10 Steps to Overcoming Envy
Abu Huraryah (ra) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “When one of you sees someone who has been blessed more than him in money or appearance, then let him look at someone lesser than him, whom he has been preferred over.” (Bukhari)
What is Envy?
Envy is a puzzling and complex emotion. In Christianity, it is known as one of the “Seven Deadly Sins”. In Islam, there is hasad (destructive jealousy) where the envier wishes evil for others and to be happy when misfortune befalls them. Ghibtah, however, is envy that is free from malice, meaning the envier neither wants the loss of the blessing nor hating for it to remain with the person, but desiring the same for oneself without the removal of the blessing from others. Envy is not a respected emotion in religion, philosophy, or psychology, yet many of us are suffering from it more and more in a world that forces us to compare ourselves to others. On Facebook we are forced to look into the lives of others and wonder if our life compares as well. In magazines and talk shows, we are forced to look into the lives of celebrities, which leaves us wondering about our own lives. Are we thin enough, pretty enough, successful enough, etc? Even if we try and protect our home environment from being invaded by such images, we are bombarded with them each time we go to the grocery store and see magazine covers promoting the lifestyles of the rich and famous; drive through the town or freeways and see billboards with images promoting plastic surgery; or listen to the radio and hear advertisements for various products that will make us prettier, richer and thinner. Young children as a result are starting to worry about their weight and appearance at ages as young as 4-5 years old. This is worrisome to say the least.
“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself”. Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”
How Envy Can Destroy Our Lives
“Envy is a propensity to view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one’s own. [It is] a reluctance to see our own well being overshadowed by another’s because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well being but how it compares with that of others. [Envy] aims, at least in terms of one’s wishes, at destroying others’ good fortune”. (Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals 6:459).
Envy and jealousy are often used interchangeably but they are separate and distinct emotions. Envy is centrally focused on the competition with another. You can channel the desire for competition into something more productive rather than destructive.
10 Steps to Overcome Envy
- Stop the comparisons!
If you find yourself stalking your friends on Facebook or comparing yourself to celebrities, catch yourself and STOP IT! Come up with an affirmation to soothe yourself such as “I feel blessed with all that I have been given.” Giving thanks to Allah for all that has been bestowed upon you takes your focus on what you don’t have and brings it back to all that you do have. Make gratitude a regular part of your day. For 30 days, write down three different things you are grateful for at the end of each day. Volunteering at a homeless shelter for one day is also a great way to recognize your blessings.
2. Increase your knowledge.
Many of us envy others, whether our Facebook friends or celebrities, without having full knowledge of their lives.
“Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” –American Indian proverb
When we compare our lives to others, we don’t take into consideration the whole picture. Several examples come to mind that involve celebrities. Whitney Houston, for example, had at one point what was considered by many to be a charmed life. She was beautiful, successful, and filthy rich yet she was haunted by the demons of not being good enough and struggled to be happy without the use of illicit substances. Demi Moore graced the covers of magazines for years as having it all, including a much younger man. She was beautiful, successful, and appeared as if she discovered the fountain of youth but in the recent weeks we’ve had a glimpse of the other side of her not so glamorous life. She is currently in rehab due to her various addictions. I recall for years magazines would applaud her amazingly fit physique yet we were never privy to what Demi had to put herself through to get that physique. Many celebrities fear aging and gaining weight so much, they deprive themselves of nourishing sustenance in order to maintain relevant and remain in the public eye. If we knew all this about our favorite envied individual, would we still want to have that life? Would it not make our life seem more stable by comparison?
3. Recognize and embrace your own individuality.
We need to learn to appreciate our differences, within ourselves and with others. We may envy the lives of others but if it were given to us, we may actually wish for our own life back!
Embrace what makes you unique and what’s different about you. What you consider a flaw in you might actually be what makes you unique and special. Barbara Streisand was pressured for years to get a nose job and she refused, now her facial profile is iconic. Cindy Crawford refused to remove the mole on her face and it set her apart from other super models.
