If jealousy rears its ugly head, be sure to look at whole picture
Q: My younger sister and I are close, though we weren't always. Recently she started dating a man that she will likely marry. Because of his position and family's connections, she is getting to enjoy exciting, fun events that few people get to participate in. I am beginning to feel the little twinges of jealousy, not because I don't want her doing these things, but because I would love to be enjoying these things with her.
I am hyper-aware of jealousy toward her because she was chronically ill when we were young and didn't excel as I did at school and sports. Consequently, my parents spent a lot more time and energy on her. While the jealousy that stemmed from this is long past, it destroyed our relationship for years. I would never let it get that far, but I don't know how to turn it off.
For what it's worth, I'm pretty satisfied in life overall, but sad that she gets to have all these exciting experiences while I work, sleep, eat, repeat. I don't want to be this jealous person! Is there any magic to fighting off the green-eyed monster? My sister absolutely deserves the best and that includes my attitude toward her.
A: Given your honesty, I wish I had some magic. But what I'm proposing is antimagic: logical thinking.
Longing for something that someone else has — be it the exclusive events your sister now enjoys, or someone's great car or house or job or mate — involves an unconscious bit of truth-doctoring. You witness something desirable, you imagine it as part of your life, and decide, yes, things would be better that way. We're cafeteria thinkers: You're imagining you and your life, plus her perks.
But with reality, we can't pick and choose. To have what your sister has now, you'd need to be your sister. It's not just about her guy and her fabu parties; you'd need to have her childhood, her illness, her overcompensating parents, everything. Good and bad. Every twist in her path brought her here.
So when you feel yourself starting to covet something, force yourself to think bigger. Want your friend's gorgeous house? Sure! But I hope you also want that friend's spouse, family, job, education, politics, faith, appearance, angels, demons, everything, because that's what your friend has.
Chances are, in weighing someone you envy as a whole package deal, you're going to hit something you don't want — or, just something of yours you wouldn't want to give up. Remember, if you really were Brad or Angelina, that means wiping out your loved ones, your childhood, your accomplishments, your finest hours, your first kiss, everything.
You didn't wind up in a "work, sleep, eat, repeat" pattern by accident. You made deliberate moves that took you there, going after some things and avoiding others.
If, upon reflection, the reasoning behind your choices is still sound, then own it — that's your Envy-B-Gone.
And if the reasoning seems faulty now — if you can go through every item in another's life and still think "Yup, rather have that" — then it's time for a ruthless inventory of your options and attitudes, with an eye to judicious change. Even "exciting, fun events" will be hollow if your foundation is hollow, too.