When we feel jealous of another person, what do we actually feel about ourselves? In his book, Some Thoughts About Relationships, author Colin Wright writes, “Jealousy, at its core, is about feeling threatened.” Many of our reactions to the world and people around us, in my opinion, tie back to tribal forces that have been brought with us through human evolution. Jealousy is related to our status in the group, and when others have something we want, live a way we would like to live, or receive some benefit that we did not receive, our position of status appears to diminish in our tribal brain.
Wright continues in his book to explain that we can overcome jealousy with better awareness of our feelings and reactions. In personal relationships this means a better focus on how we feel, awareness of what causes certain emotions to bubble up, and a recognition of what places and people cause us to feel a certain way. Gaining a better handle on what actions and behaviors help us feel good and what actions and behaviors lead to negative feelings, such as jealousy, will give us the chance to craft our life in a more considerate direction.
This focus will help us begin to analyze our thoughts and feelings and begin to act in a less impulsive manner. Focusing beyond ourselves, slowing down our actions as responses to observations and feelings, and bringing a rational approach to how we think about our feelings can allow us to overcome negative impulses. Assessing why we feel a certain way can give us the chance to decide whether we should be upset, whether our emotions are the result of a lack of sleep, or whether we should act to correct an injustice.
As a public policy student, I see this ability and a deeper understanding of jealousy as critical in deciding how we should react to policies that unavoidably direct scarce resources to some groups and not others. Recognizing that our jealousy regarding certain programs may not be influenced by the efficiency or effectiveness of a program, but on our thoughts of how deserving we find the beneficiaries of a program is important in crafting and evaluating policy. We can understand that our jealousy is a reaction based on our perceived status relative to others in our complex society, and can begin to evaluate our opinions by moving past our initial reactions based on jealousy, status, and threat.
In Packing Light, Allison Vesterfelt speaks very honestly about feelings towards her friend in the middle of their 50 state road trip. At a point where the trip was beginning to feel long and beginning to wear on the two companions, Vesterfelt writes, “I watched her, and I wanted to be like her. But I hated her for being someone I couldn’t be. And I hated myself for not being who I wanted to be. Such is the paradox of jealousy.”
I love this quote and the ideas that Vesterfelt digs into with this quote. There have been so many times in my life where I have felt overcome with the emotions that accompany jealousy, but I have never been able to sort through and honestly articulate those feelings to myself.
Recently while listening to a podcast called The Mindful Creator, hosted by Brett Henley, a guest on his show named Berni Xiong spoke about giving oneself permission to be the person they want to be. This idea is powerful, and I think an excellent way to overcome the jealousy one feels when they see somebody who has become something they are not. I have this feeling often when I see people who have gotten a job that I did not get, or who studied something in college I did not think to study, or who simply seem to be living a life that I would like. By taking Berni’s advice, I can look inside at who I am, what I desire that another person seems to have, and why I desire that thing. I can sort through it all and analyze what prevents me from attaining that thing, personality trait, or lifestyle, and eventually decide that there is no gatekeeper, and that I can attain what I want. Berni’s advice is to recognize that you are the first person holding you back from what you want, and that you can simply allow yourself to believe that you already have permission to be what you want.
Later on in her novel Allison finds this same conclusion with help from her friend. She opens up and allows herself to tell people that she is a write, her big desire, and new opportunities seem to find her. Recognizing what you want in the life of another person can be a poisonous thing when it drives you into jealousy, however, if you are strong enough and self aware enough to recognize those feelings and understand those desires, you can make a positive change. It requires that you be honest with yourself, and then recognize what you can do to reach your goals, because sometimes the only thing that holds us back is that we have not given ourselves permission to be something different.