure Bliss Yoga where my yoga instructor (also just a few years younger than me) taught intricate sequences also in a packed class who happens to be insanely shredded and strong.

It was a double whammy. Despite doing an excellent job in both classes, I let envy take the true enjoyment out of class. As an instructor myself, I was envious of their teaching prowess and packed classes, and as a former personal trainer and bodybuilder, I was even more envious of their fit physiques. One of the hardest things for me in recent years was putting on some weight and getting more out of shape than I had been in years – enough to feel embarrassed and ashamed of myself and then letting those feelings bully my confidence into submission. I know, how much meaner can I be to myself?  I had conveniently forgotten that part of the reason I gained the weight was because I had a slew of injuries over the past 5 1/2 years and I was no longer a full-time fitness pro. Beware, envy can do that to you.

Envy has everything to do with self-perception and status. If we consistently peg ourselves up against another as not worthy, we end up lowering our own status, which can lead to a whole host of negative emotions. This is particularly damaging if we set unrealistic standards for ourselves to begin with. And it’s a terrible habit that can take the joy out of the things that we love to do the most.  That’s the downside of envy. So what’s the upside? Instead of letting a bad case of envy bring us down, we can use it as a tool for positive change that can be both celebratory and motivating.

I’m currently reading Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection by Barbara Fredrickson (if you recall, the author of Positivity). She emphasizes that learning how to celebrate another’s success can be a gateway to a lifetime source of positive emotions. If we can genuinely be happy for the success of others, we can join the party.  We create more connections and feel less isolated and alone. That’s step one.

Step two is learning how to harness envy as a motivational tool. For example, instead of being envious of my teachers’ skills and prowess, I can focus on what makes them great teachers and practitioners. I can emulate them when I teach my own class. Since I am envious of their physiques, I can do everything in my power to create my own fabulous and realistic physique, which is exactly what I’ve decided to do. It’s the fuel that finally lit the fire in my pants. As my life-partner Tim says, you’ve gotta do the work!

So here are some steps that you can take to quell a case of envy:

  • For one week, write down all of the positive things that you did at the end of each day and how it impacted others in your life. Remind yourself of how fabulous you really are.
  • The next time you feel envious of another, rather than stacking yourself up to them, pay attention to what qualities or accomplishments they have that you may want to work towards. Use it as a barometer for your own desires.
  • To really open yourself up, try this Loving Kindness Meditation: Celebratory Love at Barbara Fredrickson’s website

As always, I’d love to hear your stories and comments.


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