Learning to appreciate what you have is the key to happiness
Envy. It’s that ugly, twisted feeling you get when friends announce they’re off on a dream trip or flash the estate agent particulars of the lovely new home they’ve just bought. You want to be happy for them, you really do. But it’s hard to muster up genuine happiness in the face of a life obviously so much better, happier, richer than yours. It feels so childish and competitive and yet the green-eyed monster has nothing to do with how old you are and everything to do with human nature.
‘You can be envious at any age’. ‘Appreciating what you have and not always thinking the grass is greener is so difficult, whether you’re a schoolgirl or a grown-up.’ It’s important to make the distinction between jealousy – the fear of losing something you have to another person – and envy, where the frustration is caused by another person having something you don’t. ‘Envy is about wanting to feel equal and can often come out as cutting remarks or an attempt to rubbish what the other person has’. ‘But it isn’t purely a negative emotion. You can harness it to motivate you.’
- You think she’s happier than you : Whether she’s travelling, retraining or even remarrying, her life seems so much more fulfilling than your humdrum existence. ‘For some reason, we’re uncomfortable wanting fulfilment’. ‘We feel we have to suppress our desires, when really, we should admit to wanting more.’ You don’t necessarily want to travel to the same places as your friend, retrain or get rid of your partner, but your painful, envious emotions highlight your dissatisfaction. Try to see them as the first step towards making new choices. While your gut instinct may be to avoid a friend that’s, albeit inadvertently, rubbing your nose in it, there are benefits to sharing your feelings. ‘It may feel difficult, but drawing in her and working it out together can take the “shame” part of your envy away.’
- You think her career’s better than yours : She’s been leaping up the work ladder while you’ve barely jumped a rung. Perhaps you never had the same chances as she did or took more time off to raise your children. Regrets are pointless, though. ‘What is useful is to look at what this person is doing right and see if you can apply it to yourself. ‘You could even tell her you admire what she’s achieved and ask her for tips.’ If her success is reflecting back on your failures, then you need to build up your self-confidence. ‘Use this envy to understand what’s bothering you, then try and do something about it’. ‘Talk to your manager about opportunities or, if you’re out of work, think about courses to improve your employability.’
- You think her house is more stylist than yours : She finds vintage treasures in car-boot sales and can make a wall of photo frames look like an exhibit at the Tate. She’s a good friend but a visit to her home makes you want and start all over again. What you need is a dose of clarity. ‘Is having a home like hers really going to solve your problems?’. ‘Happiness come from relationships not acquisitions and you won’t gain much by changing the appearance of your house.’ While there’s no harm in being inspired by your friend’s style and even coping it (‘the sincerest form of flattery’), tackling some overdue DIY projects or freshening up your home with a declutter and revamp, it might be more rewarding to stretch yourself intellectually or physically. ‘The benefits are certainly longer-lasting than any acquisition’.
- You think she’s been a more successful parent than you : Her children are polite, well-groomed and heading off to Oxbridge. Yours are monosyllabic, pierced and, you fear, heading to the local Jobcentre Plus. You love them, of course, but you can’t stop comparing and wondering where you went wrong. ‘It’s easy to think “I’ve failed” when reality it’s about trying to accept your child for who they really it’s about trying to accept your child for who they really are’. ‘We live in a competitive society in which self-worth is measured by economic success, and we often judge our children in the same way.’ And while you may think they’ve spawned the next Mark Zuckerberg, the reality is often very different. ‘We don’t know what really goes on in other families, and sometimes we over-valued achievement rather than the quality of relationships’. ‘When you think about it, would you really swap?’ (If your answer’s yes, sorry, we can’t help you!)
- You think her relationship’s better than yours : They hold hands and she drops hints about their love life. First, a reality check. ‘Often you idealise other people’s relationships’. ‘If something looks too good to be true, it often is.’ While that might make us feel a teeny bit less green, it’s still hard to reconcile a friend’s happy lot with your miserable one. ‘If we think friends made better choices in life, it’s painful’. But instead of focusing on where you went wrong, or the bad choice you made, you have to use your envy as a signpost to wake yourself up. ‘Envy feels shameful and ugly, especially when directed at a close friend’. ‘But denying and suppressing it is a waste. Use your envy of that couple as an indicator of the kind of things you want, and talk to your partner about how you can improve your relationship.’