In my previous post on the complicated subject matter of envy, I discussed that despite the negativity that envy brings, there is a positive side of envy that inspires us to improve ourselves. There is a meaningful purpose behind envy and if we come to terms with those emotions, we are able to make better sense of why we feel the way we do and consider the important steps we need to take in order to better our own situation. Falling into malicious envy causes far more damage, not only to the person you are envious of, but to yourself and others around you. Even so, I described my own experience with envy, what it was trying to teach me about myself and from then on, I'd take into account the areas I struggle most for my personal development. In that post, I also covered why attempting to ignore those emotions will cause you more harm than good as denying what you feel will continue to emerge in some form or another. Thus the important role envy plays in our lives goes far beyond self improvement in the physical world, but even more so spiritually, which I will delve into in Part 2.
I ended Part 1 with a link to an interview with Embracing Envy author and psychologist Josh Gressel on Business Innovators Radio Network with host, Mike Saunders in which there is talk about living for something greater than yourself, a recurring theme that will come up many times here. There are some brilliant insights brought up in this interview that can and should be taken into account, not only in regards to envy, but in our daily lives in general. Early in the interview, the interviewer and the interviewee discuss self improvement. Gressel describes his experience working with his clients, who appear to have adopted the widely accepted notion that at a certain age, you stop growing and that there's nothing else to learn. In Gressel's line of work, he debunks that mind set by indicating that as people get older, they can still keep learning and growing until death. Those who slip into the mindset of the former end up finding themselves bored in life. On 3:17 into the video, Gressel's observation goes as follows:
"I think for me when I'm working with people is so often people are indoctrinated in a way of thinking that you know you reach a particular age and that's it. You're all grown up. And it's really trying to help them unlearn that programming or that socialization. Sometimes I think it's also a lack of role models...How often do you see somebody who continues growing up until the day they die?...[T]hat's why we're given a lifetime is to make use of it. It's not to retire at the age of 25 into the routines that we've established for ourselves, but...there's so much to us. We are really truly infinite and if you, not only believe in it, but if you have that experience...They talk about the metaphor that's frequently used, peeling back the layers of the onion. There's one more layer and one more layer and one more layer to go and you never stop...I can't imagine being bored in life. When I hear somebody say 'I'm just bored', I'm shocked! How could you possibly be bored? It just means you're stuck."
Mike Saunders adds to Josh Gressel's insights by describing a time when he was talking to a woman about the word, intimacy. The way she said the word, 'intimacy' prompted Saunders to reconstruct it into the three separate words, 'into' 'me' 'see'. He highlights that "[Gressel] as a psychologist working with clients, [he] need[s] to see into [his] clients and help them to see into themselves, into me see". Thus, his response to Gressel's question over how can anybody find themselves bored in life is from his own observations:
"The problem is they stay looking at themselves and it becomes this selfish thing of 'what's in it for me?' and not looking at 'how can I contribute to the world?' or 'how can I break out of this rut that I'm in?' and you think of some of the people you know in certain economic classes that you go 'wow! Their grandfather was the same way their father was'. What makes that person break out of that realm and many times, it is someone in their life that speaks into their life positive or encouragement or motivates them."
Mike Saunders then uses motivational speaker, Les Brown as an example of someone who needed someone to see him for who he truly is and who he can become and eventually, he reached his full potential. The point is that what breeds a selfish mindset is the mentality that whenever we set our minds on our own self-indulgence, we see no reason to contribute to the world. Our value is reduced solely to our own pleasures rather than seeking ways to reach our full potentials. Therefore, we diminish our own self-worth. If we limit our learning capabilities to a certain amount, never leaving room for personal growth, we find ourselves less challenged and more disenchanted with life. We then keep chasing one temporary high after another and are never satisfied with anything. Having someone to see us for who we can aspire to become and that we can be more than what we limit ourselves to can make a huge impact on our faith in ourselves and our desire to keep learning. It could be a mentor, a teammate, a co-worker, a teacher, a counselor. Just anyone can make a positive impact in our lives that inspires us to be better. As Gressel adds "we are not the center of the universe. We need to be living for something greater than ourselves and...somebody who really is just in it for 'my own pleasure', 'my own this', 'my own that', if that's your sole focus, you're going to be very unhappy and you're going to end up being bored...Is that all there is?" He then responds to the second question Saunders raised by saying that "we need another person to see us for us to be able to see ourselves". It's one thing for us to hope we are putting our best foot forward, but when somebody reminds us of how well we put our best efforts on the table and that we truly draw our audience in, it makes a whole world of difference. We feel more motivated to, not only keep doing what we are doing, but we have a desire to continue learning, further develop our craft and deepen our knowledge. If we don't garner that mindset that learning is endless, you will find yourself in a rut that becomes an endless cycle. Even so, there is also mention about stepping out of your own little world and reaching out to others as well as having expectations that everyone is capable of something because it's a sign of respect for others.
