When St. Patrickâ€™s Day rolls around, you just canâ€™t escape green. Even if you donâ€™t wear it (and want to risk getting pinched), itâ€™s still everywhere from store windows to menu specials to parades on TV. But thatâ€™s okayâ€”on March 17th, green is good. â€œIrishâ€ green is associated with happiness, celebrations, shamrocks, and the Emerald Isle. Too bad thatâ€™s not the case the other 364 days of the year!
According to Todd Patkin, most of us normally experience green in a much more negative way: through envy. And thatâ€™s definitely not a good thing.
â€œBeing in the clutches of the green-eyed monster can really sabotage your overall happiness,â€ says Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Manâ€™s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety andâ€”Finallyâ€”Let the Sunshine In. â€œThatâ€™s because envy makes you focus on what you donâ€™t have instead of all of the great things you do have.â€
Patkin points out that social media has really exacerbated the extent to which envy affects our lives. Think about it: Sites like Twitter and Facebook allow people to live their lives in full view of othersâ€¦and sugarcoat every aspect of them. When you log on, youâ€™re bound to see pictures and posts that read, â€œMost beautiful wedding ever!â€ â€œThis was a dream vacation in paradise!â€ or â€œDrinks on meâ€”I just got a promotion!â€
As youâ€™re scrolling through this never-ending list of good news, itâ€™s all too easy to feel like youâ€™ve gotten the short end of the stick and say, â€œWoe is me!â€ And, of course, it doesnâ€™t help that your Facebook newsfeed doesnâ€™t ever go away. You can always torture yourself by taking a look at how much â€œbetterâ€ everybody else has it.
â€œBut hereâ€™s the thing: While youâ€™re living your life in a constant haze of jealousy, you donâ€™t see the other side of the coin,â€ explains Patkin. â€œWhat social media might not tell you is that the friend who got a promotion might also have just had a huge fight with her spouse. But unless she is one of those people who thrive on drama, she isnâ€™t going to post those details of her personal lifeâ€¦and you wonâ€™t know that things arenâ€™t as perfect as they seem.â€
The bottom line is, jealousy doesnâ€™t do anybody any good. It makes you feel needlessly unhappy, and it can negatively affect your relationship with others. Here are six of Patkinâ€™s tips to help you banish envy the next time it starts to rear its ugly head:
To some extent, envy is natural. You canâ€™t go through your life without feeling jealous from time to time. So first, simply take note of when and why the green-eyed monster makes an appearance. (You may not even have consciously realized what youâ€™re feeling!) Specifically, be aware of how strong your emotions are and what effect they have on your attitude and behavior.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to take your emotional temperature every five minutes, but being generally aware of the role envy plays in your life can really make a difference in your behavior,â€ Patkin says. â€œFor instance, if youâ€™re carrying around a lot of anger toward a coworker because the boss liked his project proposal instead of yours, it could be making you unnecessarily snarky, critical, and negative. That means that youâ€™re ruining your own day and hurting your performanceâ€¦and you might also be burning some office bridges youâ€™ll regret later!â€
When youâ€™re constantly comparing yourself to the Joneses, youâ€™ll suffer several unintended consequences. First, worrying about how you donâ€™t measure up robs you of your present happiness. Plus, it leaves you unable to think about how you really want your own life to look.
â€œWe talk about the American dream of a house, a pool, two cars in the garage, and the proverbial white picket fence,â€ Patkin explains. â€œBut the truth is, the same cookie-cutter mold doesnâ€™t work for everybody! The lifestyle that makes your neighbor or your cousin or your dentist happy might not work for you. And if thatâ€™s the case, who cares if itâ€™s flashier, more glamorous, or â€˜coolerâ€™? Trust me, when you give yourself permission to live your life on your terms instead of letting others set the bar (and feeling jealous as a result), you might be surprised by how good you already have it.â€
Yes, living with an â€œattitude of gratitudeâ€ is a clichÃ©d concept. But infusing it into your life will also totally change your viewpointâ€¦especially if you have a chronic case of â€œthe envies.â€ The fact is, itâ€™s very easy to take things for granted: the information your coworker emailed you, the fact that your car is running, and even the food youâ€™re eating for dinner. Most of us have gotten into the habit of ignoring all of the good things in our lives, and instead, we focus our mental energy on being upset about whatâ€™s wrong. But Patkin promises that it can be a true game changer when you reverse the time you spend thinking about each.
