Live Through This

When Good Things Happen to Other People

How to handle jealousy.

Illustration by Marjainez

Illustration by Marjainez

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and so by the time I graduated from college, I was ready to get the show on the road. As I’ve told you before, my overnight success didn’t go as planned, and I spent the next decade trying to get published. While I was sure that what I was experiencing was completely normal, I was surrounded by a downright hellish truth: there were other people, some of whom I knew, who were having no trouble whatsoever. Every morning brought news of yet another 20-something woman with a book deal, sometimes for half a million dollars. I could have used half a million dollars! Were those women as good as I was at looking for pretend real estate on the internet? Were they as funny, as charming, as self-deprecating? They were not! Of course, I had no idea what these women were actually like. All I knew was that I hated them.

Thus began my years of torment. Keep in mind that I wasn’t tormented because anything truly awful was happening to me. Getting lots of rejections wasn’t a walk in the park, but it wasn’t physically painful. No one ever threatened my safety, or that of my family. In fact, the rejection letters almost always contained at least one or two compliments, and the editors always, without exception, wished me well. No, I was angry and envious because good things were happening to other people. I was sure that I was smarter, prettier, more deserving. I was a harder worker, more prepared for wild success, more television-ready! I wanted to drown the people I knew who had sold their books—I wanted to torture them, slowly. And if once they were published those books actually sold well, I was inconsolable.

It’s an ugly way to feel—unhappy because of someone else’s success—but human beings are often ugly. And I’m willing to bet that you’ve felt the same way. Here are some things that can make you go insane when they happen to people who are not you: Getting a boyfriend. Making out with a girl at party. A great SAT score. Getting into a good college. Having cool parents. Wearing jeans that fit well. Having big boobs. Having small boobs. Coming out of the closet. Editing a super-cool magazine. Landing an internship at Teen Vogue just like Lauren Conrad.

Aren’t you exhausted just thinking about it? It takes so much energy to resent people, especially when they actually haven’t done anything to you. (There is, of course, an endless chasm of righteous resentment and ill-will for people who have purposefully done you wrong, but that’s a whole different essay.) So how do you deal, without building an army of voodoo dolls and/or coming off like a Negative Nelly, one of those sour-faced, miserable people who is always complaining about someone else’s happiness? I have a four-step plan that pulled me out of my angry pit of bitter resentment:

1. Put things in perspective.

One way to deal with all the frustration you might be feeling is to take a step back and think about what you’ve got going on. When I was in my early 20s, I may not have had a book deal, but I did have a very nice live-in boyfriend who always cleaned the bathroom. (He still does.) I had my health and a close relationship with my parents. (Still do.) Next time you find yourself beating yourself up over what someone else has, if you absolutely cannot refrain from comparing yourself, you can try thinking something like: X doesn’t have nice and supportive parents, and I do. I’m very lucky that way. Appreciate what you have, and yes, appreciate what you have that someone else doesn’t. This is not a very lofty goal, and it’s still a little bit awful, but it’s a good place to start. Either way, it’s important to remember that this one thing that this other person suddenly has is not the only thing you care about, and it’s not the only thing that matters. Life is complex and varied and that’s what makes it fun.

2. Make a list of all the people you’re jealous of, resent, and feel cranky about.

I’m willing to bet that most of them are your peers—maybe even your friends. One thing that’s great about friends: getting older together. At 32, I have several friends now that I’ve had since high school, some from even earlier. I’m sure that I’ve been jealous of each and every one of them at one time or another over the last 20 years. This one lost her virginity before I did, that one got into graduate school before me, this one got a cool job that I’d like to have someday. And that’s OK. We all mature and move at our own pace. Try to keep in mind that you ultimately want all of your friends to succeed, because someday you’ll turn as old as me and you’ll look around the room at your birthday party and feel genuinely proud of each and every one of them. On a more crass level, having successful friends will also up your chances of being successful, because if you’re supportive of them, they will be supportive of you. Success is not dog-eat-dog—it’s a team effort in the end. So be a team player! No one wants to help the friend who was a sulky jerk when you won the Smartest Girl of the Year Award. Generosity begets generosity.

