Keeping Envy and Jealousy Under Control

When someone gets a raise or a special perk, can you say congratulations and mean it? Or do you fume inside and think, "That really should have been me?"

Feelings of resentment at another’s good fortune have been around a long time. These feelings commonly take two forms:

  • Envy. This happens when someone has a thing or benefit you want for yourself. For example, bigger office, a larger paycheck, or a special privilege.

  • Jealousy. This happens when you desire a relationship. For example, you might feel jealous if your supervisor and co-worker are lunch buddies and leave you behind.

Both envy and jealously are fanned by the perception that the "winner" had an unfair advantage. Jealous or envious people find themselves constantly thinking about the situation, wondering when their "turn" at recognition is going to come.

In small doses, these emotions can be motivating. When someone else has what you want, this increases your determination to get it. Some business models even encourage these feelings to create a more competitive environment.

Controlling your feelings

However, when envy and jealousy get out of control, they can be very damaging to people and organizations. Plotting to "get even" with someone who just got a new title, for example, probably won't change the situation. But it could make life in the office very unpleasant for you and everyone else.

In the same way, someone who decided to get back at the organization by coming in late or doing a less effective job would probably find it harder to get a promotion in the future.

Envy and jealousy also add to stress and anger which are closely tied to several illnesses. Anger has been shown to be a risk factor for heart disease. Also, long-term stress harms the immune system and has been linked with some forms of cancer.

Focus on you

Negative emotions can wear you out, causing you to lose your focus on your goals. Rather than thinking about the situation, take control by making your choices about what you want in your life and career. Set your personal goals, based on what you value the most. Decide on issues such as work status, how many hours you are willing to work, or commute time away from home.

Here are some steps to help you manage these emotions:

  • Use "decision language." Instead of seeing yourself as the victim, describe the situation in words that put you in charge. Instead of saying, "I got shafted," say, "What can I do next time to better myself in order to have an equal opportunity for the promotion?"

  • Focus on the positive. Make a list of the positive things you've achieved in your work and in the rest of your life. Is it possible other people are envious of you?

  • Level the playing field. Envy and jealousy increase when office politics take the place of clear rules for success.

  • Choose a less stressful lifestyle. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help you get a grip on feelings of anger and frustration. Also look at ways to manage or reduce other areas of stress. Could you make a long commute less stressful by taking public transportation?

Talk with someone about how your perception of unfairness is making you feel. A therapist or counselor can help you sort out these feelings, and help you concentrate on the direction you are choosing for your life. Once you get the confidence to move forward with your own goals, you will most likely be less worried about what is happening with someone else.

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