I have a wildly successful acquaintance next to whose perfectly pillowed existence mine seems a lumpy mattress. I've seen him on magazine covers, a self-satisfied, cock-of-the-walk, air-brushed grin on his face. Even worse, he's in my field, though he does ever so much better (sell-out!). I've been training myself, as an antidote to a fulminating case of green-eye, that whenever I feel that little twitch of envy, I wish for more bluebirds of happiness to come sit on his eaves. "Don't you mean," asks a cynical friend, "come shit on his sleeves?" But the fact is, my good wishes provide an unexpected sense of relief. It's an unknotting, expansive feeling, as if what's his and what's mine suddenly, metaphysically, belong to both of us and to neither. I recently came across a line from Yoko Ono: "Transform jealousy to admiration / And what you admire / Will become part of your life." Maybe she did break up the Beatles, but I think she's onto something.
Don't believe me? Try it for yourself. Root for the other team. Visualize someone who makes you envious -- someone who squats smug as a toad in what is surely your rightful place in the world. Think of them in all their irritating splendor, enjoying the perks and accolades you no doubt deserve. Then ... wish sincerely that they get even more goodies.
Isn't this the mortal sin of "low self-esteem"? Well, not exactly; it's more like a metaphysical jujitsu. In rooting for someone else's happiness, we tune to a different wavelength. We feel more beneficent, less deprived, more capable of giving. The focus on another person's satisfaction becomes a lodestone that paradoxically draws us closer to our own. (Isn't most envy just our own potential disowned? We are jealous of what we ourselves might become.) Seeing the world through another's eyes (you in me, me in you) makes it feel there's at least twice as much to go around; not more money or fame or square footage, but what underlies the whole pursuit: more love.
It could be argued this approach might work in a monastery or on a mountaintop, but not in the hurly-burly of real life, where the game is tooth-and-nail and rooting for your own team is what keeps the opposition from eating you alive. I recently saw a quote from mega- mogul and master of the Squinty Eye, Donald 'I'rump, extolling the benefits of pure paranoia: "People you think are your friends in business will take your money, your wife, your pets ... Life's a vicious place. No different than a jungle." Yet I've met people who swim in the piranha-infested corporate waters for whom the Good has not only been good karma, but good business.
Copyright © 2005 Marc Ian Barasch
Marc Ian Barasch's most recent book, Healing Dreams, was hailed by the Washington Post as "lucid, courageous, trailblazing." His other books include the award-winning classic, The Healing Path, and the national bestseller, Remarkable Recovery. He is a former editor at Psychology Today, Natural Health, and New Age Journal (which won a National Magazine Award under his tenure). He was a founding member of the Naropa University psychology department and he is an Emmy Award-nominated documentary film producer and writer whose work has been broadcast worldwide. He lives in the Colorado Rockies.