Can I tell you a personal story?
When I was 19 years old, one of my colleagues at the time showed me pictures of his recent trip diving with sharks in Costa Rica. It was fascinating story and even though I was listening with interest, I didn't expect that moment to forever change the course of my life.
And it wasn't even because the story reminded me of how much I love travel and adventure, no, it was somethin else entirely and I knew it. In that moment, I was feeling envy.
I remember coming home that night and talking to my family and friends about it and most of them were uninterested. Their lack of interest made me realize that this idea of underwater adventure was uniquely meaningful to me. I thought back to earlier when my co-worker was relating his story and I felt the same emotion again.
Accessing the power
What I did next was a complete turnaround from my initial reaction - I decided to explore my envy and get to the bottom of it. By processing the powerful emotion of envy, I allowed myself me to learn something valuable I didn't know about my personal aspiration – that I am interested in diving to explore the depths of the sea. The envy and excitement that I felt about diving with sharks intrigued me and motivated me to eventually get my diving license a few months later.
I believe envy is an emotion that can be defined by an internal or external desire. You know that feeling of yearning and craving that you feel when you see something that you want to experience one day? That’s envy. This emotion will fuel your mind with exciting thoughts about the possibilities and opportunities associated with the desired experience, and can drive you to take the necessary actions to fulfill these dreams.
Intensity of emotion matters
I understand that envy has been perceived negatively in our society and is even considered to be a sin to some. While I agree with this somewhat, I want to add that this negative perception of envy has a powerful impact on our mental health. With easy access to the media, glamorous celebrity lifestyles and expectations to conform, the emotion of envy can quickly rise to concerning levels. High levels of envy can lead to maladaptive comparisons and cause anxiety or depressive symptoms. This constant need for something more, whether it’s an experience or a materialistic item, this longing for more can influence our perceived self-worth.
I believe we all experience envy and I want to add that this tricky emotion needs to be addressed and understood in psychology. As a psychotherapist, I strongly believe that all emotions are valid when they are experienced just enough. We know that mental health issues are often amplified by maladaptive expectations and comparisons (our thoughts), which in turn increase the perceived intensity of certain emotions.
The good news is that we can actually learn from our envy instead of letting it get the better of us. First, we need to stop ignoring and criticizing the emotions we feel as this only leads us to repress and misunderstand the messages our bodies are sending our way. Our feelings want to be heard and considered and we can connect with our sense of self, our identity by simply being curious about the experiences we feel. Remember that envy is a powerful emotion that allows us to get to know ourselves so that we can live the lives we truly want to live.
Consistency is key
How often do we really slow down to reflect on our thoughts and feelings? Not often enough. Most of the time our thoughts are disorganized, cluttered with negativity and then repeated. We can always take a few moments of meaningful introspection to break the rumination cycle. Don’t you envy the people who seem to really know what they want in life? The ones with realistic goals and the desire to live their best lives?
If so, I invite you to consider the emotion of envy and reflect on the things that captivate your attention. Look around, be attentive to your environment and notice what you desire. Be curious about yourself and observe the moments where someone or something inspires you. What is your body trying to tell you?
I am ever so thankful that my old self recognized envy at the time. On a typical, simple day I activated a part of my identity that then lead me to travel and dive around the world. I have these cherishes memories and my bucket list grows longer and longer. This envy is fueling part of my life goals and one day I know I will dive with sharks. Envy keeps defining me one experience at a time.