On the main topic, envy and Josh Gressel's book, Embracing Envy: Finding the Spiritual Treasure in Our Most Shameful Emotion, Mike Saunders asks how Gressel got around to writing about the subject matter as it's "not a very glitzy topic". After a chuckle, Gressel described his own experience with envy and his shame of feeling the emotion. Of course, he knew that to an extent, feeling envious of people who were writing books was an indicator that he, too wanted (and felt the need) to write a book himself. Also, there isn't much written about envy on a meaningful level. Typically whenever envy is ever touched upon, either it's academically examined or that it's written about from a moralistic perspective. The goal Gressel set out in writing Embracing Envy is to further deepen the questions and provide the reader with those tools to self reflect "that envy is not a sign there's something wrong with you. Envy is a sign there's something right with you that you're not claiming". Despite the negative press attached to the emotion due to it being among the Seven Deadly Sins, envy is all good if you are kind to yourself. If you feel shame for it, take the time to learn from your envy.
On a spiritual level and going back to what was discussed early on, we are aware that we are blessed with unique gifts, yet we still feel envious. Why is that? Gressel uses one of his patients whom refers to as 'Bob' as an example. Bob is an acupuncturist with a special approach to his profession. He found himself being envious of famous people, but didn't understand why. When he started asking himself the harder questions, he realized that it wasn't so much about the object of envy itself. It was what the object of envy was pointing him to. In other words, it wasn't about wanting to achieve fame, but for this acupuncturist to be more present in his line of work. The less he was out promoting his uniqueness to his clients, the more it felt like he was depriving them of what he had to offer. It wasn't about garnering more customers. It was about being the person who God needs him to be.
We realize we have talents and we know that the more we continue to hone them, the better we are at the skill. The less we spend doing so, we never improve. Thus, we find ourselves stuck in the rut, going nowhere. Once we learn about our talents, find away to improve them to reach full potential and bring those talents out into the world, we learn more about what we have to offer and discover our true identity. Going back to the idea that we need to be living for something greater than ourselves, there is a reason why we are given talents and that reasoning is that that's who God needs us to be. To elaborate on this point, Josh Gressel delves into it in full detail on Chapter Ten: Envy through a Religious Prism, to which he writes:
"Envy suggests that we are somehow not pleased with how God has created us...It's as if we're saying, "You made a mistake with me. Give me other things--like You gave him or her--so that I will be the way I should be".
Implicit in this is a hubris that we know how things should be; that God's manifestation is limited to that which we admire or envy. If we are truly enveloped in a spiritual way of looking at ourselves and the world around us, we will understand that the surface manifestation--material reality--is but a small fraction of the total picture, and we are usually blind to the enormity of what lies behind it" (Gressel 110-111).
In this context, Gressel is referring to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, the sons of the first humans, Adam and Eve, which is found in the Old Testament (Genesis 4:1—16). Like Cain feeling inferior to Abel when God favors his brother's offering to Him over his, we feel a twinge of discomfort when one is favored over us. Gressel points out that Cain's punishment from God is not because of his envy, but it's how he chose to react to his envy, which was that he killed Abel. God grants human beings free will and in the story of Cain and Abel, Cain had a choice to make when he felt envious of his brother. He could have used it to better himself and see the bigger picture that God had a different plan for him than the one He had for Abel, but instead, he chose murder. Gressel writes in regard to Cain's story as follows:
"If we stop a moment and think of all the examples with which we're familiar from in our life, or from that of public figures whose poisonous rivalries make up the nightly news, isn't this warning borne out in reality? Have we ever known anyone to find a life of happiness through acting out her envy on a rival?" (111).
