The 25 Cognitive Biases: Envy Jealousy Tendency

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you know how to overcome envy? Why is it important to do so?

Sometimes a healthy interest in others takes a nasty turn, and it becomes envy. Learning how to overcome envy is vital because envy can cause harm to you and others. Author Rick Warren outlines four ways envy does damage—and four ways to avoid the envy trap.

Keep reading to learn how to overcome envy—and why you should.

The Envy Trap

It’s normal to be interested in what other people are doing, and the different skills, personalities, or gifts they have. God likes it when we celebrate and study the diversity he created. 

However, if your interest turns into envy—that is, you begin to resent ways in which you weren’t made like others, or compare your unique work to that of others—you lose sight of the meaning and purpose of your life. It’s crucial to understand the harm envy does and to learn how to overcome envy.

How Envy Hurts You

You’ll want to notice and shut down your envy as soon as possible because it’s destructive and distracting in four ways.

  1. Envy is an insult to your unique creation. When you wish to be like others, not only do you ignore all the amazing factors that make you you, but you also insult God’s choices in creating you. He formed you exactly as he intended—your idea that you should be different in some way suggests that you think he made a mistake. 
  2. Envy begs for your attention. If you’re busy thinking about ways that you want to be different or watching the work of others, you can’t concentrate fully on your work and doing what God intended you to do. 
  3. Envy wastes time and energy. When you compare yourself to others, you end up overworking yourself in order to keep up with them or surpass them. Instead of being content with what God’s given you, you waste your time and energy trying to be or have more—even though it won’t matter in the context of eternity. 
  4. Envy paves the path to other sins. Envy naturally creates feelings of conflict, competition, resentment, and so on. These feelings easily manifest in other sins, such as lying or stealing.

How to Overcome Envy

If you feel yourself becoming envious of others and distracted from your purposes, there are four mindset adjustments you can make to reduce your envy. 

1) Stop comparing: Our uniqueness makes humans incomparable to one another, and God would never judge you for not being something he didn’t make you to be. Follow his lead. 

  • Each time you start comparing yourself or your work to someone else, think, “God wouldn’t compare me to others. I choose to do the same.” 

2) Celebrate others: It’s tempting to feel envious when good happens to someone else, but not you—for example when a friend gets engaged while you’re still single, or a sibling gets a promotion at work while you’re stuck in a dead-end job. This usually happens because we feel that there’s a limited amount of “good” that God gives, and someone else receiving it means there’s less for you. This doesn’t make sense, because God’s goodness is limitless. Learning how to overcome envy requires acceptance of this reality.

  • When good happens to someone you know, remind yourself that it doesn’t subtract from the amount of good that you can receive. Push yourself to celebrate them in the same way that they will celebrate you when good things happen for you. 

This step will substantially increase the happiness you feel throughout your life. If you’re only happy when you experience good, you miss out on hundreds or thousands of opportunities to be happy in celebrating others experiencing good. 

3) Practice gratitude: Envy convinces you that what you have now isn’t enough, and only having “more” will make you happy. This is a myth—if you’re unable to be happy with everything already in your possession, you’ll be unsatisfied no matter how much you have. 

  • When you start focusing on everything you don’t have, turn your thoughts back to appreciating what you do have. You might do this by spending time reflecting on gratitude each morning, or journaling. List abilities you have, personality quirks that make you special, or possessions that you’re grateful for like your home or your pet. 

4) Trust God: Envy is a symptom of doubting God—in thinking you should be different, you’re doubting the choices he’s made for you. Reflect on reminders of God’s love and proof that he knows better than you: 

  • Everything you have is a gift of God’s love and power. 
  • You don’t know everything God knows—his ultimate knowledge is much more trustworthy than your limited knowledge. 

Your life might feel unfair at some points, but even Jesus dealt with unfairness—his death was for our sins, not his own.

Learning how to overcome envy is important to living out your life purpose with joy and satisfaction.

How to Overcome Envy: 4 Ways to Avoid the Envy Trap

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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