More To That

An illustrated, long-form blog that delves deeper into the things that make us who we are.

The Antidote to Envy

I recently came across a passage from Krishamurti’s Think On These Things that gave me pause. I rarely highlight entire paragraphs when I read, but this one was so poignant that I had to elevate it from the page and into my memory.

Here it is:

I am envious because I want to be as beautiful as you are; I want to have the fine clothes, the elegant house, the high position that you have. Being dissatisfied with what I am, I want to be like you; but, if I understood my dissatisfaction and its cause, then I would not want to be like you or long for the things that you have.

In other words, if once I begin to understand what I am, then I shall never compare myself with another or be envious of anyone. Envy arises because I want to change myself and become like somebody else. But if I say, “Whatever I am, that I want to understand,” then envy is gone; then there is no need of discipline, and out of the understanding of what I am comes integration.

I’ve since re-read this paragraph many times, and there’s one sentence that continues to capture my attention:

Whatever I am, that I want to understand.

Today, I want to talk about what it means to know yourself, and how this results in the elimination of envy.

I’d like to start with an observation: Some people are open about their struggles with envy, while the majority hide it. I’m calling it an observation because I can’t point to a research paper that clearly shows this asymmetry, yet my personal exploration of human nature indicates that this is likely true.

Simply put, envy is one of those complicated emotions that hasn’t had its time in the spotlight yet. Vulnerability came on center stage when Brene Brown gave a popular TED Talk on it, while depression has emerged as something that’s okay to discuss in recent years. Envy, however, hasn’t quite found that comfort zone. Revealing that you’re an envious person won’t yield much sympathy, and is often accompanied by a sense of shame that you feel this way.

But envy is one of the most pervasive problems in today’s world, especially as social media normalizes the successes of others, making you feel like you’re “underperforming” the average when in reality you’re being shown a highlight reel of outliers. You’re always comparing yourself to someone ahead of you, and the goalpost will keep moving because the algorithm ensures that it moves on your behalf. And whenever a hierarchy like this exists, the fingers of envy creep within.

All this results in a conundrum. Envy is running through everyone’s veins, yet no one feels like they could talk about it. No one wants to admit that the success of others makes them feel inadequate, and that this inadequacy dampens their sense of self-worth. Not only is it difficult to admit this to others, but it’s just as hard to admit it to oneself.

But that last word – oneself – is where the solution to this resides.

Ultimately, envy is the result of not knowing who you are. It arises when you outsource your definitions of success to whatever norms you’ve adopted – whether consciously or not. In one person’s case, it might be wealth. In another, it may be social media followers. In another, it could be the size of a home. Regardless of what the barometer is, the fact that you desire it means that you’re looking beyond the contents of your mind and into the collective pool of society. You’re ceasing to look into what makes you uniquely you, and are gazing into the chaos of chasing that which you don’t understand.

One of my favorite Joker lines from The Dark Knight is when he says that people are like dogs chasing cars; they won’t know what to do if they actually catch them. I find that the same thing applies to the chase of success or anything that might make you feel envious. If you got the thing that was the subject of your envy, then what? Is that it? Are you satisfied?

Chances are, you’ll be like the dog having caught the car. There’s simply nothing you could do, except one of two things:

(1) Keep yourself busy by chasing another car, or

(2) Learn that this entire chase is pointless.

#1 is what psychologists refer to as the hedonic treadmill, while #2 is what I refer to as the antidote to envy.

There is an interesting thing that happens when you see how society is organized into a giant game. You see the puppet strings of incentives and the invisible hierarchies that govern the way the pieces move, and this realization is both fascinating and disconcerting. No human being wants to be reduced to an algorithm, but it’s funny how if you get enough of us together, we behave in ways that are just as predictable as the execution of a file.

To see beyond the game is to direct your attention inward instead. Rather than chasing the next car, you’ll explore why you wanted to chase that car in the first place. Because if you explore your own mind’s motives in great detail, you’ll learn more about humankind than playing any game ever will.

Whatever I am, that I want to understand.

The reason why self-understanding leads to the elimination of envy is because when you explore the labyrinth of your mind, you simply have no room to want what another person has. There are more mysteries within the bounds of your own life than any novel can ever express, and this journey will take an entire lifetime to cover.

Remember: You didn’t choose your genes, your parents, your upbringing, your interests. Pretty much everything of consequence is the result of happenstance, and that is where we all begin. We’re equipped with a mind and body that we didn’t choose, yet the temptation is to believe that we know who we are. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the way to get closer to this truth is not to compare yourself to another, but to know what “yourself” even means in the first place.

At its core, self-understanding is a commitment to figuring out why you think the way you think. In my case, writing these kinds of essays is my way of understanding myself. I don’t do it to build an audience or to seek recognition for them. I do it because I want to explore why I struggle with the things I struggle with, and why I love the things I love. Given that I wasn’t the conscious agent that constructed my mind, it’s up to me to figure out what’s really going on underneath the hood of it all. No one can do that but me, and no one can do that for you but you.

Envy is inversely correlated with self-examination. The less you know yourself, the more you look to others to get an idea of your worth. But the more you delve into who you are, the less you seek from others, and the dissolution of envy begins.


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For a deeper dive into envy, check out this piece:

Envy Is the Cancer of the Soul

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