Because we as a species have free will, we have a choice to focus on self-improvement or bring out the worst in ourselves in response to our envy. Upon choosing the latter, we end up causing more harm, not only to the envied person, but to others around us and even our own well-being. If we choose the former, we walk down a path of self-discovery and growth. We start to discover who we truly are and what we are capable of becoming. There is nothing wrong with us wanting to uncover what we know we are most capable of doing and seeing someone in a similar position that we aspire to be in is fine as long as we put things in perspective. What was meant for one, might not necessarily be the ideal thing for someone else. The other person's success can inspire others to do better, but at the end of the day, we all need to forge our own path the way God has planned it uniquely for each of us. Josh Gressel adds "[t]here is something innately altruistic about this urge to share a part of ourselves with the world. It is also an act of generosity: to want to be of service, to want to offer a service, to want to give of ourselves" (111).
The more we learn about ourselves, the more we have that desire to contribute to the world because we know we have something that will speak volumes to others. The unique ability to create and produce contributes a great deal meaning we have in our lives and to the world around us. Others are able to see us for who we truly are and can become, so we go out of our way to bring out our best selves. To conclude the sub-topic, he highlights the most important point of view in his analysis:
"Finally, this biblical tale might help us understand that, when properly aligned, the doing will be its own reward. When we are more aligned with our true nature, the service is the primary thing. The acceptance is still lovely, but secondary ("For whether you offer well, or whether you do not"). Staying focused on doing it for God, for something larger than ourselves rather than for our own gratification, keeps us in this correct balance" (112).
This ties so well with the discussion in the Business Innovators Radio Network. Upon putting into perspective that you have a talent that needs to be nurtured and it should be put into use that is greater than yourself, the more fruitful your growth journey will be. The end results are secondary to what your main goal is. If you are improving yourself for the right reason, which is that you know your were blessed with your gifts for a reason, you will find more fulfillment. As I mentioned in Part 1 about my own envy, I don't really want what the young indie game developer has. The reason I'm envious of him isn't so much about his success itself, but what seeing someone like him be successful in his early 20's means to me. What I really want is to continue illustrating graphic novels and teach art and therefore I know what steps I need to take in order to achieve my goals. Success is desirable, but it's more about what I have to offer and how can I contribute to the world that matters in the end. The thing to keep in mind is that the thing I envy about him is something of the world as well as what I hope to accomplish. However, it's important to remember that while we are living on the earth, we are not of the earth. It's what we contribute during our lifetime and letting the spiritual guide our motivations and ambitions. Gressel writes:
"The truly spiritual intrinsically conveys within it an experience of plentitude and generosity, and we pick this up automatically on some level. When the spiritual is mixed with our more earthly passions—whether they be for prestige, possessions, or some other material prop to our being—we also respond instinctively by recoiling, envying, competing or experiencing some other earthly passion" (120).
This goes to show that envy occurs naturally and because we always hope to aspire to reach our full potential, inevitably we are going to glance at what someone else is doing to achieve a high goal we hope to achieve ourselves. So long as we remember what the object of envy gained is not what was meant for us and that no one is the center of the universe, envy has a significant purpose. If we have that desire to continue developing ourselves upon letting our curiosity of our envy be explored, we start to gradually discover our own path to get to know our true selves better and what we have to contribute. When all is said and done, the positive side of envy takes us from our myopic perspectives to show us the greater image of who we are as a whole, which is what God created you to be. I'll end this post with a link to another interview with Josh Gressel from Savvy Broadcasting. Again, he brings up his mantra around 13:50, "envy is not a sign that there's something wrong with you. It's a sign that there's something right with you that you're not claiming. Trust that!" Also, he adds that "[w]e are not defective human beings. We don't feel those things unless there's a reason for it". If we allow ourselves a deep understanding behind our envy and that there's a reason why it exists, the better we understand that deeper purpose we were missing all along.