â€œOver the course of my life, I have learned that itâ€™s smarter to thank others because of how they make your life better instead of secretly resenting them because they have something you donâ€™t,â€ he claims. â€œAnd yes, it does take a while to make this change in how you habitually think. To start tapping into the power of gratitude, just say â€˜thanksâ€™ to the people who help you out during your day. (You might even work up to writing thank-you notes, as I do.) And beyond that, try to notice all of the blessings in your life. For me, my wonderful wife and extraordinary son top the list, as well as the fact that I finally get to do what I loveâ€”help others live happier lives. In time, youâ€™ll start to notice that most of your envy has miraculously left the building.â€
If you have an hour or so of free time, you could spend it by trawling Facebook (and maybe watching a reality show that highlights the lifestyles of the rich and famous in the background). At the end of that hour, youâ€™ll probably feel dissatisfied with your own lot in life, if youâ€™re not outright angry at how â€œgoodâ€ other people have it. Or, you could spend your free time helping your kids build a fort in the backyard, using your financial know-how to help a friend set up a much-needed budget, or even volunteering at a local organization that needs an extra pair of hands.
â€œIf you choose the second option, youâ€™ll be a lot happierâ€”guaranteed,â€ Patkin promises. â€œInstead of focusing on how much you think your life sucks, focus on how you can use your strengths to help othersâ€™ lives be better. It will take the same amount of time but will be so much more uplifting and productive. We all have a choice: We can choose to look to the right and see people who have â€˜more,â€™ or we can choose to look to the left and see others who arenâ€™t as fortunateâ€¦and whom we can tangibly help. I firmly believe that the greatest fulfillment in life comes not from satisfying ourselves, but from helping others.â€
Youâ€™ve heard the saying, â€œThe more you give, the more you receive.â€ Well, that goes for happiness, gratitude, help, friendship, and more! When you are generous with these things, youâ€™ll invite them back into your life, too. People who are positive, supportive, and loving experience life very differently from those who are jealous and negative.
â€œHereâ€™s an easy example of what I mean,â€ recounts Patkin. â€œSay your friend just got engaged, and youâ€™re still looking for your own Mr. (or Ms.) Right. Itâ€™s okay to feel a twinge of jealousy at first. But instead of feeding the fire by scowling at a newly posted album of engagement photos and wishing that you too could change your relationship status to â€˜engaged,â€™ call your friend and congratulate her! Youâ€™ll have to acknowledge that she didnâ€™t say â€˜yesâ€™ with the intention of making you feel bad, and youâ€™ll probably also hang up the phone feeling happy for her.â€
If you think about it, a lot of us experience envy over the â€œbigâ€ things: relationships, wealth, career opportunities, vacations, houses, etc. But itâ€™s also true that all of our happiness doesnâ€™t come from, say, getting a new carâ€”a lot of it also comes from a variety of little things that add up.
â€œTake a few minutes and think about what makes you happy on a day-to-day basis,â€ Patkin advises. â€œIt might be eating a delicious meal, taking a few minutes to read a chapter in your latest book, or taking a walk with your spouse. Then, make an effort to incorporate those things into your life as often as you can. Think about it this way: You canâ€™t give yourself a promotion at work, but you can definitely get yourself a yummy cup of coffee on your way into the office. When you let the little things make you happy more often, there will be less room for envy to creep in.â€
â€œDonâ€™t underestimate the insidious power of envy,â€ Patkin concludes. â€œIf you allow it to take root in your life, it will bring you only bitterness, isolation, and disappointment. But the good news is, it really is in your power to take charge of the green-eyed monster. Just remember, if you always try to focus on what is going well in your life, you will feel much more balanced and look back on your life with much less regret. I promise, taking gradual steps to banish jealousy will make you happier each and every day!â€