Tell Me About It: To ward off envy, reaffirm your own choices

Adapted from an online discussion.

Question: How do I force myself to be happy for my friends?

They are all buying houses and taking fabulous vacations, while I am stuck in a studio apartment with no savings and years of student loans. I feel so jealous and angry that I can't fake happiness for them and my only proposed solution is to avoid them until I feel better.

And no, trying to be grateful for what little I do have has not helped me.

Answer: There's always someone who goes home to a better house in a better car. People who envy peers start to doubt themselves, which drains them of the resource they need most (a sense of self-worth), which then leads to reading random ups and downs as part of some cosmic conspiracy against them, which fuels the cycle of envy, anger, and self-loathing.

There are ways out - but not by forcing yourself to love your apartment. It has to be through what you do. Such as, be an excellent friend/sibling/child/ auntie, or a hardworking employee, a dedicated and compassionate volunteer, a nurturing pet owner, a fierce teammate, an uninhibited playmate/ singer/dancer/artist, an insatiable reader, a generous host or cook - whatever taps into your best - then be proud and grateful you're this way.

When you love your contribution, that's when you're able to say, "Yeah, nice house, but would I give up who I am to have it? No." The fab house would require different choices, after all, and different choices would have created a different you.

Reaffirming your choices inoculates you against envy. Is it perfect? No - you'll still gawk at a friend's palace - but it'll be a fleeting, not a chronic, annoyance.

Comment: You're not alone! For nearly a decade I felt like I was barely treading water while my friends were off living fabulous lives. I resented them.

How I dealt with it: I just forced myself to focus on me. I focused on getting out of debt, trying to earn more money, etc. I did avoid some of these friends. I just said it wasn't personal, I needed time alone.

Some interesting things happened. That great big house my friend owned? Foreclosure. That luxury car? Leased or eight-year car loan. Overseas vacation? Maxed-out credit cards. That six-figure job? My friend got laid off. One friend actually told me he wished he had my life.

You just don't know what goes on in other people's lives . . . you have to focus on yours. So that's what I did.

When you set and achieve smaller goals, it makes you feel more optimistic. I won't lie - it took me a lot of time, but eventually I got to a less envious/resentful place.

A: Love this, thanks. Sometimes the luxury car is actually paid for, but your answer still applies: Set meaningful goals, work toward them, derive satisfaction accordingly.

 


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com or chat with her online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.