When we think of envy, typically what comes to mind is that it's one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It's an unpleasant emotion that occurs when we see others in the position, place or social status we aspire to be on par with, but yet we find ourselves below the person in those areas. Envy is also a ubiquitous emotion, commonly arising in one form or another in our everyday circles, whether we ourselves are conscious of it or not. At first glance, it seems like we should try to suppress it and do our best not to feel it, but no matter how much we try, envy continues to appear. If you feel envious of someone, there might be an important meaning behind it than you realize and instead of feeling guilty about it, taking the time to learn about your envy can eventually lessen those unpleasant emotions and inspire you to engage in proactive behavior, growth and personal development. According to Josh Gressel in his book Embracing Envy: Finding the Spiritual Treasure in Our Most Shameful Emotion, he writes in the introduction that he is "of the opinion that God did not make any one of us defective or inferior nor are any of the emotions with which we grapple defective or inferior. This means that envy, while shameful and shunned, is every bit as much a part of God's plan as joy, gratitude, anger, or hatred. Yet how can we uncover its part in creation if we won't look at it, explore it and feel it?" (Gressel, page 2). If anything, envy is felt because there is a greater purpose for it than we realize. The problem is that because it's such an uncomfortable subject, we avoid it at all cost, exacerbating the problem even further. In this post, I'm going to discuss my own experience with envy and my main takeaways from the subject matter so far and in Part 2, discuss ways to make peace with the emotion on the spiritual level.
Before we begin, I'll start by clarifying that the words envy and jealousy tend to get used interchangeably many times in the English language, but they actually aren't synonyms. Jealousy is the emotion in which you want to protect what is rightfully yours, which is less shameful than envy. You go to great lengths to secure what you've already earned. Envy on the other hand is when you look at another person's gain in contrast to where you are lacking. Openly admitting that you feel that way sends the message that you feel inferior to the other person in some form or another. For example, if you say, "I'm envious of Jimmy's ability to play chess" or "Andrea's skill to market and sell", what you are really saying is that you know you are lacking where you feel like you need to improve most. Seeing others successful and feeling a tinge of discomfort is neither good nor bad, but it's how you choose to respond to your current situation that makes all the difference. Thus comes the two sides of envy, benign and malicious envy, benign envy, being constructive in which you spend time improving yourself and your skills to get to where you need to be and malicious envy is where you try to bring the other person a peg down. Of course, choosing the latter yields to causing harm not only to the person you envy, but to others around you including yourself. You gain nothing out of it, whereas benign envy encourages proactive change and the right mindset for you to grow and reach your full potential. The YouTube channel, Psych2Go has a deftly made interview with psychology professor, David Ludden on the topic. Their video, What is the Psychology of Envy? [Interview] delves into the concept of envy thoroughly and thoughtfully gets the viewer to ask themselves the right questions, reframing and taking on a neutral view on the concept of envy. (I will discuss a point brought up in the video later in this post).
To answer the question asked at the end of the video and to describe my own experience feeling envy, positive or negative, I'll start my story off with a similar goal to that of Josh Gressel's when penning his book, Embracing Envy. I'm not going to conclude with any one definitive answer, since no two people's experience with something is ever exactly the same, but rather I too, want to go through this post deepening and furthering questions. The way I see envy is that it's a learning process that if approached constructively, will contribute to our growth. I started to feel envious of someone who I never even met, but he and I went to school in the same area around the same time. Although we've never met, I have met friends and acquaintances of this person. He went onto create an rpg (role playing game) video game that became massively successful a few years ago and while I didn't think much of his success at first, the more people talked about this kid and boasted about his game, the more I started to feel myself cringe. I can easily say without hesitation that I quite liked what he made. It may not have been the best game I've ever played, but I was impressed with his ability to bring life to very simplistic characters, collaborate where he needed an extra set of hands, and especially compose all of the music. And yet, that uncomfortable feeling of cringe started to hang at the back of my mind. What made my feelings even more strange was that he is an indie game developer and the area I aspire to be in is comics/illustration.
Upon fully accepting and owning up to those sentiments, I finally began to ask myself why am I envious of him? I'm not interested in pursuing game development, so why am I envious of someone who is pursuing something seemingly different than what I'm doing? Thus my main takeaways start to come to mind. First, I needed to take a step back and reevaluate my situation compared to his. One of my main weaknesses was that I was very disorganized when it came to setting up goals for projects that I hoped to accomplish. I piled up a slew of projects I wanted to get done, but found myself spreading myself too thin whereas this developer had his mind on one project and that one project alone until he finally completed it. Another thing is that we tend to envy those who are similar to us in some capacity and are geographically close to us. Like this young developer, we have animators, comic artists and musicians as connections and, as I mentioned earlier, we attended school in the same area around the same time. To top it all off, we both live in the same town and I've met people who know someone who knows him or know him. Last, but not least, this part goes without saying, but I feel that the most important root of my envy was that he seemed to have had everything in his life all figured out in his early 20's than I did.
