We live in a world of fierce competition; we are always trying to get ahead. This is evident in our educational system, our business models, and in the million ways we try to make ourselves skinnier, smarter, and “better” than others. Competition, of course, can be healthy. It is a powerful motivator and helps us push beyond our own boundaries, and it is a necessary ingredient to achieve a greater success than we could possibly imagine on our own. However, too much competition isn’t beneficial because it can quickly turn into something uglier: jealousy.
Jealousy is not a productive emotion, though. If we want what another person has, stewing about it is not the solution. You can only control your own life, perhaps working towards achieving what you are so envious of. The issue is: even if we want to be happy for someone and attempt to outwardly express that, true emotions cannot be masked. An enthusiastic congratulations does not act as a substitute for a sincere one. Authenticity is magic. It is the key to happier, healthier lives.
The green monster of jealousy stems from entrenched ideas of privilege. It has everything to do with believing one “deserves” what the person he or she is jealous of has. Life is not fair. I know that. You know that. We all know it, but when life cuts us a meagerly thin slice of cake and hands it to us on a cold, hard platter, suddenly we take it personally. We followed all the steps perfectly and feel we are owed our just desserts.
For many, college is the first time they experience this rude awakening. The work that once stood out as exceptional is now merely mediocre, requiring more than mere intellect and memorization, but also true analysis and synthesis. In a guide to surviving college, K. David Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair of Linguistics at Swarthmore College, recommends that freshmen learn to “Celebrate the accomplishments of others….enjoy their accomplishment and see what you can learn from them, don’t begrudge them or get locked into a false paradigm of zero-sum competitiveness.”
As a college graduate, the tendency to resort to envy may be even greater as some people slip quickly into success and opportune job listings, while you look on, an impoverished alumnus struggling to find work and still grieving that the college bubble has popped.
One Humans of New York Facebook post featured a woman saying,“You should never say: ‘I’m poor.’ Instead you should say: ‘I live in abundance.’” The truth is jealousy gets you nothing, but joy gets you everything. To defeat that green monster, you have to consciously beat it back and refuse to let it win. The mindset that there is enough for all, that success will manifest itself, that hard work pays off, and good things come to those who wait will enable us to more fully embrace happiness for others.
In such an individualized society as America, where we want everything to be our own and to not have to share, there is the idea that helping others directly hurts ourselves. This is a misnomer. We as humans are insurmountably interconnected. When one party makes a discovery or is innovative, everyone benefits. Sure, said party may tangibly have increased profits personally, but on the whole, society always wins from progress.
On a smaller scale, if a friend receives good news, let their excitement inspire you. Misery loves company, they say, but a celebration needs more than one person to be a party. We are a living machine, connected humans, recycling joy. To live a joyful life, be open to the success that is all around. When someone else is happy, be happy with them, and revel in the fun. Celebrating is enjoyable regardless of who it is for, and with a big enough heart and enough time, joy is going to come right back around, handing you the whole sweet cake that you knew life always meant to give you.
Stanton, Brandon. Humans of New York. First ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.
Torre, Grant. “Professors’ Guide to Surviving Swarthmore.” Daily Gazette. Swarthmore College, 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 09 Aug. 2014.
Image Credit: Jing Qu, Flickr Creative Commons