Better than its reputation: what envy can teach us

It is considered one of the seven deadly sins and has a correspondingly bad reputation: envy is not a welcome feeling.

When we are envious, we often feel bad. Not only because we envy someone, but also because we feel guilty for being envious in the first place. As a child, we may even have heard “don’t be envious” more than once.

From an evolutionary biology perspective, envy actually makes a lot of sense.  In earlier times, it was often a matter of life and death if you had less than others.

Yogis and yoginis also know that all feelings have a right to exist and are allowed to exist. Even envy! Because it can teach us important lessons. But which ones? And how can you deal with envy mindfully?

Social media minefield of envy

In the Instagram age, everyone seems to have a great life, high-end furnishings and is constantly on exotic trips around the world. Everyone is slimmer, more beautiful, has more money, more friends, more fun. These false assumptions trigger feelings of envy in many of us.

It is very important to realize how fake the content on social media platforms is. Only very few of us present ourselves overworked, sad or after a defeat. Instead, we share photos in which we look particularly good and talk about our successes. And why not? When consuming social media, just keep reminding yourself that all the beautiful pictures are just snapshots and might be carefully staged.

Positive vs. negative envy

Have you done your best to set yourself apart, but still feel envious? It happens to all of us. But there are two sides to envy.

The dark side of envy makes us resentful. The person we are envious of triggers a strong resentment or anger in us. Being happy for the person and enjoying their success, new car or dream job? No way! This type of envy keeps you trapped in your negative thoughts.

Positive envy, on the other hand, can reveal our true needs. The successes and achievements of others can make us realize “I want that too!” and motivate us to take steps that bring us closer to our goals. If your ambition is fueled by the success of others, this is a positive development, because you are spurred on to take action yourself.

Handling envy in a mindful way

If you have been gripped by envy, you can follow a few guidelines to deal with it mindfully.

1. Don’t suppress it! As I said, every feeling is allowed. Nobody likes to admit to a feeling like envy, as it signals a lack. But come to terms with your feelings and don’t be ashamed of them.

2. Don’t compare! Yes, it is often unavoidable. So often we unconsciously compare ourselves with others, but it doesn’t do us any good at all. So try not to make comparisons if someone around you makes you feel envious.

3. Appreciate what you have! Practice gratitude and constantly remind yourself of what is positive in your life. This will strengthen your satisfaction and self-worth and make you less susceptible to envy.

4. Know your goals! Visualize exactly what your goals are. Then ask yourself: Do I really want this thing or experience? Is it aligned with my goals? Would it help me to have what this person has? If so, how could I achieve it?

5. Question! Why am I envious of this person in particular? Would I want to swap places with this person? Is there perhaps even someone who could be envious of me? If so, of what exactly?

Yoga practice as an anti-envy exercise

Your yoga mat is a good place to learn how to deal with envy in a healthy way. All too often we envy our fellow yogis and yoginis for their strength, their flexibility, their figure, their chic outfit.

If you catch yourself doing this, remind yourself of the previous five points to give your feelings of envy space.

But please only do this after your yoga class – this is your time for yourself. This is a wonderful way to practice turning your focus inwards instead of outwards. If envy is still bothering you after the class, deal with it as described. But who knows? Maybe it will already have disappeared during Savasana 😊

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