Maybe Your Envy Can Teach You Something


I spent a lot of time in my early twenties playing hide-and-seek with the idea that my life was inadequate. I knew it wasn’t true intellectually, so I developed coping skills to avoid it and found solace in quieting my mind, looking around me and feeling joy for what I had. Eventually though, my desire for more won out and lead me to make some hard decisions about where I was, what I was doing, who I was with. They were good ones that I’m glad I made.

We often experience envy as a passive, involuntary emotion. We witness some external trigger and let it wash over us and sit heavy on our shoulders. It’s a shitty thing, to feel small and wrong or both. It makes sense, then, that we’d urge each other to shut off our phones, delete Instagram, try gratitude journaling. Escape the cultural stimuli that reenforce the toxic notion that we aren’t enough. Because we are.

But the nature of envy can also tell us a lot about our hidden inner selves. Mark Twain famously once said, “Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.” That is to say, the stuff we can’t help but feel can tell us something about ourselves, too. It just might even help us.

During an MR roundtable last year about the euphoria of cancelled plans, I remember being surprised when Amelia said she felt envy for people who were relaxing. “I would check Snapchat [and] these people would snap stuff like, ‘Staying in!’ with like their fucking candle burning and a cup of tea. THAT’S what I get FOMO for.” It made me laugh because at the time I often felt the exact opposite. I instead felt envy for people who were adventuring while I sat by my fucking burning candle.

So maybe our fleeting moments of envy — like for a celebrity’s mansion or ability to get a massage at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday — aren’t worth honoring. But the deeper envy that gets us right in the gut? It might reveal what it is we truly want and help guide us towards it. Which is why I want to ask you: What is it that truly makes you most envious? A person unbridled by a 9-to-5? A woman with utmost confidence? Someone who’s publicly vulnerable or the opposite? What hits you the deepest? Do you care to listen?

Photo by Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images.

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  • Eun Jung Cha

    Seeing people my age who have seemingly amazing lives on Instagram. They’ve got a great job, a fab holiday, and never-ending social skills, or so it seems. I guess it shows that they’re very confident about themselves. I’m most envious when I feel like I have nothing to be proud about myself. Oh god, this makes me teary.

    • Holly Laine Mascaro

      Instagram isn’t real life though. And most people taking that many snapshots of every single life moment, can’t possibly actually be enjoying those moments. It’s so distracting. We all fall prey to it and feel the need to meet some standard, and it’s exhausting and frankly I’m starting to realize, a waste of time and energy.

      • Eun Jung Cha

        You’re completely right, Instagram isn’t real life, but I think it’s so hard to tell sometimes when you’re just blankly looking through it and also when you feel insecure.

        • Holly Laine Mascaro

          Oh for sure, I totally understand – for myself I have found that the older I get the less I care. Or, when I find myself in those “cool” scenarios I realize that the behind the scenes often isn’t nearly as cool as the photo makes it seem on someone’s Instagram.

  • Envious? Yeah, people having an easy life, travelling, people with enough time to develop a music taste, read all the important books, people at my open uni who just sat for law exams (I didn’t manage to study enough because of too much work) …. There’s always someone out there to feed the feeling 🙂

    And it’s true what you say :-), those pangs of envy simply tell me what I want.

    (They do not lead me to hate those people, though. My envy is not their problem, it is just mine. Meaning, there is a dark side to envy I will never accept: when you slash out at someone because you perceive them to be in a MUCH better place. Because, as a favorite slashee, I know very well it is actually not a better place, there’s much work, worry and woe around it, it is not fair to kill my moments of good luck because they are not many but are well-deserved. And the possibility of being attacked for just about any normal aspect of my life has made me hide even more. Luckily, I am quite content hiding and being happy secretly, but I will never accept this kind of behavior. The feeling is normal, it is human, but the behavior is not, imho.)

  • Sophie

    I envy people that are confident. When ever I’m with them, it makes me feel even less confident. It’s a vicious circle.

    • Abby

      Ugh yes, this is right on the money.

    • Rikke

      Jep. Second that.

  • just envy the wind cuz lucinda williams is truth <3

  • Molly D

    I envy the people who are naturally happy-go-lucky. The people who don’t have to try that hard, and maybe never have, to just kind of float around, never far from a smile. It also infuriates me which in turn makes me feel guilty. Awesome!

