Some years ago, a few friends and I sat in the living room of my apartment just talking and the subject of jealousy came up. One of them pointed out that envy and jealousy is something that is inherent in every human being. The most obvious example she pointed out is that babies and children naturally become jealous when they have a newborn sibling who takes away attention from their parents. Research papers have been written up about infants as young as five months old exhibiting jealousy. Based on that example, I had to agree but it also made me think.
I’m not immune to jealousy. If I had to label my younger self with one word, I would call myself The Jealous Sibling. All through my childhood, growing up under my parents’ roof, I was always jealous of my brother. I remember waking up one Friday morning when I was eight years old and going to my parents’ room. There, on the parquet floor sat a huge box my father had bought for my brother. It was a remote control race car that came with parts that could be assembled into a race track. Sitting there watching my father assembling the race track that took up most of the floor space in his bedroom, I had been jealous. Later, watching my brother holding the remote and watching the red race car zipping around the 8-shaped race track noisily, I had been envious. The only question that was running through my mind was how come my father didn’t get me anything? That was one of the many incidents that would proceed to fill up my jealousy account all throughout my growing up years. They made me angry and resentful towards my parents.
After I left home and went to college, my jealousy account continued to grow. I used to be envious of the girls who were thin, especially the ones who could get away with anything because they were pretty. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t come into my own until I was in my twenties so there were a number of years when boys barely looked at me as anything more than just a smart chick. In my late teens, I used to comfort myself with the thought that I would much rather be smart than be pretty. What I didn’t realize was I could be both. In my thirties, I came to realize that what was becoming increasingly important to me is that I am kind and compassionate.
After I lost all my excess weight, I came to learn a very important lesson—jealousy is just fear dressed up in a different suit. For me, it was the fear of not being good enough.
Strangely enough, my jealousy account was significantly depleted after I lost my excess weight. I no longer looked at the other girls who were slim and pretty and felt envious of them. Over time, I even came to feel that having a nice looking outer shell was not necessarily always a good thing—especially when the people I met often made assumptions about me and saw me through stereotypical filters. Having experienced what it felt like to be on the other side, I was no longer jealous of slim girls who were pretty. I actually felt a little sorry for them.
The entire experience made me realize that jealousy came from one thing—the significant value we place on something we want or have.
When I was in my teens, I was extremely self-conscious about my body. I was a big girl and my relatives made sure I knew it. They teased me often and used to always say, “It’s such a shame you’re fat, you have such a pretty face.” Being thin was the only thing I ever thought about. I wanted to be able to walk into the mall and pick out a dress or a skirt off the rack and be able to fit in it. I wanted to be able to buy bras without listening to the sales assistant in the lingerie shop mocking me about how big they were before telling me that they don’t stock my size. I wanted to be able to wear feminine clothes, instead of the masculine t-shirts and baggy jeans that were the only thing I could fit in. I watched my savings account carefully to see how much money I had that I could put towards the three-thousand ringgit Marie-France Bodyline slimming package. I really just wanted to be thin. I used to look at thin girls and felt envious towards them. Their life was much easier than mine. They didn’t have to face being ridiculed by shop assistants whenever they went shopping. The problem they had wasn’t in finding what they could fit in, but in deciding which one to buy. Boys paid attention to them and spent money on them. I wished I was one of them. Life would be much easier if I was.
That was what I thought then.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I have come to learn that jealousy is a trait of the ego. It is a byproduct of comparison and competition against other people—usually one we created in our own minds using superficial criteria like what kind of car we drive and what size house we live in etc. It comes from the artificial rule we set for ourselves when we say, “I will be happy/satisfied/feel good only when _________.” It comes from deriving self worth from something external to ourselves—from money, possessions, clothes and other people’s approval. Some people harness the power of jealousy as motivation to strive for more. While that may be effective in the short term, it does not address the fundamental problem of tying worthiness to something external to ourselves.
There is, however, an antidote to jealousy. It’s called gratitude. Next time, when you see someone else with something you want but don’t have, instead of feeling envious of them, bless them, be supportive of them. Rejoice in their success or happiness and count your blessings. Ask yourself what you are grateful for in your life, and you will see that you have so much more than you realize.
What are your thoughts on jealousy? What do you do when that emotion arises? I would love to hear them. Share them with me at the end of this post.
Envy is an insult to one’s self. ~Yevgeny Yevtushenko