Of all the human emotions, envy is often seen as a bad one; one that needs to be suppressed. It’s natural, of course. Envy could lead to anger and hatred at the person you’re envious of. Envy is seen as a quality displayed by impure people, those who would use devious methods to gain the objects of their envy.
The dictionary defines envy as the following:
1. A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
2. Desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to (someone else).
Obviously, the discontent is bad, and the resentfulness associated with envy is also bad. It’s our societal conditioning to remove envious feelings from our lives. “Jealousy is bad”, we’re told, or rather “Thou shalt not covet”. That’s right, being envious is a sin of biblical proportions, and as such, we’re taught that we should suppress and do away with our envious thoughts. We should believe in the divine providence of chaotic entropy and just hope to get the things we want.
But what if it’s envy was good?
Hear me out. I’m talking about a specific type of envy. If you see your neighbour with a nice new car and feel jealous that he bought a new car, that’s the wrong type of envy. Or rather, you’re envious of your neighbour’s endpoint. Instead, you should be envious of the qualities your neighbour possesses that allowed him to be able to afford that car. Want another example?
You’re out on the street and you see a happy couple, talking at a cafe, laughing, holding hands, being in love. Maybe you’re in a relationship fallen on hard times, or maybe you’re single. Regardless of your situation, you feel a lick of flame in your soul that you want what they have. You need that sort of fulfilling relationship in your life. But the target of your envy shouldn’t be having a better partner, or having a partner. It should be the qualities they each possess that you can build in yourself.
One more example? A really fit person. Someone who you always see outside running, or always coming back from, or going to, the gym. This person packs a salad every day for lunch and tries to walk or bike anywhere they go. What you see is the wonderful fitness of this person, and you’d be envious of their body. But you should be envious of their dedication to working on themselves. You should be envious of their devotion and their perspective on how important their health is to them, which would most likely inspire you to rethink how you view exercise and diet.
When you see someone that you envy, ask yourself why you envy them. Your neighbour with the nice car, maybe they get up every morning well before you do and are in the office by the time you’re pouring your coffee. Maybe they work hard to listen to others around them such that they can develop solutions to the problems of others. Perhaps they do their hardest to do their best job at work because they realize it’s important, and the result of their hard work is a better position and pay. The result of that result is the nice car. But if you’re fixated only on the car, all you see is the car, and not the work that went into getting it.
So what I’m saying here is that envy is good, I’d even say encouraged. Be envious of other people. Let that fire of resentment and jealousy ignite the drive inside you to go and be better. Don’t by envious of items because things are fleeting and consumerism is so passé. If you’re going to feel envy of another person, feel it authentically. The drive to improve resulting from the jealousy you feel should be the end result of your envy.
We want what we don’t have and envious thoughts towards other people point out our deepest desires. It’s the biological cue we get when we want something that someone else has. Originally, back when we were all in caves, it was the feeling that drove us to survive, sometimes by violent means. But now in the modern age, it should drive us to move beyond our current selves and actively work on our lives. Being passive is no longer an excuse for having a bad life. Passivity, which is religiously glorified in such lines as “the meek shall inherit the earth” and other such things, ultimately gets us nowhere.
To be passive and condition ourselves to live without envy is to truly forget how powerful we really are. If we take the active route and strive for our own personal greatness by working hard and developing ourselves, we will lead others to do the same by example.
It takes bravery to recognize our own faults. To honestly say to yourself that you realize your shortcomings and then actively work on them is courageous and strong. It shows a self-awareness that we aren’t perfect, but even more, it shows that we realize that we can be better. That’s the important part. We can always be better.
Working on yourself should be a lifelong journey and instead of letting yourself wander aimlessly, analyze yourself and discover what qualities you’re envious of in other people. That’s your compass bearing to greatness right there.