  • Emily Tobin

    Ahh I totally feel this! Like the below comments said, instagram is just a highlight reel. I became really aware of this when my friend told me she was envious of my life. I asked why because I genuinely couldn’t comprehend it. she said I get to work from home and have all this free time to do what I love, which is something she really wants. I got where she was coming from, because my online activity deffo makes it look that way. But what she doesnt see is the 14 hour work days trying to get orders done, paying myself a mere wage so I can grow my business, sacrificing my friendships and relationships to get that work done on time, crying to myself in the office when the pressure gets on top of me and constantly comparing myself to everyone else (also highlight reeling it on instagram) feeling like I’m not reaching my full potential. If only I (and everyone else) had documented these vulnerable moments online, we’d all probably feel a lot differently

  • Vic

    Watching my friends and boyfriend get pay rises, promotions, a trip to America and fulfilment from their jobs while I sit in my pyjamas writing essays at uni gets to me. It makes me feel like a useless, stuck, unproductive member of society. But it has encouraged me to see how being kind, thoughtful and helpful can be just as productive as making a difference through a job and to look for a job I really care about when my essay writing years are over.

  • I believe I’m most envious of having an effortless life. It’s easy to say, ‘I wish I was rich’ or ‘I wish I was thinner’, but in reality, it’s a little deeper than that. Effortless applies to finances, health, career… For instance, while I am envious of people that do not have to check their bank account before any purchase over $100, I am more envious of those women who are so confident at work, that they spent less time formulating a plan to submit a creative idea to a supervisor than actually formulating the creative idea. I find myself spending so much time wondering what my professors and supervisor think about me and my creative ideas, that any praise I receive is often tainted by my wondering about their sincerity.

    I find myself so envious of women who appear effortless. I realize that sometimes that is just a facade, however, I cannot seem to let go of the idea that appearing effortless AND leading an effortless life would be ideal.

  • Here’s a question: I recently found myself envying a friend which put me in a bad mood and I was responding to her pretty negatively. Later on, when I realized it was because I was envious, I apologized for my behavior and explained that it had come out of envy. She was SO. ANGRY. and patronizingly explained how to turn jealousy into happiness for someone else’s success, etc. (which of course IS a good solution.) Was I wrong to tell her I’d been envious? Should I have just kept it to myself until I’d successfully become a higher being devoid of all feelings of jealousy? -signed, Bummed-Out

    • Suzy Lawrence

      Not at all. You we’re acting ugly, felt remorse, and honestly explained the reason for your actions; that’s called self-awareness-out-the-wazoo. Perhaps through your vulnerability with your friend you brought to light a weakness she’s still struggling with, which is why she resorted to inauthentic cliches and eye rolling. I’d use this experience to better prepare yourself for when others come to you with uncomfortable truths (make sure you’re supportive and kind, more cliches! :D), not to second guess your sincere intentions.

  • Adrianna

    I once heard on the Happier podcast to ask yourself whom you envy and why because it can lead to insight you didn’t consider before. For example, one of the hosts realized she wanted to be a TV writer because she was angry that someone she didn’t like got a job in TV.

  • Abby

    I cried in the bathroom today because I found out a coworker is pregnant. Uterus envy, it’s a doozy.

    • Alexis Thomolaris

      See Leandra, you’re not crazy and not alone!!

  • Emily

    Friends getting engaged when I’m nowhere near it – I know I should be happy but I’M JUST A JEALOUS BITCH OK???

    that, and amazing holidays. bore off!

    actually a lot more when i think about it… i’m basically a massive jealous bitch. i do then get to the stage when i’m happy for them, but my initial reaction is PURE JEAL

  • Rheanonn Perez

    “I spent a lot of time in my early twenties playing hide-and-seek with the idea that my life was inadequate.” – omg i’m 22 so you know this is meeeeee.

    i’m currently in an extended version of my gap year lol. instead of going straight to college, i moved to nyc for 3 years. now i’m back at home & saving for traveling before committing to school for 4+ years. a lot of people my age are starting their careers while i’m bagging groceries. yes, i am saving up for trips around the world, but in the months in between it’s easy for me to feel … left behind :/

    i constantly have to remind myself that i’m prioritizing life experiences before a conventional life path; that i am choosing to live my early 20s with very little responsibility and an abundance of freedom. it’s a beautiful time, really. so i should’t taint it with envy 🙂

    • Rheanonn Perez

      also the illustration for this post reminds me of the great gatsby

    • Just had a coaching call about this… Living unconventionally comes at a cost.

