Any advice on how not to be jealous?

A student sent me this question:

Any advice on how not to be jealous?

Personally, I find that jealousy/envy is one of the most useless feelings to harbour within one’s self. With jealousy and envy, we focus so much of our energy and negativity towards people we perceive as better than us, whereas that same energy could have been channelled towards becoming as good as, if not better, than other people.

I personally think we should have a better culture here where we celebrate people for their successes than to be jealous, or worse, put people down for being better than us. I’ve been through awful experiences like that back in school and in some of my previous workplaces. And I can tell you that it’s precisely this sort of toxic culture that holds many people back from blossoming. It’s not because they can’t go far. But there are people who are afraid of being treated badly if they do.

How to handle issues of jealousy? I’m not an expert on this, but I’ll share what I think helps (at least for me):

(1) I think it helps to move away from a competitive mentality to a collaborative mentality, and expand our measures for success to include other people. E.g. helping other people out, and taking joy in seeing how your efforts at helping them has helped them to succeed. I do think a collaborative mindset is very important because competitiveness can be so toxic it gets in the way of team work. Like we could all be on the same side fighting towards common goal, but instead we’re using all that energy to fight each other. This happens too often in so many places. No one’s going anywhere even if they won.

(2) I believe strongly that it’s vitally important to celebrate the achievements and success of the people around us. Be happy, or at least learn to be happy for them. It’s easy to get too focused on our own happiness that we get envious when other people succeed. Just coming out of our shell to feel happy for other people is a great step forward in helping us towards becoming gracious. So whether we win or lose, or whether someone else wins or lose, we are able to put ourselves aside for a bit to share in the joys and sorrows of the people around us. This is important in learning how to be fully human.

(3) And most of all, we should just focus on continually improving ourselves. As I said earlier, jealousy is a very useless feeling to harbour. We get tired and unhappy, and we don’t improve in the end. And that’s just gonna trap us in an unending cycle of toxicity, because we will never improve and will always get upset by the success of others.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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