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How to turn that ugly, green-eyed monster into a very Cool Broad

photo by matt duncanphoto by Matt Duncan

Because my husband and I now live in Virginia, we often find ourselves running into people we went to college with in very random places. Take for example this summer, when I was at the pool with my two boys, and a man walks by with his daughter…a man who I’m pretty sure I kissed at some hazy frat party almost twenty years ago. Weird.

And because I’m much better with names and faces than my husband, he recently sent me an email with a link to the bio of a woman, who graduated from college with us, and heads a direct marketing firm that his company is thinking of using. The woman was very attractive, and as her bio revealed, extremely accomplished.

Not only does she serve as president of a successful marketing agency, but she’s also president of the local Junior League chapter, heads the local mother’s club, competes in an area tennis league, is married to an equally accomplished man, and has two adorable kids. She’s perfect.

“Does this woman look like someone we knew in school?” my husband asked in his e-mail.

“No, but she looks like someone whose head I’d like to rip off.”

Yikes…I stared at my response on the computer screen and wondered if my fingers are in any way connected to the part of my brain that’s committed to becoming a Cool Broad. Because if that response is any indication of my progress…I haven’t gotten very far.

Envy: an emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.

I admit, I struggle with the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” thing a bit (in some areas more than others). But as I mentioned in an earlier article, one of the rules every Cool Broad must follow is this: Cool Broads know how to control their jealousy and envy toward others and maintain grace in every situation…always.

Obviously, I have a little work to do.

Why do we envy?

In an article written by Michele Kirsch, The Healthy Side to Envy, Richard Smith, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, argues that envy is a social comparison-based emotion. That is, “it operates only in the context of comparing ourselves with others, and most often, with others who are people like us.” So, because the aforementioned woman and I come from similar backgrounds, I might be more inclined to feel that her level of “success” just as well could have been mine (but isn’t…dammit).

Professor Smith also points out that envy is a matter of scale. According the article, “[envy] can be a passing, benign feeling, a sort of envy-lite, which is closer to admiration (i.e., “Wow, she’s got a great figure. I wonder how often she works out?”), or what Professor Smith calls envy proper, which involves some form of ill-will (i.e., “She’s got a great figure…for her age. I wonder where her lipo scars are?”).”

It can be argued that envy-lite is normal and in some cases, even healthy. Being envious of something someone has, or has accomplished, can serve as a powerful motivator (i.e., I’m never more motivated to go to the gym than when my best friend shows up 5 lbs. lighter than when I saw her last) and can challenge us to strive for our personal best.

Envy-proper, however, if not addressed, can lead to depression, resentment, anger, low self-esteem, and frustration, and may prevent us from enjoying what we DO have. Also, those toxic emotions are big stress inducers, which, as we all know, can cause physical damage to our bodies and adversely affect our health. Even the Old Testament teaches, “Envy and wrath shorten the life.” (Ecclesiastes, 30:24)

And if that weren’t enough, Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, writer, and Nobel Prize winner, said envy was “one of the most potent causes of unhappiness”.

Well, everyone wants to be happy, and it stands to reason that happier people are more likely to be generous, and thus, “cool”…so the question is…How DO you deal with envy?

7 Ways to Deal with Envy:

1.   Acknowledge your envy

    Realizing that the emotion you’re feeling is envy is the first step toward overcoming it.

    Accept the fact that you’re human and that it’s completely normal for humans to be emotional. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s how you choose to react to your emotions that will determine whether or not that emotion will create opportunities for you, or cause problems.

2.   Explore the root of your envy and figure out how to make it
      work for you

    Why are you feeling envy? What is your envy telling you? What are you afraid of? The answers to these questions can be quite revealing, and can identify any irrational thoughts or emotions that happen to be traipsing through your head.

    According to Windy Dryden, a psychotherapist and the author of Overcoming Envy, identifying irrational beliefs and proving them to be false, illogical, and self-defeating is the key to turning unhealthy envy into healthy envy. And once you’ve identified what’s really at the source of your envious feelings, you can then develop a game plan to attain what it is that you REALLY want.

    For example: You’re “green with envy” when your best friend at work gets a sweet promotion. But why? Is it because you think the promotion is undeserved, or are you afraid that there will never, ever in a million years, be another opportunity like that again? (hint: that’s the irrational belief)

    And while there will always be situations that are out of our control or even unfair (i.e., your best friend got the position because her boss is a family friend), making sure that you’re taking the steps needed to further your career and accomplish your goals is something you DO have control over.

    So get that extra degree, work extra hard on that next project, or get another job (preferably at a company where the boss has no friends) and turn your feelings of envy into an opportunity to challenge yourself.

3.    Don’t compare yourself to others

    THIS IS A BIGGIE. Everyone is unique and everyone’s journey is different, so it really doesn’t make sense to compare what you’ve accomplished, or what you have, to someone else’s accomplishments or things. It would be like if you were a banana and you constantly compared yourself to the orange, chastising yourself for not being more round.

    Henrik Edberg, a self-proclaimed positivity and personal development enthusiast, argues that because there will always be someone with more than you, “comparing what you have to what others have is a good way to make yourself miserable.” While it might feed your ego to buy a nicer car or a bigger TV than someone else, once you realize that someone else has an even nicer car, or an even bigger TV (or when your credit card statement comes in), you won’t feel so good anymore.

    “A more useful way to compare is to just compare yourself to yourself. Look at how you’ve grown and what you’ve achieved. Appreciate what you’ve accomplished and what you have, how far you’ve come and what you’re goals are for the future.”

