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.

How do I stop wishing for someone else’s life and learn to love my own?

A student asked:

As a girl, there is another girl whose lifestyle I admire greatly and I wish I could have her life. She is very pretty and her boyfriend is a very good catch. It appears that she has it all, nice hair, nice skin. Of course, I know that this is what is shown on the surface and there may be things in her life that she does not have that I do. How do I stop wishing for someone else’s life and learn to love my own?

What’s required here is a change in mindset and perspective.

For starters, it’s useful to do a daily exercise of gratitude. Before you end the day, just review the happenings of your life and journal down the things that you are grateful for, no matter how trivial it may be. It could be a warm smile that someone gave to you. It could be a delicious meal. And then go further… What allowed you to be able to enjoy those things in the first place? Why did the person give you a warm smile? What did you do? What can you be grateful about yourself that allowed you to enjoy that smile, or the meal that that person cooked for you? The more you do this exercise, the more you will slowly come to realise that you have beautiful traits, whether appearance, character, or other qualities, that make people appreciate you and/or want to be good to you (or who want to reciprocate back the goodness that you’ve shown them).

Or maybe it’s about things that you have. Then just take the moment to appreciate how lucky/fortunate/wonderful you are to be able to have these things to enjoy/experience.

The first couple of times, it’ll be tough because it’s not something you’re used to do. So here’s an arbitrary number: 3. You’re not allowed to sleep or stop the journalling process until you’ve identified 3 things to be grateful for.

Over time, as you grow more and more grateful with the things you have, you’ll discover that you don’t have to compare with other people. You’ll develop a sense of contentment with what you currently have – whether physical attributes, personal qualities, or even possessions – and you’ll be able to derive joy from that.

To quote Chapter 33 of the Daodejing: “知足者富 The one who knows contentment is rich” (translation mine).