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 seethe inside and think, "That really should have been mine?"
"In today's competitive world, it's not unusual to desire what someone else has," says Gregory L. White, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at National University in Redding, Calif. "Unfortunately, if you let those emotions get the best of you, you could do yourself a lot more harm than good."
Feelings of resentment at another's good fortune take two forms, envy and jealousy, says Dr. White who distinguishes these feelings in the following way:
Envy rears its head when someone has a thing or a benefit you want for yourself -- a bigger office, a bigger paycheck, a special privilege.
Jealousy results when you covet a relationship. For example, you might feel jealous if your supervisor and co-worker are lunching buddies and leave you behind.
Both envy and jealously are fanned by the perception that the "winner" had an unfair advantage. "If you think you've been treated unfairly, you dwell on that. You feel you need to even the score somehow," says Dr. White.
In small doses, he says, these emotions can be motivating. When someone else has what you want, this increases your determination to get it. Some companies even encourage these feelings to create a more competitive environment.
When envy and jealousy get out of control, though, they can be highly destructive to people and to 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 contribute to stress and anger, which are closely tied to several illnesses. Anger has been shown to be a risk factor for heart disease, Dr. White points out. Similarly, long-term stress impairs the immune system and has been associated with some forms of cancer.
Follow your own star
"Instead of letting negative emotions run away with your well-being or your career, take control by making conscious choices about what you want in your life and career," says Dr. White.
"Think about what you value most -- your job status, for example -- or whether you'd rather have a comfortable work environment or a healthful lifestyle."
If you do decide the promotion is important, that's fine. Then, decide how you can go after it in a positive way. That could mean learning helpful new skills or finding someone who can mentor your progress up the company ladder.
Steps to take
Here are some other strategies for managing these negative emotions:
Use "decision language." Instead of casting yourself as the victim, describe the situation in words that put you in charge. Instead of saying, "I got shafted," say, "I'm making myself really angry because someone got an unfair promotion."
Count your assets. Take an inventory 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 thrive when "office politics" take the place of clear rules for success.
Choose a stress-reducing lifestyle. Regular exercise and a healthful diet can help you get a grip on feelings of anger and frustration. Look also at ways to manage or reduce other areas of stress. Could you make a long commute less stressful by taking public transportation?
"Focus on yourself and your work, instead of constantly comparing yourself with others," says Dr. White. "Learn to steer your own course. If you're guided by your own goals and values, it doesn't matter what someone else has or doesn't have."