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Can we unlearn jealousy?

I love social media for its power to connect people and ideas, but it has also been my emotional Pandora’s Box, fueling jealousy and self-doubt.

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In a pre-Facebook world, there is no way I would know what my Algebra II classmate from tenth grade now does for work, or where she vacations with her beautiful (possibly airbrushed) family. And without Instagram, I wouldn’t follow the intimate moments of a writer in Baltimore whose career I admire (and secretly wish I could emulate). People say the pixelated grass is always greener on the other side. The filters, the poses, the thoughtfully articulated posts—they’re all part of an elaborate performance. I know that most social media personas are manicured; only the best angles and proudest moments are displayed. It’s a curated representation of a person. I get all that, but still take the bait; with a simple five-minute scroll through my Instagram feed, I’m instantly envious of what others have (and what I believe I lack). I know some people have very healthy relationships online: they only use social engagement platforms to connect with close family and friends, they successfully leverage sites to build their career, and so forth—I’m just not that type of person. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I’ve used social media to snoop on coworkers, my partner’s ex-girlfriend, and even friends that I envy. It is the primary vehicle that sends my insecurities and jealous feelings into overdrive.

It isn’t easy or fun being a jealous person. This negative habit stems from my own thinly-veiled insecurities. Every time I indulge in these feelings, or invest time in comparing myself to others, I’m simply pouring salt in the wound. For example, my boyfriend has never been forthcoming with details about his ex or their break-up; they’re not on speaking terms. Maybe I’ve seen too many rom-coms, but it seemed fishy to me. I quickly assumed Sherlock Holmes mode and studied this girl’s Tumblr. (Oh right, and her Instagram and Facebook.) She and I seemed like complete opposites. I worried that my boyfriend was more attracted to her on every level and that he must still have feelings for her. He has assured me a hundred times over that this is not the case, but jealousy is a tricky thing—it’s hard to erase the thoughts once you’ve had them. And it’s not just in relationships we feel envy—it’s also easy to compare yourself to others at work. Like that person who started at the same time as you in the same position, but just got promoted. Or maybe your manager has less experience than you, yet somehow gets paid more. For every insecurity you might have, there seems to be someone around to exploit it. Jealous feelings of personal inadequacy can be debilitating. Once you get so far down the negative rabbit hole, it’s easy to have a defeatist attitude about everything. So what can be done to put these feelings in check and get back to feeling positive, valued, and productive? Well, I know some humans with super abilities who are able to use jealousy as their own motivator. They thrive on competition. Sure, so-and-so is better at painting right now, but that only encourages these superhumans to do better. This works for some but definitely doesn’t work well for others (including me).

Meditation is my not-so-secret weapon to combat jealous tendencies. First of all, mindfulness enabled some much-needed self-reflection for me. I found that envy creeps in when I start obsessively overthinking things, stack myself up with other people, or attempt at reading too far into my partner's actions. A ton of my time and energy has been wasted scrolling through social media or thinking about other people’s strengths in relation to my own weaknesses. Now, when I feel my thumb reaching for that Facebook icon, I click over to Headspace instead. Meditation is effective at pulling me out of a judgmental or negative mindset and realigning my thoughts. I realized that only I have the power to redirect my energy and thoughts. I ultimately choose if I’ll succumb to self-doubt or repurpose that time and mental space to acknowledge my strengths and improve weaknesses through discipline and practiced mindfulness. Meditation helped put things into more positive perspective for me; now I see myself and others in a more balanced light. I understand what I need in order to feel empowered. Yes, I’m still on social media, but mainly for the cute puppy videos.

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Every time I invest time in comparing myself to others, I’m simply pouring salt in the wound.

Meg Mankins

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