Life Lessons in the Real World

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How to Stop Being Envious of Other People

Do you find yourself envious of other people? Do these feelings of envy affect the way you feel about yourself? About others?

If you answered yes to any of these questions (and especially if you answered yes to all three), listen up: you’re wasting your potential; squandering your happiness.

Let’s talk about how you can put envy behind you forever and learn to be happier.

Are You Smarter than a 3rd Grader?

When I was in 3rd grade, my grade school decided to have a canned food drive to help an area shelter. It was going to be a contest! The classroom that collected the most cans would be rewarded with an afternoon of movie watching.

And this wasn’t going to be some lame 8mm wildlife movie on the school projector, but an honest-to-goodness Hollywood blockbuster that we actually wanted to see.

I wouldn’t expect today’s 3rd graders to understand the attraction of watching a real Hollywood movie at school, since we now live in the age of easily accessible DVDs and video downloads, and lots of kids these days are practically being raised by recorded media. But back then, when I was in the 3rd grade, these new-fangled devices called VCRs were just starting to show up in the average American home. And as a result, watching a blockbuster movie any place other than a theater was a big deal. Watching one at school was unheard of.

I wanted to win the contest, so I went home and bagged as many cans as I could: greenbeans, chili, yams, and soup. I lugged my cans to school every day for the next week. The rest of my class did the same thing. And of course, the other two 3rd grade classes engaged in fierce competition with us, as evidenced by the large stack of cans piling up outside their doorways.

After a week, we all waited anxiously as the teachers tallied up the take and prepared to announce the winning class.

But alas, there was no winner. Instead, there was a 3-way tie. Sort of.

Each of the 3rd grade classes had delivered hundreds of cans, each within 4 or 5 of the others. Technically, I’m sure that one class delivered more, but all I remember is that all the classes were going to be allowed to watch the movie.


In my little 3rd grade mind, this made perfect since. We had all done a good deed. A local shelter was going to have a pantry full of food. And all of us were going to enjoy a major Hollywood movie on school time instead of doing math. I mean, what’s not to like about this set-up?

But apparently, a lot of the kids were very upset. I distinctly remember one kid saying, “It’s no fun being a winner if there isn’t any loser.”

I was mystified. Dumbfounded. I couldn’t understand why these other kids couldn’t be happy watching the movie as a group. This wasn’t the SuperBowl or a job interview – this was a canned food drive organized by 3rd grade teachers, for God’s sake. Did there really have to be a loser?

Before I go any further, I want to head one particular argument off at the pass. I’m sure some of you will take exception to the way the teachers handled the situation due to inconsistency, breaking of rules, and the sacrifice of a perfectly good lesson in sportsmanship for a touchy-feely ending without losers. And if that’s the way you feel, more power to you. But know this: whether your argument holds water isn’t germane to the point I’m making.

My point is simple:

To many of my 3rd grade peers, the act of doing a good deed and enjoying personal success was not sufficient unless they had someone else to look down upon. There was no point in being a winner unless there was a loser. No point in victory except to watch another’s defeat. In other words, my issue is not with the way the situation was (or wasn’t) handled by the teachers, but rather with the self-defeating attitude of those affected. Many of the kids who’d previously looked forward to the film now watched in disgust, focusing on the undeserving in their midst instead of on their own enjoyment.

Of course, looking back, it’s understandable that 3rd graders should feel that way. After all, they’re just children. But all too often, I see this kind of mindset in grown men and women, especially unfortunate in non-competitive situations where it’s simply not called for.

Yes, lessons in sportsmanship, such as learning to lose gracefully and win with humility, are very important in life. But I outright reject the ridiculous notion that victory cannot be enjoyed except at the expense of another’s defeat.

So what does all of this have to do with envy? Two words: Scarcity Mindset.

Scarcity and You:

If you find yourself resenting another’s success, ask yourself why. Is it because you believe that another person’s success has somehow encouraged your own failure? Is it because you believe that success is a limited resource and that all the winners in the world are your primary competition? Is it because you think the world is unfairly, perhaps arbitrarily, doling out good fortune on everyone but you?

That, my friends, is the scarcity mindset at its worst. And unless you nip it in the bud, the scarcity mindset will eat your happiness alive.

Yes, the world is full of competitive situations. Job interviews. Scholarship competitions. Essay writing contests. And yes, you may find yourself in direct competition with others for a limited resource. But no, those other people, as a general rule, do not determine whether you will win or lose. That, my friends, is up to you.

Please understand I’m not talking about science, or irrefutable facts, or hard data. What I’m talking about is philosophy. Attitude. The decision to take responsibility for your own success and happiness instead of blaming someone or something else for whatever befalls you.

After all, if you won’t take responsibility for your success, who will?

Even in highly competitive situations, your success has more to do with you than with anyone else.

So what’s the secret of success? Well, there is no single secret, but I can sum up an important one in two words:

Abundance. Persistence.

Think Abundantly Instead:

The next time you find yourself envious of another human being, snip that dangerous emotion off at the root. Do not allow it to take hold. It won’t do you any good anyway. Instead of viewing success as a limited resource being doled out capriciously or carried away by more successful predators, view it as an ever-expanding pie.

If another person does well, wish him well. Enjoy his success as your own. Share it with him.

And keep trying, knowing yours is out there too.


14 Responses to “How to Stop Being Envious of Other People”

  • Anthony says:

    Well written John. I love this article I have a couple of people who need to read this. I got a lot from this and since I’m a high school student I see this Scarcity Mindset all the time.

  • Stefan says:

    Really nice, indeed. But I have a problem with the name of the article. It is not exactly right. Or at least is incomplete. What you’ve shown is not envy, in my opinion. Or at least is other people’s success envy. No more. I’m still envy of some people, and it doesn’t have anything to do with success, goals, objectives…

    Greatly written tough. Keep up the excellent work.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks for the comments, Anthony and Stefan!

    Stefan, I think the problem here may be the overly literal interpretation of the word success, as this article was not meant to be limited to goals and objectives, although some of the lessons are buried a bit in the subtext, I admit.

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