How to Overcome Jealousy in Life

Jealousy is a useless emotion.

But not only is it useless, it’s also destructive. Some have said that all wars start from jealousy.

Remember the legend of the Trojan War, portrayed in the movie Troy? Supposedly,  the great armies of Greece and Troy warred for ten years over Helen, a single beautiful woman.

How stupid right?

But jealousy also f*cks with us on a smaller scale — within ourselves. It tells us that we’re not good enough. That’s why we look at someone else and wish for what they have.

Ever felt that way? To me, when I get jealous — I feel like a loser.

This, despite reminding myself how destructive it is. I try so hard to stay away from it. And yet, it strikes from time to time.

There are things that can help though. From research and personal experience, here are my top tips on how to deal with jealousy. If you’ve ever struggled with it, hopefully these steps will help you too.

 

1. Acknowledge Jealousy

The first step to deal with an uncomfortable feeling is acceptance.

But just like how 80% of drivers claim to be better-than-average (which of course doesn’t make sense statistically), a lot of people might think they’re immune to jealousy.

Most of us aren’t though. Jealousy is a universal emotion. Heck, it’s so universal, you can even see it in animals. Ever petted a dog/cat other than your own — only to realize your “permanent” pet is giving you “the eye”?

Even wise ol’ Warren Buffett says:

“It is not greed that drives the world, but envy.”

So if you ever catch yourself feeling those burning envious feelings, say “I’m <your name here>, and I get jealous.”

But more crucially, also say: “But it’s okay to feel jealous. It’s only human. And here’s what I’m going to do about it.”

 

2. Talk to Yourself

If you want to get better at managing negative emotions like jealousy — you have to get very familiar with them. This might feel uncomfortably touchy-feely (especially for you macho men out there), but don’t brush them off, saying: “This is just me — I’m an angry person.”

Instead, we have to think about how we feel. And why.

In psychology speak, this is called “metacognition,” or thinking about thinking. Some psychologists use the same word to include “thinking about feelings,” which is what we’re gonna do here.

For example, whenever you feel like punching someone, it’s useful to take a deep breath, pause, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What emotions am I feeling now? Is it anger? Is it hurt? Is it jealousy?
  • What were the triggers that caused this emotion? Was I stalking someone’s “perfect” life on Instagram? Did someone say something mean to me? Did someone smile at my boyfriend?
  • What’s the real reason I feel so bad? Do I feel like a loser compared to my friends? Do I have a shitty job that I hate? Am I unsure that my boyfriend loves me?

Detach yourself from the situation, and imagine you’re a neutral third party observing from the outside. Like an invisible angel, watching yourself and taking notes — trying to figure out why you do certain things.

Examining yourself like this isn’t gonna give you answers immediately. But over time, it allows you to understand yourself better.

And opens you up to some of the other things we’re gonna talk about next.

 

Model sitting and thinking about life
“Hmmm… I wonder why I have so many Instagram followers?”

 

3. Practice the “100% Swap” Thought Experiment

The “100% swap” is the first practical tool we’re gonna discuss. You use it when you catch yourself saying things like:

  • “I wish I could be him. He has so much money.”
  • “I wish I could be her. She travels so much and her Instagram is so gorgeous.”
  • “I wish I could be like them. They have no problems.”

It’s the antidote to whenever you’re jealous of someone else’s life. And it goes like this… Ask yourself:

“If I could swap my life completely for his/hers, including not just the good stuff, but all the bad things — would I?”

And then you realize it. What we see externally about other people is just one part of their lives. What we see so beautifully portrayed on an Insta pic just tells you how they spend one hour of their entire week. But there’s a lot more beyond that.

Yet, we compare the best parts of other people’s lives to the most boring parts of ours. That’s why we feel like shit.

But when we rationally think of all the pain, suffering and trade-offs they have to make to get to their good moments — we realize we wouldn’t give up our own lives either.

You don’t want someone else’s life. You just like fantasizing about it.

 

4. Count Your Blessings

Jealousy comes from feelings of inadequacy. Remember, if we feel like we’re not enough — that’s when we start looking outside at other people.

The way to fix this isn’t to get everything you want. You already instinctively know that humans are never satisfied. The moment you buy a better phone than your iPhone 8 friend, you start looking for someone with an iPhone X to compare to. It’s human nature to constantly want to compare and get better.

But there’s another way. And here, I quote a great Greek OG:

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
Socrates

So here’s a powerful exercise to do: every time you feel jealous, take out your phone and quickly note down three things you’re thankful for. Shift your focus away from the external, but look at what’s already good in your life. It could even be something really simple, like:

  • I’m thankful for my lunch today. It tasted good.
  • I’m thankful that my parents are still around, strong and healthy.
  • I’m thankful that I have a friend to hang out with.

Gratitude is such a powerful tool that lots of researchers have studied it and proven one thing: it just makes people happier.

Now I know this might sound like some unrealistic “Everything is perfect, just smile!” bullshit. But I’m not making light of difficult times we face in life.

Suffering is real — it’s part of the human experience. None of us have a choice in this.

But you have a choice in the way you look at life. Everything can seem like a miracle, or everything can seem like shit — your choice.

 

Coffee mug saying "Keep calm and drink coffee"
At worst, we can always be thankful for coffee

 

5. Reach out to the Object of Your Jealousy

“When you envy someone, you put a wall up between yourself and the things about that person you envy.