      • Rheanonn Perez

        wow thanks, i really like that phrase!! it makes me think that it’s definitely worth the cost. i’d rather be chasing experiences now than trying in the future where i might have a family + a job.

        it also makes me think that “the grass is always greener”, & surely conventional paths comes with their own costs, too? hmmm

      • Anonymous

        “Living unconventionally comes at a cost”…As someone who feels trapped in a life they don’t want and longs for a more unconventional life, this is so intriguing to me. Could you elaborate on the context/discussion surrounding this?

  • Court E. Thompson

    Actors younger than me who somehow found that sweet spot of talent and luck and are already building strong professional careers whereas I’m still happy to be paid nothing just to be cast in a show. At the same time, I’m envious of people who are completely happy to stay in their hometowns, get married, have babies, have a career there and want nothing more than that. I wonder if I would be happier if I were satisfied with that…

  • Grace

    I’m envious of people who have a lot of friends and/or who seem to easily make and maintain a bunch of friendships. I feel like I’m a very low-maintenance friend, in that I don’t need constant attention or contact to maintain my closeness with people I’m friends with and have strong connection to, so I in turn don’t feel an impulse to give my friends a ton of attention when we’re not around each other. I think it makes people think I’m reclusive, aloof, snobby, etc., but I don’t think I’m better than anyone, and I crave attention and love too.

    It’s hard to feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t have a group, and that the people you think of as your closest friends have ten people that they’re closer with than you.

    I this something other girls feel? This feeling of being alone way more than other people are? That friendships don’t come as easily to you as they do for other people?

    • _lauristia

      OMG! OMG! OMG! Just like me, wanna be my friend? Look at my comment!

      • Grace

        🙂 It’s so comforting to know I’m not the only person that feels this way! It’s a feeling that the rest of the world moves through a social plane that’s so much easier and more fluid than the one I’m in. And it’s difficult because it’s so close to being totally normal, but also feels a little off.

        • Sounds like my “I’d love to go hiking with you but won’t discuss my sex life” problem … I also don’t manage to mention weight loss, hair change, new clothes … accurately/every time/the right way, so I lose favor very soon.

          The other thing is, I only need people near me who can stand being quiet when appropriate (for both), meaning they can feel they are special and have no need to blabber into any perceived, non-existing voids …

    • Same here! This just put words on something i havent been able to define for a long time!

    • Holly Laine Mascaro

      Preaching to the choir here, this has recently been a big issue for me. My college friend group has largely splintered and I have retained a few close friends from various phases of life so far but I don’t have these big friend groups that I used to or that I see my own other friends having of their own. Nice to know it’s not just me!

    • B

      Yes! Thanks for putting this into words. It’s nice to know I’m not alone on this one. Do you think this has to do with being an introvert?

  • _lauristia

    I’m a very small circle of friends kinda person, or what I made myself into. So everytime I see a woman hanging out with tons of different kind of friends male and female I cringe, I want that.

    Oh and happy relationships, newborns, weddings, everyting most people my age are doing around love goals and relationships.

    Don’t get me wrong I love to see how people are happy but it reminds me I’m not like them, I do not have a ton of friends neither a significant other.

    Still love my life, so I deleted facebook and instagram for my mind peace.

  • I feel envious of Leandra a lot. Of her career and her freedom and also her confidence to be herself and show herself. And then I read about her struggle to get pregnant and feel a little cray that a stay at home mom is sitting there envying the shit out of her child free life. I think it works that way though, the grass is always greener and chances are someone out there is looking at your highlight reel and envying your life. I love the reminder that deep envy is often your navigation system telling you where you truly want to go. Thank you

  • Suzy Lawrence

    Wow. These comments trigger all the feels. We’re not alone girls, we’re never alone. I love you all.

  • Alexis Thomolaris

    I think I envy those who have always felt secure, whether that be emotionally, financially, physically, etc. I know life has ups and downs, but I always feel like the bad parts have a little extra padding if you’re surrounded by a great group of friends or you’re in good health and great shape, or if you don’t have to worry about coming up with rent for the month. And I feel like it is rare to have all of these things at once, although some do, all the time! I’m envious of those people. I am also weirdly envious of my current state of being as a college student. I have all of the above mentioned right now, I feel secure in all ways but I know I am at risk of losing that security post-grad. Maybe that is why growing up is so scary.

  • Frida

    A few weeks ago I silently started to cry in public transport after watching a girl resting her head on her boyfriend’s shoulder. So triggered… I just crave a relationship so much it’s humiliating.
    love you all by the way

  • Robin

    I envy people who get shit done. I literally go to the library and spend all my time refreshing Instagram and doing ~~the bare minimum~~ to pass my courses and now I’m failing half of them??

