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How often do you allow envy to devour you?

Today is July 23 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow envy to devour you?” Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn said: "Our envy of others devours us most of all." Successful people who navigate the chaos spend little, if any, time allowing envy to devour them or distract them from achieving their dreams. For those navigating the chaos it is easy to fall prey to envy.

Person A has some position, status, or wealth that Person B wants. Person B has a variety of options to obtain what Person A has, but the real question Person B needs to ask is ‘do I really want what Person A has or am I envious?’ If envy is involved, then why? It is important to note, however, that envy can sometimes serve as a catalyst for someone trying to navigate the chaos.

In an August 10, 2015, New Yorker article Maria Konnikova, summarized the work of researchers Richard Smith and Niels van de Ven regarding envy. Smith, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky suggests envy arises from a combination of two factors: relevance and similarity. Relevance, as defined by Smith, happens when an envied advantage must be meaningful on a personal level. For example, a ballerina’s beautiful dance is unlikely to cause envy in a lawyer, unless the lawyer once had professional dancing aspirations.

Similarity, on the other hand, involves some degree of comparison. Konnikova wrote “Even though we’re both writers, I’m unlikely to envy Ernest Hemingway. Aristotle, in describing envy, quotes the saying ‘potter against potter.’ When we admire someone, we do so from a distance. When we envy someone, we picture ourselves in their place.” Today’s question challenges you to reflect and increase your self-awareness when it comes to admiration and envy.

Admiration and envy can seem like opposites: admiration inspires us, while envy drags us down. But the psychologist Niels van de Ven, of Tilburg University, in the Netherlands, argues that this duality may not fully capture the emotion’s real complexity. When he examined the concept in cultures across the world, he found that the word envy has dual meetings in other languages and involves a more nuanced interpretation. In English, envy is envy. But in other languages, envy invokes the nuanced range of benign envy, malicious envy, admiration, and resentment.

In his examination of envy, author Neel Burton wrote “The pain of envy is not caused by the desire for the advantages of others per se, but by the feeling of inferiority and frustration occasioned by their lack in ourselves. The distraction of envy and the dread of arousing it in others paradoxically holds us back from achieving our fullest potential. Envy also costs us friends and allies, and, more generally, tempers, restrains, and undermines even our closest relationships. In some cases, it can even lead to acts of sabotage, as with the child who breaks the toy that he knows he cannot have. Over time, our anguish and bitterness can lead to physical health problems such as infections, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers; and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. We are, quite literally, consumed by envy.”

One of the characteristics of modern life is the new phenomenon of the intersection of envy and social media. With over 4.5 billion people around the world currently using one or more social media platforms, the levels, complexities, and dynamics involved with envy have taken on a whole new meaning. Alexandra Samuel, author of Work Smarter with Social Media proclaimed “it feels like media has given envy a new lease on life. Envy is so profoundly woven into the experience of using social media that it has brought the term FOMO into common currency: Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is an almost inevitable byproduct of witnessing other people’s vacations, parties, and purchases through social media.” When you are too busy navigating the chaos you have little, if any, time of FOMO.

Samuel goes on to list some of the more common social media catalysts that could potentially spark envy among viewers. “My envy can be inspired by the personal or the professional: by your delightful and picturesque vacation, or your new and fabulous job. It can be provoked by something shallow and materialistic, like the boots you are wearing in your latest selfie, or by something human and meaningful, like your child’s latest academic success. It can be directed towards your success in a field of endeavor we share, like writing, or a field of endeavor I wish I’d thought to pursue, like the law. It can focus on something tangible, like the size of the mansion you just bought, or something intangible, like how you’re able to be content in your tiny bungalow.”

For those navigating the chaos and putting in the daily work required to translate dreams into reality, they spend little if any time being devoured by being envious of others.

  • How often do you allow envy to devour you?

  • How often do you consider the difference between admiring someone and being envious of them?

  • How often do you remind yourself that being envious of others can prohibit you from achieving your fullest potential?

  • How often do you see a social media post, become envious, and then experience FOMO?


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