Envy is a "showstopper," a condition that keeps us from growing and moving forward in our lives.
That's the message from one Top of Utah therapist, who says she once felt inadequate and depressed as a stay-at-home mother of young children because she envied all of her neighbors' homes that looked cleaner and less chaotic.
"It was unhealthy envy because it wasn't getting me anywhere," says JanaLynn Young, a Layton marriage and family therapist.
So how do we cope with envy in a healthy way or use it to make changes in our lives? Young and other area experts share a few suggestions.
* Recognize the problem. It's natural for everyone to experience envy, but it can be hard for us to acknowledge that fact and realize we are getting in the way of our happiness or ability to function well, says Todd Soutor, a psychologist at Davis Behavioral Health in Layton. We shouldn't beat ourselves up over occasional run-ins with envy, he says, as long as we don't let it consume us or define who we are.
* Take action. Simply envying what someone else has doesn't fix anything, says psychology teacher Lark Woodbury at Layton High School. If you're envious of Mary's great singing voice, for example, don't sit around hating Mary -- sign up for singing lessons yourself, she says. Or if you are green over a neighbor's trip to Hawaii, start planning for your own trip. If that's unrealistic, find something else to aim for, but keep in mind, "What can I do that makes me happy in my life?"
For Young, her envy over her neighbors' well-kept homes became a motivator for her to make a daily goal to pick up at her own house so she doesn't feel embarrassed if someone drops by. It was a better approach, she says, than "sitting on the couch and wanting to cry because my house is a mess."
* Be your own cheerleader. Keep a mental list of your own strengths and talents and turn to it when you're feeling envious, suggests John C. Christensen, a Brigham City psychologist. Maybe you aren't good at baking or playing sports, but remind yourself, "I'm really good at fishing" or "I'm really smart at math."
All of us have different strengths, Christensen adds, and we have to realize that it doesn't make us less of a person when someone else does well.
* Rewire your brain. Replace envious thoughts with positive thoughts, Christensen says. If a friend gets an award or a job promotion, consciously say, "Oh, I'm so happy for you," both to yourself and to the friend or to others.
At first it may feel phony, but Christensen says research shows we can actually physically rewire our brain and thinking in this way. It doesn't even matter if you really mean it, he says; it's an example of the idea that if you want to acquire an attribute, you act as if you already have the attribute. Eventually, you will feel joyful for others' successes.
* See the whole picture. Although we may envy celebrities or even talented folk we know, Christensen says, behind the great voices or pretty faces are folks with their own problems. He'll often use examples of famous people who have encountered hard times when talking with his patients, to make the point that "life's hard for everybody."
* Switch focus. "Use your thinking and logic rather than your emotions to drive your thinking," Soutor says. We may think, "I'm not as good as the next person because I don't have what they have," but the psychologist says material things don't define a person.
What we value most in others are attributes like kindness, compassion and integrity, he says. All of us can develop those qualities, he says, regardless of what material goods we have or don't have.
* Be happy. Research has shown happy people have four positive thoughts for every negative thought, Christensen says, whereas as unhappy people experience one positive thought for every three negatives. Guess what? The happy people are very unlikely to be envious, he says, and also tend to be positive about the success of others.
Woodbury adds, "At some point in life you do have to make a decision to be happy in the state you're in. I think envy comes up when you haven't figured out your own spot's a pretty good place to be in."