Why Are We Envious?

Firstly, let’s define Envy and Jealousy. Jealousy is different from envy in that envy covets what others have, while jealousy is the fear that what you have, or may have, will be taken away. We view the world as a place where we must fight to get what limited resources there are before they are gone.

We’ve all been there — that insidious purgatory of ill where we are green with envy. Maybe it’s inherent within us or maybe it’s a result of the influences around us. With that thread of thought leading away, let’s look to a Jungian idea for explanation — We are all at war with our own evilness.

It’s true that we have cosseted within the deep and dark recesses of the privacy of our hearts terrible feelings and intentions. I wrote about how we are often the authors of our own destruction. This is largely true. This topic has been discussed over and over again with well-meaning friends until such thoughts have dissolved into bottles of whiskey and arrack throughout the years.

“All of our lives are too unique to copy the path from someone else”.

Master Shi Heng Yi

Surely there’s a salve for this pain we choose to put ourselves through, yes? Maybe the answer lies in knowing ourselves and the way our mind functions so that we can perhaps condition ourselves to react and feel differently. At times you have to wonder if solitude is the ONLY way to know yourself. Other people influence you and shape your character to fit theirs to help their gain. There are very few genuine people in this world but if you find one keep them.

The above paragraph is an attempt at urging you not to keep bad company. Bad company leads to bad habits. Being envious of others may possibly be something that’s learned. Or, could it just be biological?

Envious Hormones

We are animals just like our relatives the chimpanzees — a bundle of neurons, flesh and bone with an ocean of thoughts and emotions stitching our personalities together. Part of such personalities are the cocktail of hormones that make us feel. A new study carried out at the University of Haifa has found that the hormone oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which affects behaviors such as trust, empathy and generosity, also affects opposite behaviors, such as jealousy and gloating.

One or the other

The hormone is an overall trigger for social sentiments: when the person’s association is positive, oxytocin bolsters pro-social behaviors; when the association is negative, the hormone increases negative sentiments.

This possibly could be an avenue to hack your biology so that you come out of this internal battle unscathed. Consider mindful meditation, which would be an excellent antidote to those evil proclivities that stand in deep thought within us.

A Solution

Jordan Peterson has a great solution which is to nurse your feelings of envy to fuel your ambition. This is a thought that speaks volumes. One aspect that he mentions hit a nerve at one instance, and that is that you have no idea of the terrible life the person in the Ferrari is having.

Compare yourself to who and what you were yesterday

Our brains have this insidious way of leading us down to a path of taking actions that could be illustrated as being self-sabotage. Comparing yourself to who you were yesterday is a better stab at maintaining your mental wellness that coveting the materialistic illusion crafted by social media influencers and the like.

Memento Mori

Stoicism probably has an answer when it comes to dealing with envy. I’m sure at one time or the other you would have woken up at some liminal hour wondering — Is there life after death? No one knows the answer while you were probably trying to unravel that tangled skein of confused beaded thoughts.

History unravels the tale of how Roman slaves whispered Memento Mori — remember that you must die — to their commanders en route to war. Who would have thought that one verbal phrase uttered in a quasi-whisper would be a stark reminder that one must not be consumed by hubris, and that one must have your feet firmly on the ground.

I view this Latin phrase as a reminder not to waste time. Why waste time when life is short? Why make it shorter by coveting an imperfect life that is not yours? The Stoics used death as a sort of compass towards life, guiding them towards what really mattered to them. In other words, use this reminder to un-worry about other people’s lives and to start living one that is solely meant to be yours.

Stay Envious

Envy is a complex, socially repugnant emotion made up of a mix of inferiority feelings, hostility, and resentment. Maybe it’s not a bad deal after all — to be envious. There is such a thing called Positive Envy where you can use these feelings of green to better yourself. We humans are complicated entities. While one emotion can lead to a state of disrepair, we could flip that same emotion on its head to achieve something positive, and maybe — spectacular.


A Concept Called Happiness

As someone who is at the tail-end of the millennial generation (as per Nielsen Media Research), I’ve seen my share of colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances succumb to mental illness and/or deaths of despair. And, more often than not, it has to do with this nebulous pursuit of this concept called happiness.

Throughout my life, happiness was always defined with a smile or a laugh. But no one spoke of the demons lurking underneath such cheerfulness. Such were the times that I grew up in that happiness was defined as relief — relief that you didn’t die during an LTTE-inspired bomb blast or a JVP-instigated machete attack.

Happiness was being with family and having enough food to eat. It meant there was a secure household, a roof over your head, and an education that could possibly be a one-way ticket to the West. Why the West? Because the basic necessities were not even present then where I lived. Today, thanks to globalization, more people are dying of obesity than war.

Yet the context has changed today. In the 80s and 90s, we found respite in the arms of the church, and the promise of a better tomorrow, along with the chance that one day Jesus will come, and rapture us to walk on streets of gold. Today, the definition of happiness is one which resides within yourself. Happiness is a biological event, and just like hacking your hormones to ensure productivity, we can hack it with a smile or a Prozac or two.

My conclusion is this — Happiness is a Decision. You see, sometimes we are the authors of our own destruction. We give the devil too much credit for our own mistakes. Don’t listen to, or rather, don’t believe the tyrant in your head. He/she is a false god. For someone who lived a very epicurean life, lived through a war, joblessness, bare minimum in terms of food, there is a certain joy present in the mundane.

Some Definitions of Happiness

I suggest you listen to this great podcast by Dr. Laurie Santos about work and job crafting. Humanity has moved from one context to another. We lived through the agricultural revolution and are now in the technological revolution where our lives are all about swiping right. Today, we are trying to find our life’s meaning in a world inundated with pixels and data bombs. We are searching to fulfill our Self-Actualization Needs.

It’s all about the creative life, yo!

Growing up in my generation, the only two types of needs that were satiated were the Safety and Physiological aspects. They were only partly satisfied what with the issue concerning the social-political upheaval of the time.

Achieve Ikigai: it is your reason for living

Ikigai makes sense to me, and while we were taught that Happiness is equal to your Passion, there is more to the whole idea as well. Carl Jung simplifies the whole concept of happiness, which is shown below, and his list has a great degree of similarity with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Ikigai as well.

  1. Good physical and mental health.
  2. Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
  3. The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
  4. Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
  5. A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.

Following most of the narratives throughout the decades, we were compelled to aim to achieve happiness. Happiness was defined as the perfect marriage, the perfect job, and, it was aligned to success. But, as Jordan Peterson states happiness is rare and rather we should aim to have a meaningful life, and be resilient in the process. There’s happiness also in knowing how to live.

My Conclusion

The Stoics and the Greeks all had their definitions when it comes to this concept called happiness. Every country and its citizens will define happiness differently. Here is mine — My perspective is that happiness is a decision, but it’s an ambitious state of being. Rather what we should aim for is a state that is far easier to achieve, and that is Contentment with a dose of Peace of Mind. It could also be residing in a state of flow. And, you will realize that achieving such a level of bliss is usually just a simple thought that needs to be entertained over a fragrant cuppa Joe.