    • Robin

      Also lately people have literally been sending me messages that ‘my life looks so great and they are so jealous’ based of my instagram and I hate that. I’m contemplating posting a picture of my essay with a big fat 1 on it that says ‘don’t you feel ashamed handing this in’ when I actually really tried on that one… Should I? Would it be a good thing to consciously post the lows on your high reel insta? Would it make you guys feel better seeing peoples failures? Plz weigh in

      • Bo

        I feel the same way about Instagram. All the photos that ‘lifestyle influencers’ or whatever they are post – nothing is ever negative. Or the closest thing to negative that they ever upload is a photo of some herbal tea on a tray in a bed with organic linen sheets with some comment like “sick day 😷😷😷”. I’m kind of known in my local area for being brazenly honest in person and I try to do the same thing on Instagram but of course I don’t talk about all the negative shit in my life, like my dad’s slowly persistent cancer, my total lack of being able to buy a house until the bottom falls out of the market, things like that. I don’t think I’m doing that to delude people that my life is perfect though – like you, I just have a “chin up” approach to life and never want to appear as a complainer or a negative nancy, especially considering how my life is really quite privileged despite the hardships I mentioned. It’s also a bit of self-preservation; I sort of feel like if I bring up all that stuff to the whole world on social media, then everybody knows about it and it’s sort of infected my whole life then, completely out of my control, you know? It’s a weird feeling.
        Also if I can suggest one thing re your academic trouble – go to course counselling or whatever it’s called in America and ask them to help you get back on track! One of my brother’s friends used to fail all of his classes in his undergraduate degree, like literally all of them, but after he asked for help he got back on track so much he now has a PhD in geology. GO NOW and good luck! And turn your phone off/leave it behind when you go to the library!

        • Robin

          thank you so much for all your advice. Isn’t it amazing how I can just comment and ask and I get answers like this? Love MR love the internet and love you 🙂

  • Lísa Attensperger

    I have a complicated relationship with one of my best friends. In many ways we are very similar and in other ways completely the opposite. I am very envious of how ambitious and outgoing she is, she is so incredibly strong and energetic (what seems to be) all the time! But most of all I envy her courage. But I can choose to let it make me feel worse about myself (which I do sometimes) or let her inspire me to reach my fullest potential. A kick in my lazy butt!

  • Abby Colby

    I’ve always been quite envious of people who have large immediate and extended families. After losing my mom’s two (fabulously hilarious) sisters during my teens then my (even more fabulously hilarious) grandmother in my twenties, I watched our parties and gatherings shrink from large, bustling affairs to quiet dinners of six or seven guests. I sometimes wonder if my memories of romping around with my cousins while our parents played charades upstairs are real — that’s how distant it feels. As an only child, I adored that time. I may have had more attention from my parents, but nothing can replace the bond one shares with a sibling, and my extended family members helped fill the void. Spending time with friend’s families is helpful, but also reminds me of what I can’t get back, which is hard. Hug your sibs, your cousins and even your Trump-supporting Uncle a little closer, fam! Or I will!! (…just kidding, I guess)

  • healthenvy

    I envy people in good health. In the last few years I’ve come down with a chronic condition that’s completely taken over my life––it’s not terminal or anything, but it’s debilitating and shapes lots of my decisions, from the smallest, like what I eat, or whether I can make it to a concert or a birthday party, to the biggest, like where (or if) I can work, and how to navigate my relationship with my boyfriend, which has become an incredibly dependent one.

    Instead of being jealous of people’s careers or relationships or fun-looking nights out, I envy their unthinking ability to devote time to those things without having to worry about being or becoming sick. I’m often too ill to fully do all that I used to. I would kill for a life that didn’t revolve around anticipating and managing physical pain.

    • B

      Lots of love to you 💕💕

  • Holly

    I’m jealous of my best friend, I know it’s childish and toxic but I can’t help it. I’m jealous of her charisma, everyone wants to be her friend, whoever I introduce to her ends up liking her more. I’ve had guys get close to me so they I’d introduce them to her. I’m jealous of how she gets any job she’s interviewed to (specially jobs doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing) whilst I can’t even get past minimum wage. I’m so sorry I feel this way and I’ve been trying to simply be happy for her, and believe my day is yet to come. It’s hard though, I feel like she’s the Serena to my Blair.