Music is red, Riesling is blue. I’m a synesthete. Are you?
You woke up feeling pretty damn good. You started your day with high hopes, with an added dash of confidence. Then, you went on Facebook.
You scroll through your feed. Oh, your best friend just got a promotion. A girl you went to high-school with is engaged. A friend of a friend is sharing pictures of his vacation in Italy. That guy you did an open-mic with is in a movie.
As you view these posts, something starts to happen. Your initially positive mood gets replaced with something else, a gnawing feeling you barely want to acknowledge. You start to worry that you’re not where you should be in life. You ask yourself why you can’t also have nice things. Why is everyone else having this incredible time, while you watch, alone in your apartment, on social media. It’s isolating, demeaning even. That little monster that lives inside you just woke up. His name is Envy.
Wait, what just happened?
Envy is a complicated emotion, born out of several other feelings. The roots of envy lead straight to anxiety, worry, regret, fear, insecurity. We all experience envy, it’s only human. But when envy begins to interfere with your life on a daily basis, and shows signs of hardening into a permanently embittered attitude, well, you might want to look at that. Just putting it out there: this is exactly why I decided to address my issues with envy.
I’m a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, a city filled with dreamers. Dreamers who want to be doing exactly the same thing as me. Those fools.
In a place like this, it’s easy to feel like I’m not doing well compared to my peers. For years, I’d hear news of a friend’s success, and my immediate reaction would not be joy for that person. Instead I’d think to myself, “why didn’t that happen to me?” Only after the initial wave of self-pity had subsided, would I be able to finally feel genuinely happy for that person. It always bugged me that I needed to have that negative gut reaction in the first place. No matter how many times phrases like “we all have our own path” were parrotted at me, I couldn’t help but obsess over why my particular path hadn’t lead me to the success I saw in other people’s lives. Opportunities that had never interested me, became opportunities I suddenly longed for. My preoccupation with what everyone else had and I didn’t, made it hard to focus on what I truly wanted. Envy was officially changing me. It was altering my mood, and hampering my ability to enjoy my life.
The first thing worth remembering about envy is that it might not always be a bad emotion to experience. To help me understand all this better, I spoke with psychologist, and social envy expert, Dr. Andrea Bonoir.
“In small doses,” she says, “a mild amount of envy can be a motivator. It can drive you to work harder or improve your life. The Internet has made it so much easier to find ways to be envious. We now see things daily that we would not have been able to see say, 20 years ago, because of social media. Back then, we didn’t have the opportunity to compare ourselves as much as we do now.”
The worst part is that though this feeling is now universal, admitting is still taboo. As Bonoir puts it, “Admitting such feelings might make you feel like you’re a bad person. You feel guilty, you don’t want to hurt that person.” It might help to discuss these feelings with someone. Telling someone, say a close friend or relative, who you trust can help relieve these tricky emotions. That way you won’t compound an already unpleasant feeling with shame and isolation.
Another helpful tip is to keep track of jealousy when it occurs. Look for a pattern. “This will help you figure out what your vulnerabilities are. The more you acknowledge your feelings, the more you can do to help,” says Bonoir. If you can, give yourself a break from that stuff. If you’re like me, and social media is the root of most of your envy, she suggests reducing the amount of time you spend with it or even go as far as blocking the people who make you feel these feelings most. It sounds drastic, but reducing the stimuli is a good step to reducing the envy.
After that, adopting activities such as exercise and meditation has been shown to elevate overall mood, and give a broader base for self-esteem. Developing healthy habits like these, even journaling, can help ease some of the feelings at the root of jealousy.
So I took Dr. Bonoir’s advice and reduced the amount of time I look at social media. I stuck to meditation, and found that after doing so, I was able to get some perspective on my negative mood. I spoke with my closest friends about what I was experiencing, and was shocked by how much simply talking about it helped. Particularly discussing it with a woman in comedy I greatly admire: Eliza Skinner. She’s a comedian and television writer whose work I’ve always loved. In fact, she’s precisely the kind of person I might find myself envying.
“It’s because we care about what we’re doing and we want success very badly,” she says, “If we didn’t care, I guess we’d never feel envy.” In the entertainment industry especially, “It’s easy to view your career as being out of your own hands. If you feel you have no control, you focus on what other people can give you and what other people have gotten.”
I wondered, as one becomes more established in their career, do the feelings go away? “I’d almost put it the other way – as I have changed my focus and processed my feelings of envy differently, I have become more established in comedy.” As opposed to be envious of an individual, she tells me that she learned to hone in exactly on what those feelings were really about. Turns out, it has nothing to do with them. “Often I find I’m envious of someone else’s productivity, or bravery, and when I can pinpoint what that thing is I can try to add it to my own life. Be a little more brave, for instance, in asking for a spot or a job. Or maybe I’ll realize it’s more important to me to write that new pilot than I thought – it’s important enough to make me feel bad when I see someone else has done it and I didn’t. I better get cracking!”
Sure, there are still instances here and there where my envy spikes. I know it’s never going to stop rearing its ugly head, and I am finally okay with that. It helps to know that I’m not alone. It helps even more to know that envy can be utilized. Next time you find yourself experiencing these feelings, try taking a moment to think deeper about what’s really going on in your mind, and with your desires. I know I am.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.