Afflictive Emotions: Envy

army of statuettes in ChandigarhThat little twinge of inadequacy or resentment that twists the belly and catches us off guard when we perceive someone has succeeded where we have not or gains something we have been pursuing – this is envy. It turns wonder and awe to regret and bitterness by telling us we are not enough and suggesting that others don’t deserve what they have.

Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all. – Joseph Epstein

Envy, like the other afflictive emotions, has its roots in attachment, aversion, and ignorance. The comparing mind, mistakenly viewing itself as self-existent, separate and permanent, holds what it sees as “I”, “me” or “mine” up to what is “other” and finds itself wanting. There is an urge to possess the good fortune of the other and perhaps even feelings of ill-will toward them in their success. Most of the world’s major religions consider envy an obstacle to spiritual growth and enlightenment.

Many of us feel ashamed when we become aware that we are experiencing envy. In this way we heap an additional layer of suffering upon ourselves. We first feel the pain of inadequacy and then the pain of mortification. In response, we may avoid the emotion by distracting ourselves from it, attempting to justify it, or denying it. This prevents us from seeing it clearly and learning from it. In this way, our reaction to envious feelings is likely to be unskillful.

Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those we envy. – Heraclitus

What if instead we could practice self-compassion around envy when it arises? Can we pause to look inward and identify the pain and longing beneath the resentment? After all, as Viktor Frankl said, all suffering behaves like a gas – it will fill a vessel completely regardless of its origins. Do we recognize the common humanity in this type of suffering? Because we are interconnected, our own peace and happiness is inextricably intertwined with that of others. Understanding this allows us to celebrate success and good fortune and to feel compassion for suffering without the distinction of “I” and “mine”. We can experience joyful appreciation for all that is useful and beneficial. With practice, we can learn to respond to envy with wisdom and loving-kindness. We can cultivate a sincere wish for happiness for all beings and engage in “right action” supporting these intentions.

We all are so deeply interconnected; we have no option but to love all. Be kind and do good for any one and that will be reflected. The ripples of the kind heart are the highest blessings of the Universe. ― Amit Ray, Yoga and Vipassana: An Integrated Life Style

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