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End that Toxic Envy

You might not even think you’re an envious person, but it can be more insidious than you think. It’s when you compare yourself unfavorably to other people–your friends, your Facebook “friends”, celebrities and other media personalities. It’s when you assume that other people have what would make you happy. It’s when you decide that they’re greater, and you’re less than.

How can you start to value yourself more fully? Do you really know what makes you happy, or is all the envy misplaced? Here are some questions to ask yourself so you can stop looking to others and instead, figure out what you really love in your own life (and might already have.)1) Do you REALLY want what they have, or do you just think you should?

Sometimes we see that other people are running marathons, or traveling, or learning a new language. We see all the fun and/or enriching things they’re doing on Facebook and think, Now that’s the way to live. What am I doing with my life?

Recognize that there is no right way to live.  If you haven’t been running marathons, traveling, or learning Swahili, maybe it’s because that’s not what genuinely interests you.

“Shoulds” will take the joy right out of life. Do your best to banish the word from your vocabulary.

2)  What DOES actually interest you? Are you pursuing it?

It’s possible that what you really envy are people who are fully engaged in their lives. That could be a sign to you that you’re not making enough of the one life that you do have.

Envy takes energy that’s better used to make a plan for how to be more fulfilled. If you’ve always meant to take an art class or learn ballroom dancing or some other pursuit, start researching online (instead of looking other people’s Instagram and feeling crappy.)

3) What do you actually know about other people’s lives anyway?

Realize that social media is, essentially, propaganda. It’s where people get to personify their best selves. But we don’t know what’s really working or not working in their lives. We don’t know other people’s contentment levels.

And really, those are irrelevant to us, unless they can be instructive as to what we can change in our own lives. If you find people who are positive examples of how to be fulfilled, then follow that example.

Otherwise, try to develop a more realistic picture of what other people’s lives really are. It can be too easy to take a few details and fill in the rest, especially if we’re dissatisfied with where we are.

Sometimes what we’re really looking for is a distraction. It can be tedious to take stock and make changes. It’s much easier to think that other people just got lucky. So envy does serve a function, in a way.

But distraction isn’t what you need. Envy makes you less present in your own life, and more engaged in other people’s (well, the surfaces of their lives, anyway.) Being present and engaged, though, is what’s needed.

Do you want to be envious, or do you want to be happy? You’ve already got your answer since you read this far. So that’s a good start.

Envious colleague photo available from Shutterstock

End that Toxic Envy

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2015). End that Toxic Envy. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Sep 2015
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