5 Ways to Stop Envy Before It Starts
It’s been called the green monster. Invidia in the Latin texts. A deadly sin. And a common one. Envy.
I confess to falling for it at times. Far too many times. No matter how much success I experience, it’s never enough.
The book launch could have been bigger—like hers. The traffic could be higher—like his. The number of speaking engagements could be more—and so it goes. More. Always more.
As we strolled through our neighborhood last night, my wife and I noted features we liked about other houses, and I felt envy creeping in again—even though we have a beautiful home with more room than we’ve ever had before.
Envy, you see, is not rational. It doesn’t make sense when we think about it. But then we usually don’t think about it. We just go with the feeling and end up in a bad place.
But usually by the end of each day we’ve encountered more than a few people who appear to be enjoying success. More than we’re having, at least.
And that’s all it takes. We see it and we want it for ourselves.
I think most writers—any creative souls really—know the struggle within when another is praised. When another succeeds. When someone else arrives there ahead of us.
It might be subscribers, followers, book sales, publicity, adulation of any kind that triggers our envious demons.
Most of us, however, especially as people of faith, know that open envy would blatantly violate God’s commands—and others’ high opinion of us. So we choose a different, more sophisticated route that lets our green monster nibble around the edges of another’s success:
- “Well sure, he has that high-visibility position. If I had that….”
- “What do you expect when she has that publisher? How could she not….”
- “But he doesn’t have children or a family, so he has time. Who wouldn’t if….”
- “Some people just have all the luck….”
When we offer excuses like this for the success of others, we are creatively dumbing down the standards for success to what we think is our level.
Mind you, the excuses we tell ourselves often are not true. But that seldom matters at the time.
Neither does our ignoring our own blessings. As Shakespeare penned in Sonnet 29:
“Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least.”
Zig Ziglar told a story about a disappointing breakfast he once had. He had been anticipating hot waffles, soft butter, and warm syrup. Instead he got cold waffles, hard butter, and syrup direct from the fridge. His immediate reaction was to get angry, until he realized how blessed he was to have cold waffles as the greatest problem he would face that day.
I had a similar experience just the other day at a restaurant while on the road. My toast was cold and the butter hard. I immediately started to complain, then recalled Zig’s story, and laughed, counting my blessings.
5 Ways to Stop Envy before It Starts
- Call it what it is. Sin. When you catch yourself excusing another’s success, point it out to yourself. Then confess it. After all, we can’t avoid what we can’t identify. We’ll be knee-deep in the muck of envy before we realize it. By then we’ll need the rest of the day just to get out.
- Be generous. Train yourself to intentionally help others, especially those who can’t seem to help you in return. If we simply stop being envious, we are but envious trolls who aren’t being envious—at that moment. But if we intentionally move in the opposite direction, we’re becoming something quite different. Something new.
- Find someone else to celebrate every day. It’s good for them. It’s good for you. Commit each day to shine a spotlight on somebody. I try to use Twitter as one way to highlight a new someone every day. It’s like eating your spinach but with eternal health benefits.
- Remember you are in charge of you. When we try pulling others down to our level, we’re simply pointing out that we are the ones unhappy with ourselves. So whose fault is that, really? Do something about it. Embracing a victim mentality only makes it easier to justify envy the next time around when we’re still stuck in the same spot.
- Perform for an audience of One. No, I don’t mean you. Os Guinness noted well in his book The Call that only one opinion really matters. Scriptures remind us that comparing ourselves among ourselves, we are not wise. The moment we start the slide toward invidia, we enter an ominous downward spiral of lies: “Because they succeeded, I quit. Because I’m not them, I refuse to be me.” Of course, you never couldbecome them, and you cannot be anyone but you.
No wonder we’re frustrated.
Question: Do you find it challenging to stop envy before it starts? When do you find yourself quick to belittle another’s success?