3. Treat your body like a part of you, which it is.

Another thing that really helped me with all this was doing yoga. I have always lived in my brain, with my body as its somewhat unwilling hostage. I remember learning about the 17th century French philosopher Descartes in the 10th grade—he’s the one who said that the mind and the body are separate entities, even if they influence one another, to badly paraphrase an entire philosophy—and thinking, What is the big deal? Why is everyone acting like it’s so weird to have a mind/body split? That’s how it is! Except, of course, it’s not as simple as I thought. Our bodies are very much connected to our brains and our feelings. When you’re miserable and envious and just want to punch someone in the face, it can be really helpful to move your body. The 12-to-24-year-old me would laugh at this advice, but guess what? That’s when I was the most unhappy in my life. Whether it’s running or yoga or playing sports with your friends, moving your body can vastly improve your mental outlook. Personally, I like yoga because I found a great teacher who always talks a little bit at the beginning of class (these are called “Dharma talks”) about how what we’re doing on the mat relates to life off the mat. By forcing me to slow down, breathe, and actually deal with my body as part of me, yoga helped me learn how to let go of things I couldn’t control, and not to get too attached to anything.

4. Scream.

When all else fails, and you’re consumed with anger and envy and all sorts of sticky, ugly feelings, do the silent scream. Scrunch up your face as tight as you can, and then let out the biggest, meanest scream—silently. (Note: I prefer the silent scream because I grew up in a very quiet household and yelling makes me nervous, but if you like to make noise, then by all means this can be an out-loud scream.) I know it sounds dorky, but it really does wonders. Sometimes you just have to allow yourself a moment of total rage, even if the rage is ultimately pointless and misguided. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. When someone I know wins a big prize or is on a list that I wanted to be on, I still have a moment of UGH GOD WHY WAS THAT NOT ME?! It’s totally normal. You are not a robot. Allow yourself to feel jealous and mad and whatever else, but then do what you need to do to let it go, and move on.

5. Move on.

How can I move on? Because I have accepted the truth, which is that someone else’s good fortune does not affect my own. Chances are, there will come a day when you win the prize/get into the elite program/have the hottest date/score an Olympic medal. (OK, maybe not that last one…but maybe!) I am not the center of the world, and neither are you. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself for not getting something you wanted, especially if you worked really hard to get it, like getting into your first-choice school, or being elected prom queen, or being on the New York Times best-seller list. But then you have to move on. You have done everything you can to make those good and golden moments happen, and they will.

The world is out of your hands, no matter how organized and dedicated and deserving you are. Every person you momentarily think has everything? Guess what—they don’t. They have problems you don’t know about, and are envious of other people (possibly you). It takes up too much of your precious energy to resent other people. Instead, use that energy to motivate yourself to work even harder on your next project, whether it’s a new zine or your AP history exam or your next novel. Because all you can truly control in this life is yourself. Being happy and content in my own skin is what has truly saved me from falling prey to fits of jealousy. Find whatever makes you the happiest and do that, over and over again. Soon enough, golden tickets will rain from the sky, and everyone around you will cheer. Some of them might need to take a little private moment to scream into their pillows, but then, if they are real friends, they will come back and lift you up even higher. ♦

34 Comments

  • whatever April 25th, 2013 3:19 PM

    gosh, this is useful.. thanks emma <33
    my worst habit by far is getting ~bitchy~ at people who do better than me in certain things… mehh. i still need to work on my not-hating-people-who-are-better-than-me skills…

    ♡♡♡
    http://teenmoonwitch.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Cyrena Lee April 25th, 2013 4:20 PM

    “Comparisons are odious”

    One of my dearest quotes/proverbs. Anytime I find the green jealously monster creeping in, or my thoughts wandering to “why didn’t X good thing happen to ME but HER?”, I breathe and remember: C.O.D.

    My life is mine alone to live, and nobody else’s accomplishments can take away from that!

  • Tangerine April 25th, 2013 4:22 PM

    Facebook is an awful place when you’re feeling low! Everyone loves to post their best news and accomplishments; failures and low feelings stay hidden. So most of my jealous thoughts get their start there.
    (I mean, come on. My friends include a journalist in Alaska, doctors in CA, fashion models, jet-setting party promoters (How is that even a job), and plenty of artists who are more successful/dedicated than me. Could I even HAVE more successful friends? We are all still in our twenties!!)
    So I tend to avoid the social media jealousy factory if I’m not feeling great. My career may be a no-starter, but I have to remember that I’ve had so many other things going on.
    Anyway, super relevant article, and I love/agree with the yoga recommendation <3

    • ruby April 25th, 2013 6:05 PM

      That is so true! I always end up scrolling through Facebook when I’m down, looking at photos of people having what looks like way more fun than I’m having…and it always makes me feel worse.

