A few months ago, I reached a breaking point when my disgust with my own personal failures—I’ve never written a book; I don’t have my own podcast; I will never be Lena Dunham—fermented my thoughts into a putrid jealousy that started to rot the insides of my brain.
The foul stench of envy was suffocating me.
Facebook became intolerable. My inadequacies plagued me. Why don’t I have a boyfriend? Why don’t I have a child? Why don’t I have a blossoming mass of Twitter followers to affirm that my opinions matter? These kinds of thoughts bounced around my brain all day long.
I stopped writing. I stopped feeling anything but forced gratitude. And then, to make things even worse, I beat myself up for having these feelings in the first place.
What saved me was stumbling on a Buddhist workshop called “Overcoming Jealousy.” What saved me was listening to a Buddhist monk, clad in a yellow robe, say to the group: “Why do we feel angry when someone else experiences good fortune?”
As he framed it, envy wasn’t something to be ashamed of. It was something to be acknowledged so that we could then throw it away and transform it into love.
I learned this lesson a few months ago, but I still struggle with envy. That’s OK. It’s not the envy that matters, it turns out. It’s our own response to the envy.
At another Dharma talk last night, a Buddhist teacher named Kadam Mortem offered up a quote about how to handle our inner delusions:
Just as a storm has no power to destroy the sky, unpleasant feelings have no power to destroy our mind. —Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Isn’t that beautiful?
A storm cannot destroy the sky. Envy cannot destroy the mind.
We don’t need to identify with the passing clouds of envy, anger, jealousy. There’s a blue sky of love and happiness beneath it.
Here are five quick tips on getting closer to the blue every single day day:
- Stop comparing yourself to other people. Really. When you hear yourself saying something like, “She’s only 25 and has already done X. I’m 55 and haven’t done X,” just stop. You are on your own journey. Life is not a race. Compare you to you. Congratulate yourself for the small victories.
- Get off social media—or cut that shit down. If social media exacerbates jealousies in your life, then stop looking at it. You don’t have to go cold turkey. You also don’t need to have Facebook on your phone. Removing Facebook from my phone means I don’t mindlessly scroll through a feed broadcasting everyone’s best moments. I look at Facebook when I’m in the right frame of mind.
- Cultivate the joy you feel for others’ good fortunes. Even if it’s your first instinct to feel jealous, practice feeling joyful when someone else gets a promotion, gets married, has a baby, does something that initially causes you to feel that tinge of why-not-me-ness. If you have to fake it at first, that’s fine.
- Celebrate your own small victories. I may have mentioned one, two, or two hundred thousand times that I envy other writers. This is because writing is my biggest challenge. In college, I had a boyfriend who was a superb and very fast writer. He’d write a five page paper in the time it took me to write a paragraph. This felt like a cosmic joke then. As it often does now. My gut instinct is to feel terrible that it took me too long to write whatever I’m working on. But then I just have to say to myself: I’m writing. That’s what matters.
- Write fan letters. One of my closest friends is a writer who reveres other writers. If there’s any jealousy attached to that reverence, you wouldn’t know it. She writes a lot of fan letters. I’ve started to do this more often. To sincerely tell people how impressed I am by whatever milestone they’ve reached.