4.   Focus on what you DO have, not on what you don’t

    This may sound easier said than done and will most likely require some serious emotional self-discipline on your part. Make a conscious effort to focus on what you have and how you’ve been blessed instead of on what you don’t have or the challenges you’ve faced.

    I had a shrink once suggest that when a negative or unwelcome emotion or thought started to enter my mind, I should clap quickly and loudly and say, “Stop!”, in order to train my brain from going in that direction. It’s basically a way to control your thoughts and ward off potentially damaging emotions (though I felt that clapping and yelling, “Stop!” when I was in the checkout line at the grocery store was a bit distracting for the other’s shoppers (and kind of weird).

5.   Develop an abundance mentality.

    Henrik Edberg (mentioned earlier) developed this theory and I found it potentially helpful and worthy of a mention. He believes that envy is often a result of a perceived scarcity in some area of your life, and you’re envious because someone else has, or has received, something that you have deemed scarce (i.e., new BMW, to-die-for Balenciaga handbag, sought-after position at work).

    When you develop an abundance mentality, however, you believe that there will always be plenty of life’s blessings to go around, so there’s ultimately little to feel envious about. Edberg argues that this, in turn, allows you to feel more relaxed and positive.

    So what if your neighbor just signed a six-figure book deal? There are PLENTY of book deals to be had. You can be genuinely excited for him because not only are you aware how hard he worked on his manuscript, but you also know that his good fortune in no way interferes with or makes your goal to get published any less attainable.

6.   Put it into perspective

    Sometimes just putting your envious feelings into perspective makes you understand how ridiculous and petty they are. And I’m pretty sure that when you’re on your death bed, you won’t be regretting the fact that you didn’t spend more precious time being envious of others or worrying about how you don’t have the latest and greatest DVD player.

    If you can for a moment, close your eyes and imagine life without caring about what others think of you, or what material possessions you think you should have…what a relief that would be!

    There will always be someone with more than you and there will always be someone with less. Bertrand Russell was right on the money when he said, “Envy consists in seeing things never in themselves, but only in their relations. If you desire glory, you may envy Napoleon, but Napoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander, and Alexander, I daresay, envied Hercules, who never existed.”

7.   Figure out what you REALLY want, set goals for yourself, and then
      forget about everyone else

    Brian Kim, a popular author of several self improvement books, argues that once you clarify what you want and focus on your own journey, your envy of others will turn into genuine admiration and inspiration.

    For example, if your goal is to become the best teacher at your school, you don’t become envious of people who become movie stars. Why? Because that’s their journey, not yours. And that clarification will free you up to appreciate other people’s accomplishments, the challenges they’ve overcome, and even their damn good luck.

And remember:

Your value can’t be measured in things or by what others think of you…so don’t even try to win that race. Instead, focus on yourself, your goals, your family, and your happiness. Everyone has struggles and challenges to overcome. That’s just life….nobody is exempt.

And you’ll be happy to know that this work-in-progress deleted the whole ripping-the-head-off e-mail and instead responded to her husband by saying, “She doesn’t look familiar, but she seems like one helluva broad.”


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Tags: attitude · the rules

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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 socalgirl // Sep 11, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Great post! Thanks for the insight and tips.

  • 2 Woody // Sep 12, 2008 at 9:32 am

    I have a long way to go!!

  • 3 Balva // Sep 12, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Excellent points…good reading for everyone!!!

  • 4 beanball // Sep 12, 2008 at 11:18 am

    sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly envious or jealous, it helps if I just say, “I’m jealous of your new kitchen” to the person. It seems to provide some relief, kind of like, putting it out there lessens its power. I think the person you say that to also appreciates your candor and it keeps things real.

  • 5 Frankie // Sep 12, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Good article.. I especially like the abundance mentality!

  • 6 Emily // Sep 12, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    Love it! I have often struggled with envy -the actress life often is sustained by envyand it was something I notived I didn’t have to deal with when I took a break but it still occaisionally rears its ugly head. I had a wake up moment once. One of my dear friends is stunningly beautiful and one of those women who amazing things happen to regularly (movie star can’t wait to meet you – check, winning diamond jewellery or trips – check, random people offering you gifts – check, constant upgrades to 1st class – check) and I was so envious. But then I had the opportunity to see into her life and saw the other side of everything and it made me so grateful not to have those things (ok the trips and diamonds would be nice).

    When I am feeling envious I do look at why but I also ask myself what of the wonderful things/opportunities/etc I have that I would give up to have whatever it is I’m envious of. If its nothing then I can move on and if there is something I would give up (i.e time for a better job) then I can set a goal to achieve it (thereby placating the envy!)

    Wonderful post tbc!

  • 7 Bruce // Sep 15, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Great Article! Very complete and easy to understand.

  • 8 Tricia // Sep 15, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Great article. I know I have some work to do as well and this was a wonderful reminder.

  • 9 That Cool Broad is ALL about personal development // Sep 16, 2008 at 10:44 am

    […] How to turn that ugly, green-eyed monster into a very Cool Broad […]

  • 10 OrganicGuy // Dec 7, 2008 at 2:31 am

    As I focus more on a giving lifestyle,taking less, from others and the environment, I find I suffer less from envy… your post is right on! LIVE GREEN …. and not with jealousy!

    OrganicGuys last blog post..Preempting the Dry Cleaning Blog… Pulpslurry

  • 11 Laura // Dec 29, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks for the insight. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with my lovely boyfriend’s ex. The first girl he ever lived with, and they still talk occasionally, and I have a lot of trouble with it. Particularly when she still calls him “babe”, knowing I’ll see it. But, this article has helped me put some perspective on things. I have a great life aside, and I’m the one with the man now. So its time for me to stop worrying and enjoy.

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