Although I don't know how other people respond to their own feelings of envy, I think we all have our own approaches to learn from it upon thoughtful self-reflection. Upon embracing the emotion, there are a variety of ways to improve your situation and loosen the grip envy has on your life. One path I took after accessing my situation was that I not only started setting long term goals for myself, but I started narrowing specific goals. I now ask myself 'what do I hope to accomplish by such and such a day?' and stick to the project without letting myself get distracted by the other ideas I have in mind. Finish what I set out to do now and prepare the next one afterwards. Currently, it's the Pascal and the Timeless Hotel remake that has been on the forefront of my other projects. At the time of this writing, it's now 95% completed. Finding my target market and exclusively centering my entire focus is another component to lessening envy. The main reason I was scattered around the way I was had every bit to do with me trying to get too ambitious, yet never specifying who my audience is. I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but did I want to be an animator, graphic novelist, game developer or musician? The problem was that I wanted to be innovative, so I put all my focus on being innovative, but never found the right approach to do so all because I never really specified my main medium. In the end, I learned I had to stick to one medium, continue developing the skills in that specific medium and thus, innovation starts to take shape. I chose to stick to making graphic novels primarily, but rather than letting myself get caught up in other forms of media to incorporate into my books, I should practice the techniques of making a basic comic. From there, once I had my rock to stand on, innovation can flourish. I can experiment with other artistic techniques as long as they are still within the realm of my medium and my target market, which are people who read graphic novels.
This is a lesson I've learned from taking Moore Art School founder, Rod Moore's Udemy online course on starting a business teaching art, and of any skill I feel I need to practice the most is identifying my role easily or what they call the elevator pitch. The lesson reminded me of an article I found on Your Tango, entitled Stop Feeling Envy & Focus on Yourself With These 3 Steps Instead by Jane Evans. The second step Evans discusses upon examination of the root of your envy is to '[d]efine your aspirations', in which she poses the questions, "[w]hat aspects of your personal and professional life do you feel that you lack? What dreams, wishes, aspirations, and goals did you leave behind?" She concludes this step by reiterating the main point and encourages the reader to write down their aspirations "so that [the reader] can think about them proactively" in order to "make some meaningful changes". Although Rod Moore's lesson seems unrelated to the suggestion made by Jane Evans, from my end of things, being able to identify your goals effectively has a huge impact on how you feel about yourself and the progress you're making. If you find yourself stuck trying to identify what direction you're heading, you don't have a specific goal to serve as a blueprint for your foundation and you find your brain is scattered all over the place, that you never get anything done and, worse yet, your audience is left confused. As a result, you might find yourself abandoning everything you set out to do as was the case with me. Being scattered was one of the main factors that weighed into the roots of my own envy, if not thee main factor.
Maybe what worked for me might not be the right answer for other people in a similar situation. Nevertheless, there are many ways to respond to envy appropriately. Thus I'll describe some additional takeaways. The short answer I found that the best way to mitigate envy is by accessing your situation and also asking yourself not 'how could I be envious of anyone', but rather 'why am I envious?', examine what lead up to the envious sentiments, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and build your plan to improve yourself. As stated by David Ludden in the Psych2Go video, "emotions provide us with information about our current situation and motivation to do something" and the role envy takes is to "provide us with the information about our status and the social structure". When on the topic of mindfulness, Ludden makes the point that some may feel a twinge of envy if they see others in the position they wished to be in, "but if you're aware of your habits, you can change them. This is especially true when you understand you can turn your negative envy into a positive motivation to improve yourself...[I]f we give into negative envy, it draws us into a vicious cycle that can be hard to escape". At the end of the day, you yourself have more control over your envy than your envy has over you if you mindfully reflect. The worst that you can do is succumb to bad habits, which potentially lead to the dark side of envy. There's more to add to the discussion of envy, plus the most important question worth exploring, 'how does spiritually play a role in it?, all of which I'll cover in Part 2. I'll end the post by leaving a link to an interview with Josh Gressel on Business Innovators Radio Network, in which both the interviewer and the interviewee himself touch upon some valid points I want to delve into in the next blog. Until then, stay safe, everyone. God Bless!
Ever (re)discovered new facts about any art form or part of pop culture that you thought you knew before and realized there might be more to the story than what meets the eye? The Blog section debunks common expectations and assumptions in the art world.