If they have a good job, there’s now a new wall between you and getting a good job. Why? Because you are programming yourself to dislike people who have good jobs.”
James Altucher

Sometimes I get jealous of other writers. “Why does he have so many followers? He doesn’t even write well.” “Why does she get shared so much? She’s not even smart.” It’s not fair. I put in a lot more time and effort — I should be king.

But of course, feeling like this is stupid. And the longer I stew in this feeling, the more toxic I become.

So here’s my secret for dealing with this: I reach out to him/her and humbly ask to learn from them. And then, maybe we become friends. And eventually, the jealousy falls away to become something better — like respect.

There are so many successful people out there who make me feel small. I could isolate them in a corner of my mind and list down everything negative about them: “Of course they make a lot of money. They use sexy people in advertisements. So low class. Bla bla bla.”

But no, I don’t want to be jealous of them any more. I want to learn from them. I want to be their friends.

Let’s all be friends.

 

6. Even If It’s VERY Uncomfortable

“Okay, that’s fine for work,” you say. “But I seriously hate the bitch who keeps talking to my boyfriend.”

I know — when it comes to matters of the heart, things get complicated.

Maybe because I’m naturally very empathetic (meaning I can feel myself in other people’s shoes quite easily), I find it very hard to dislike someone once I get to know them.

But remember that invisible wall between you and that person you’re jealous of? The feeling only gets worse if you build that barrier higher and higher — until it becomes a great wall of negative emotions. One that could threaten you and your partner’s relationship too.

(Remember — jealousy is toxic.)

If you open a door through that wall and reach out to the other side, there’s no guarantee you’ll like what you find there. But it’s going to be better for your feelings in the long run.

And if you do it with an open heart — maybe you’ll realize you actually have an ally, not an enemy. In this world of mistrust, it’s not isolation that will save us — it’s dialogue and empathy.

Even North Korea speaks to South Korea sometimes.

 

Soldier giving apple to kids

 

7. Talk It out — Get Support

Remember Point Number 2, where you analyse your feelings by yourself? Well think of this point as an extension of Point Number 2 — only this time you’ve got backup: a person who can respond.

Who we’re looking for here is someone who will listen and empathize with you. And then lend you some non-judgmental emotional support (plus a hug maybe?). He/she doesn’t even need to give you advice on how to solve your problems. If it’s jealousy — technically, there’s no external problem to solve anyway.

It’s great if your partner is who you turn to for this. But a sibling, relative or close friend could be your “jealousy-confessional” outlet too.

BTW — I don’t just mean jealousy in relationships here. If you’re jealous about how Nora keeps getting promoted every year, it’s good to talk it out with your husband too.

p.s. This is not an excuse for a bitching session — which only adds fuel to the fire and makes you feel worse.

 

8. Overcome Insecurity — Build Your Self-Esteem

Ever wish that you feel better about yourself? That you could love yourself more? Well, this final point is for you. Because when we love ourselves, we stop feeling so insecure. And we stop being so jealous of other people.

That’s why it’s so important to develop your self-esteem. It’s the mind’s defense against insecurity.

But how? Well, the first step is to surround yourself with positive people, who will help build you up. (Refer to previous point.)

The second step is to become good at things that are important to you.

This is crucial, so let’s dwell on this for a while. For example, let’s say that academic qualifications are important to you, and you wanna have an MBA. Progress towards this goal — every page you read, every assignment you complete, and every semester you pass — will help build you up.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t care about qualifications, but you really love cooking. Becoming a better cook, where you can feed your friends with delicious creations is gonna be your boost.

Within reason, whatever you choose doesn’t matter. What matters is you make that choice — decide what’s important to you; decide on your core values. And then make progress in that.

Loving yourself is the ultimate antidote for jealousy. Because then you realize that everything external you were looking for can actually be found within you.

 

Woman looking at rough sea

 

– – –

 

We are all travelers in this great river of life. Some of us are born into great prosperity, with powerful ships to cruise across life’s rough seas. Some of us are working people — with small boats that often break down — so we still have to paddle hard. While some of us have to swim naked against the tide, just to survive.

Someday I hope when I see someone in a bigger boat zoom past me, I hope I can be happy for him. Instead of looking at myself and cursing my own situation.

I wrote this not because I’ve overcome jealousy, and I’m some peaceful monk who’s calm in the storms of life. I wrote this because I sometimes get jealous too, and it disturbs the hell out of me.

How can I be stronger? How can I not let things affect me so easily? I keep trying.

Because maybe one day when I can be happy for him, I can be happy for me too.

 

– – –

 

Further Reading: Lifehacker, Positivity BlogPsychology Today.

I’m not a trained psychologist, so I welcome suggestions and corrections.

Pics from: Pexels, Pexels, Pexels, Pexels & Pexels.

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6 comments

  • Thanks for the article! In my experience, the trick is to see the humanity in all of us. I am allowed to be jealous and forgive myself, you are allowed to be jealous and forgive yourself, I and you are humans. If we see that much commonality, then we can begin to get out of the rut of jealousy.

    Also, if we can see past our jealousy, we can then manage our finances better without needing to keep up with the Joneses or to do retail therapy. 🙂

  • Thanks Aaron. Very well written and it really speaks to me.

    Your articles are getting better and better!

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