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5 Reasons To Embrace Jealousy

Photo by Sarah Ann Wright
Let age, not envy, draw wrinkles on thy cheeks. ~Thomas Browne

This morning I spoke to my sister on Skype for almost two hours. She lives in Istanbul, so we don’t chat as often as when we lived in the same house, but we’re pretty close despite the ocean between us.

I remember in the not-so-distant past that getting off the phone with her was bittersweet. She’s lived in Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Italy, South Korea and even international waters. The bitterness didn’t come from being so far apart from my lovely sister, but the fact that I was extremely jealous of her.

I remember vividly sitting in my home in Minnesota expressing my excitement for her when she told me she was planning on moving to Asia.

“You’re so lucky,” and “This is such a great opportunity for you,” came out of my mouth, but what I was thinking is I can’t believe I’ve lived in one state my whole life. I should be traveling and exploring too.

It was embarrassing to be jealous of my younger sister, so naturally I denied it to myself and anyone else who had the guts to say it. But in my head, the envy found a place and rooted itself there, determined to make permanent residence.

Thankfully I can chat with her now without any of the same icky feelings I used to have. I miss her but know she’s doing exactly what she wants, which makes me happy.

Looking back, I’m happy that jealousy spoke up. I live a more adventurous life because of it. And while jealousy isn’t my best friend, it is part of who I am. I’ve learned to embrace it and manage it by remembering a few things.

Know What You Want

This is a great skill for life in general but especially in combating those feelings of envy many of us have from time to time. Because while it might seem completely bizarre, someone might covet a person’s life or accomplishment and not even want it.

I know this to be true because it’s happened to me. More than once. When a friend of mine told me she was moving to New Orleans to become a teacher, I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly jealous of her. Or how I suddenly envied an old coworker who received a promotion years after I left the company.

For a minute I thought about how I could teach or get my foot in the door at another company and then stopped to ask the question: Do I even want these things?

The puzzling truth was this: No, I’m not interested in them. But at one point in my life I did consider teaching, and of course I wanted to succeed in my career at the time, so it brought up that residue.

It took a little coaching, but I remembered I wanted to write and succeed as an author. Knowing what you want and being strong in your actions toward those goals helps put you on the road toward your accomplishments. It also keeps you from getting detoured following other’s paths.

Is it Jealousy?

Oftentimes when we feel envy kick in, it’s disguising another emotion completely. Because we view it as such an ugly emotion (it’s called the green-eyed monster, after all), we will push it aside, ignoring what it’s trying to show us.

When I started digging deeper into why I was jealous of my teacher friend, I decided it was more that she was moving somewhere new and starting a new adventure. What I was feeling wasn’t really jealousy when you took away the hard edges. It was longing.

I wanted new adventure, and I wasn’t listening to the little voice that was trying to tell me, so it decided to get serious and ask for some help from the envious part of my brain, the part that was much harder to ignore.

Jealousy can hide all sorts of other emotions like sadness, anxiety and guilt. Taking some time to pay attention to what’s going on, stripping your emotions down to their core and listening will help you become more self-aware and less envious.

Fake It Until You Become It

It might not seem easy, but try hard to be happy for those that are succeeding and achieving their goals. Think about how you’d want to be treated if you finally competed in a triathlon, got your master’s degree or lost 15 pounds. Find those words and use them.

It doesn’t even have to be a situation where you know the person. Sometimes when I see someone with a cute outfit, great accessories and fantastic hair walking down the street, I think I wish I could look like her.

Then I stop and realize what I’m doing and shift gears. She’s got great style,” I’ll say to no one in particular.  After a while, I found my brain would skip the jealousy and head straight to the compliment.

While it was hard to see my sister accomplishing something that I had yet to do, I didn’t want her to feel bad for it. Oftentimes people can feel ashamed of their success or experience guilt when they should feel joy.

I didn’t want to contribute to that. So I faked it a little, for her benefit and ultimately for mine.

Jealousy might make you feel ill at ease, but there’s no need to spread it. Take a deep breath, smile and think of a compliment. Find something positive, and after some time, it’ll become who you are.

Own Up to It

Sometimes the best thing to do is bring jealousy into the light. Sunshine often makes our feelings look less cold and dark. So why not tell someone how you’re feeling? It might be just the thing to take the edge off.

When a friend of mine started volunteering at a radio show, I felt myself coveting her position. I knew working on the radio was something I always wanted to do, but I had no idea I would be so upset by someone else realizing that dream.

Because she is a person I know wouldn’t feel guilty because of how I felt, I decided to say, “I’m not going to lie, I’m a little jealous of you right now.”

She laughed and said she knew I would be great at working at a radio station. She ended up giving me pointers on how I could do it too.

Once when I told a girlfriend how I was feeling jealous that my husband had spent time with another female coworker, she told me her husband gets jealous sometimes too for no real reason.

It made me feel less crazy. And both times I told someone about the feelings, I stopped fixating on them.

Telling someone, speaking the words out loud, may be just the key to kicking your jealousy to the curb. If you don’t want to tell a person, considering writing it down and ripping up the paper.

Or submit it to an anonymous forum online. The freedom of getting the thought out of your head is bliss.

There Can Be More Than One

The Universe is a big fan of multiplicity. Just take a look at how many different flowers there are, not to mention the variety of colors. Just because someone is doing what you want to do doesn’t mean you can’t do it too.

That was shown to me when my friend said I could work at a radio station too. There were several stations where I lived, and she wasn’t even DJ-ing in the same state! How had this never occurred to me?

Since realizing this, I’ve noticed that this thought comforts me and serves to calm down that jealousy most often. A blogger I admire published a book and it’s on the best seller list? There are a lot of best sellers in a year. I could be one of those.

Someone already said they were bringing their amazing salsa to dinner? I’ve got a killer recipe for fava bean hummus.

Remembering that there is not just one of anything can help us all truly celebrate each other’s successes and achievements. It can also serve to help create working relationships among colleagues and peers.

Parting Thoughts

The feelings we have serve as a barometer for our bodies and hearts. Jealousy is one of the most useful and least understood of those. Often we’re told to eliminate it, but to do so wouldn’t be real. It doesn’t serve us to ignore our own road signs.

If we want to have an existence of awareness and a life filled with meaning, we must embrace jealousy for what it is, manage it and learn from it.

It’s helped me visit new lands, start my own business and refine my life’s mission. I wouldn’t wish that away for anything, even if it does take a little work to keep my green-eyed friend in line.

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About the author

Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. Magic and creativity are her latest pursuits, along with exploring her new home, Germany. Read her blog, follow her on Facebook and Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks. Check out her new book, Change is Easy & Other Novel Concepts: Short Essays on Changing Your Life, One Step at a Time.

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