      The feeling that everyone is having a better time than you is completely misguided, but I think everyone experiences it at some point!

      xx

  • Collagingcolors April 25th, 2013 4:31 PM

    This is what I need…every day, i’m almost crying
    I’m having the worst time in my life it’s been for 2 years :(

    http://collaging.blogspot.com/

  • Ruth-Ann April 25th, 2013 4:36 PM

    I know how this feels so much. Thank you for this wonderful, well-written post. I surely enjoyed.

    http://quirkyruthie.blogspot.ca

  • indaslicht April 25th, 2013 4:50 PM

    here’s my personal extension of step 4 (basically just general stress-relieving things that i do occasionally):
    1) scream into a pillow. for me, it’s more therapeutic than actual screaming out loud because i can scream even louder into a pillow.
    2) cry. just do it. let it aallll out. and once you’re done, wash your face. you’ll feel SO much better afterwards.
    3) dance. plug in your earphones and twirrrrl! or, if you’re alone or your housemates/neighbors don’t mind, play your music out loud and have a mini-party~
    hopefully all of these will help you forget about your anger/frustration/jealousy and you’ll be free as a butterfly soon enough!

  • Sophii April 25th, 2013 5:21 PM

    SO. GODDAMN. RELEVANT.
    However, I feel that I have sort of moved on from being jealous of my friends but I still get terribly jealous of people on the internet and celebrities and people that I come across who have what I want. This is really helpful and consoling so thanks <3

    http://thechicmuse000.blogspot.co.uk

    http://sophiewilsonsbooks.co.uk

  • taste test April 25th, 2013 5:38 PM

    yay! thank you for a useful post on this. someone somewhere along the line taught me that jealousy of other people’s achievements is pointless because the person you’re jealous of worked harder than you did. it was probably the worst advice I have ever received because it just turns the jealousy into self-hatred (from “argh, why is this so easy for him?” to “because he actually works at it, whereas I am a lazy awful person”). I’m working on getting it out of my head.

  • ellamccartney April 25th, 2013 5:43 PM

    i love this; i really needed it. on another subject, what’s with all the ads on rookie??

  • izzybee April 25th, 2013 5:45 PM

    this is so great. I always get jealous of people yet I don’t even try. I get so absorbed with the thought that I will succeed that I don’t actually do anything and I get pissed off when other people do things or achieve, it sucks man. x

  • kimberleighrc April 25th, 2013 6:00 PM

    I want to wallpaper my room with this (as well as several other) Rookie articles, so I never forget this brilliant advice: )

  • Runaway April 25th, 2013 6:03 PM

    “Because I have accepted the truth, which is that someone else’s good fortune does not effect my own.”
    Maybe I’m wrong (English is actually my 2nd language), but shouldn’t it be “affect” instead of “effect”?
    Anyway, thanks a lot for the article! :)

    • Manda April 25th, 2013 7:06 PM

      Yes, it is. I’ve been noticing a lot of grammar errors here on Rookie a lot lately.

      Out of curiosity/nosiness, what is your first language? English is mine, but I speak French along with meager amounts of Finnish.

      • Manda April 25th, 2013 7:08 PM

        … And then I go make and make grammatical errors myself. #ineedsleep

        • Runaway April 25th, 2013 9:32 PM

          Haha! Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. ;)
          I’m a Spaniard. That’s why it may have been easier for me to spot the mistake (those words come from Latin, so we have them in Spanish, too). For you guys “affect” and “effect” are written and sound so similar. But there’s a huge difference between “afectar” and “efecto”!

    • Phoebe April 25th, 2013 7:19 PM

      Thank you! Shame on us (meaning me).

      • Runaway April 25th, 2013 9:38 PM

        Oh, you’re welcome!
        Sometimes it’s so difficult to spot these things, no matter how many times you proofread the text.

  • abby111039 April 25th, 2013 8:16 PM

    This is really fucking helpful because I turn into a jealous bitch almost on a daily basis. Hopefully this can help stop the madness. Thanks for sharing this!