“It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, than you are indeed a man of true wisdom.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
4. Recognize that the success of others DOES NOT take way from your own!
Be happy for the success and happiness of others and remind yourself it does not take anything away from you. You create your own path and you are responsible for your successes and failures. There is more than enough to go around. You do not need to trample over others to get what you deserve.
5. Learn from the envied: “Don’t hate, appreciate and emulate!”
Learn from those you envy. You do not need to have all that they have but maybe you can learn from them. If you envy a friend for their success or happiness, you can ask them their “secret.” This can deepen your friendship rather than drive the wedge of resentment and envy further. If you envy a celebrity, learn from what they are doing right. Are they eating healthy and exercising? You can emulate some of the positive traits and apply them to your life. Do they look young because they take care of their skin? You can learn from their techniques.
6. Find out what you can do better, how you can be better!
Envy is a non-productive and energy zapping emotion. You can instead channel your energy towards making yourself better. Do you envy how creative or talented your friend is? Explore your own creativity or talents by taking classes and experimenting with various projects. Is your friend adventurous and you wished you traveled more? Start saving up for that trip you’ve been wanting to take. Rather than stand by and hope great things will happen to you, make things happen.
“Thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be.”
– Henry David Thoreau
7. Work within your limitations.
Understand what is possible and accept what isn’t. If you’ve always wanted to jump out of a plane but are terrified of heights, how can you achieve the sensation without having to actually jump out of a plane? Would riding a scary roller coaster be sufficient? Would taking a helicopter ride be equivalent? Work within your limitations and use them to bust through the mental barriers you have set up for yourself. You don’t have to have everything in place to make your dreams a reality. Set your intentions and you’ll be amazed how things fall into place after that. It might take years but once it happens, you’ll realize it happened at just the right time!
8. Keep your focus on your goals.
You must first have goals in order to stay focused on them. Your goals don’t have to be major accomplishments. They can start small and lead to bigger goals. If you want to lose weight, get healthy, become wealthy, go on vacation, etc., start off with writing a goal. Start with short term goals such as exercise for 20 minutes daily, eat more home made meals, and save up a $1 a day. Then envision and write down your long-term goals such as lose 20 lbs. in 6 months, reduce need for medication, have $20,000 in bank account, and go to Bora Bora by the summer. Keep the focus of your goals on increasing your happiness and making you a better person rather than impressing others. Do things because you want to feel good not because you feel bad about your life.
9. Be happy for the envied and genuinely mean it.
Being happy for others makes you feel happier inside. Envy takes our focus away from the connection we all have to each other. We envy others because we don’t feel good about our own lives. Instead of allowing envy to erode your self-esteem, boost your self-esteem by remembering what makes you special. Focusing on your positives will make you notice the positives in others.
“The supplication of a Muslim for his brother in his absence will certainly be answered. Everytime he makes a supplication for good for his brother, the angel appointed for this particular task says: `Ameen! May it be for you, too’.” (Muslim).
10. Be the best that you can be.
Focus on an area of your life that needs improving, whether it’s to become a better person, gossip less, give more, take more time for yourself, get a makeover, get a massage, or learn a new skill. When you feel good about yourself, it’s easier to be good to those around you. Confidence and self-esteem are at the core of success and happiness. Work on improving and increasing your self-esteem and self-confidence.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The deeds of anyone of you will not save you from the Fire.” They said, “Even you, [will not be saved by your deeds] O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “No, even I [will not be saved] unless and until Allah bestows His Mercy on me. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target.” (Bukhari)
Dr. Nafisa Sekandari is the director and founder of Mental Health 4 Muslims.com. Dr. Sekandari is currently licensed and practicing in California and Arizona. Dr. Sekandari is also the current founder and director of MH4M Counseling and Education Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Additionally, Dr. Sekandari is a published author and lecturer.
Hosai Mojaddidi is the co-founder and past editor of MH4M. She has been actively involved with the Muslim community in the San Francisco Bay Area and the southern California community for nearly 15 years. Additionally, Sr. Hosai is a published author and lecturer.