Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Best way to stop coveting others' lives: focus on yours
Q: You never seem to have a slow week, but I'm hoping you'll get to my question. How do I force myself to be happy for my friends? They are all buying houses and taking fabulous vacations, while I am stuck in a studio apartment with no savings and years of student loans. I feel so jealous and angry that I can't fake happiness for them and my only proposed solution is to avoid them until I feel better.
And no, trying to be grateful for what little I do have has not helped me.
Helpless in Seattle
Carolyn: It needs to be a slow week for your question to matter? Are you always this quick to negate your own significance?
Yours is a legitimate problem, no less worthy than the others that appear here regularly.
One reason is its prevalence: There's always someone who goes home to a better house in a better car. Another reason is the impact: People who envy peers start to doubt themselves, which drains them of the resource they need most (a sense of self-worth), which then leads to reading random ups and downs as part of some cosmic conspiracy against them, which fuels the cycle of envy, anger and self-loathing.
There are ways out — but not by forcing yourself to love your apartment. It has to be through what you do. Such as, be an excellent friend/sibling/child/auntie/uncle, or a hardworking employee, a dedicated and compassionate volunteer, a nurturing pet owner, a fierce teammate, an uninhibited playmate/singer/dancer/artist, an insatiable reader, a generous host or cook — whatever taps into your best — then be proud and grateful you're this way.
When you love your contribution, that's when you're able to say, "Yeah, nice house, but would I give up who I am to have it? No." The fab house would require different choices, after all, and different choices would have created a different you.
Reaffirming your choices inoculates you against envy. Is it perfect, no — you'll still gawk at a friend's palace — but it'll be a fleeting, not chronic, annoyance.
Anonymous: You're not alone! For nearly a decade I felt like I was barely treading water while my friends were off living fabulous lives. I resented them. How I dealt with it: I just forced myself to focus on me. I focused on getting out of debt, trying to earn more money, etc. I did avoid some of these friends. I just said it wasn't personal, I needed time alone.
Some interesting things happened. That great big house my friend owned? Foreclosure. That luxury car? Leased or eight-year car loan. Overseas vacation? Maxed-out credit cards. That six-figure job? My friend got laid off. One friend actually told me he wished he had my life.
You just don't know what goes on in other people's lives ... you have to focus on yours. So that's what I did. When you set and achieve smaller goals, it makes you feel more optimistic. I won't lie — it took me a lot of time, but eventually I got to a less envious/resentful place.
Carolyn: Love this, thanks. Sometimes the luxury car is actually paid for, but your answer still applies: Set meaningful goals, work toward them, derive satisfaction accordingly.