  • azultardis April 25th, 2013 8:33 PM

    Great article and advices, I feel like this most of the time, I think that as you get closer to get your degree we all get competitive and jealous and damn, but like you said is normal, at the end the healthy thing to do is just let go and work harder

    http://azultardis.blogspot.mx/

  • spudzine April 25th, 2013 8:38 PM

    OMG ROOKIE READS MY MIND. I’ve legit been waiting for an article like this to appear on Rookie. I have jealousy problems. I admit it. I feel like I have to be the best at everything and happy and content, and I get so, so jealous of people who seem to have everything that I want. These tips will really help me!

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • Jen L. April 25th, 2013 9:15 PM

    This is like a thousand times more real than the pseudo advice well-meaning adults tend to give teenagers. And by “well-meaning adults,” I mean my parents, and by “teenagers,” I mean me.

    Haha thanks Emma!

  • JAK April 25th, 2013 10:02 PM

    This is so perfectly timed- I’ve been a bit envious lately of several friends because they have some really awesome things going on this summer (study abroad! internships! etc!) while I’ll be spending it taking a few college courses that I’m not crazy about (umm…math). But I’ve found that by saying, “I’m so happy for you” or “That’s fantastic” when a friend tells me good news, the jealously soon fades away and the comments I made ring true.

  • Milala April 25th, 2013 10:19 PM

    this was so perfect! i am a very envious person and i HATE that about myself. it’s usually when my peers get way ahead in their studies and i get stuck or when someone gets to travel a lot and i have to stay here. but when i do think about it i realize i’m extremely lucky and there are many things other people must admire in me / with they could do. such a good article, really helpful and honest :)

  • Gaby April 26th, 2013 6:46 AM

    I’m only 16 and yet there are times when I feel like I haven’t accomplished enough compared to a a number of my peers. Now I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way (thank you comments section :D), and that it’s actually quite normal. This is seriously great advice. I am now motivated to work a lot harder on everything that I decide to do in the future :).

  • RaineFall April 26th, 2013 10:38 AM

    Can I tell you how much I love this line: “It’s an ugly way to feel—unhappy because of someone else’s success—but human beings are often ugly”
    Something just resonated with me there.

    This article is so useful, and I think its clear that everyone feels this way at some point. I think I realised this when I actually told my friend I was jealous of her because of X and she was like “I’m jealous of you because of Y”. I think the point is, we all have something good about us, and even if jealously is sometimes useful to spurring us on, not to become too negative and drown in it.

    http://rachaelreviewsall.blogspot.com

  • shelley April 26th, 2013 10:46 AM

    I always struggle with jealousy towards my little sister. She is stunning, smart, confident and competitive in a way that she wins everything. The only thing I can think of that I do better than her is read quickly which isn’t much of a life skill. But then in Everybody hates Chris, Chris’s little brother is the all-round champion of the family, and I don’t know what he does now and I know that Chris is a famous comedian, so that’s something.

  • kelsey April 26th, 2013 11:18 AM

    Ditto to the “this is awesome and I totally needed it” comments. You guys give advice that’s actually, like, useful.

  • Stef K April 26th, 2013 2:50 PM

    I used to have a lot of problems with jealousy and anger. Mostly it was because I was (and sometimes still am) a really miserable person, and seeing others succeed where I just wasn’t made me even more miserable. So I hated them for making me aware of all the things I wanted to be but wasn’t.

    Putting things into perspective and sometimes just recognising these feelings are good ways of dealing with it. But what really helped me was realising that most good things just don’t HAPPEN to people – these people WORK for them. They MAKE these things happen.

    Whereas I was sitting on my bum watching SatC all day and daydreaming about being amazing, instead of actually going out and doing it.

    I have since started drawing inspiration from these people instead of hating them. So I’m trying to turn all my jealous rage into energy, and I’m going out, I’m trying new things, I’m working harder on the stuff I want to be good at – and I feel SO much better for it.
    Others notice it, too.

    Of course this doesn’t always work. Some things are just sheer luck and some people just seem to have awesomeness in their genes where others have to work for it.

    But at least now I know that I’m giving it all I have, that no one can blame me for not trying enough, and that I’ve got no reason to feel bad about myself.

  • zombiesockmonkey April 26th, 2013 2:57 PM

    This is a perfect article for the dreaded “I got in to such and such college” time of year. And just having to deal with growing up and other people growing up in general

  • mingxi April 26th, 2013 8:08 PM

    THIS IS GREAT. Thank you so much.
    I have been feeling really jealous lately and it’s killing me, i’ll try to use this list !!!!

  • julalondon April 30th, 2013 12:56 PM

    I hate People who wear Jeans that fit well…