Every weekend, my mother and her Korean girlfriends gather in a coffee shop gossiping and comparing notes about their lives: whose children has the better house, car or career; whose grandchildren got accepted into the best colleges; and whose nieces and nephews married into rich families. It has become their weekly envying ritual. Growing up, my parents always compared us to my cousins and to their friends’ children, which made my siblings and I resentful, so we ended up becoming rebellious.
Pastor Rick Warren, the author of “A Purpose Driven Life,” says that one of the main reasons why we never find our own purpose in life is because we are too busy envying others. Over the years, I realized that the envy seeds my parents had planted in our minds just distracted me from finding my calling in life. I would look upon my cousins with a competitive nature, rather than a loving family member, so we never became very close. In envying them, we isolated ourselves from having a loving extended family member.
If we are so busy thinking about how other people live, how can we ever focus on ourselves and what the Universe has designed us to do? Like oranges and apples, there is no comparison between two individual human beings, so when we envy, we assume that someone is better, which prevents us from searching inward to discover our true purpose and be our best. Rumi said, “Beg of God the removal of envy, that God may deliver you from externals, and bestow upon you an inward occupation, which will absorb you so that your attention is not drawn away.” The same energy and time we waste on copying others can be used to better our own lives.
God has created each of us with our own unique talents and gifts, so when we copy others, we can never be as good as those whom we mimic. A copy will never be good as the original, so our own light can never shine in the world. Harold Coffin says, “envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” Envying hinders us from realizing our own greatest potential. By taking envy out of the equation, it allows us to focus on who we are, what we love to do, and what motivates us every day, giving us the space to radiate our own unique brilliance.
While it’s easier said than done, how do we stop envying others, putting it into real practice? Obviously, the first step is to be aware of it when you’re doing it, so be mindful of your envying thoughts. When I catch myself envying others, I pull back, divorcing myself from such thoughts by reminding myself that my talents are unique and my journey is singular. This reminder helps me to re-focus my energy on positive aspects of my life. So instead of being depressed or paralyzed, I become productive and empowered knowing that God has bestowed a unique path for me. When you stop envying and find the space to discover your own purpose, there is no other feeling than self motivation and determination. Your life has meaning, which sustains you every day regardless of all the obstacles we face.
If the coin is reversed and you find others treating you badly because they are envying you, then be aware that their envy is a projection of their own deficiencies in their life, which manifests in their nasty behavior towards you. In understanding this, we can have compassion for people who envy us, perhaps helping them to recognize their own unique gifts that God has given them. Turning envy into compassion can have a profound impact in our world because when each of us stops envying and start allowing others to emanate their own radiance, we will all surely make a positive contribution to our fellow humans, whether in the science, arts, humanities or technology.
Most destructive, envying others over time makes us feel resentful and angry about our own lives because it places a self mirror on our own unhappiness. When the reflection of our own lives looks ugly, we like to deflect our unhappiness by judging and putting others down, so we can feel temporarily better about ourselves for 2 seconds. When this negative energy is emitted by us, we make the world a more hateful and nastier place, drop by drop, until there is so much envy that violence and wars become rampant. Given the endless bad news we hear every day, it is evident that there is a huge amount of envy going around, increasingly leaving our world an uninhabitable place for our children and grandchildren. As Margaret Thatcher said, “the spirit of envy can destroy; it can never build.” Envying has profound implications for the world we live in.
Envying has absolutely no upside for our individual happiness, nor for the world we leave behind, so next time we catch ourselves envying someone, realize that we’re just shooting ourselves in our own foot! And if this does not stop us from envying others, then I don’t know what will! So, instead of shooting ourselves in the foot, let’s put our foot down on our envying breaks!
By Moon Cho, Creator of Ying & Yang Living