It’s a story as old as friendship itself: many of us find ourselves envying a friend's good fortune, whether that fortune comes in the form of a bigger salary, a sexier partner, or a fabulous new home.
Envy, experts say, is different from jealousy. While jealousy finds us guarding what we already have, envy is all about what we want.
Envy makes us aware of our "tender spots"
Envy is an “X-ray of our insecurities," says Suzanne Degges-White, a licensed counselor and a professor at Northern Illinois University.
It’s also a useful emotion. When we're aware of what we covet in others, we learn about what Degges-White calls our “tender spots.”
“Once you find that tender spot, you can work on it,” says Degges-White.
The fine line between admiration and envy
As odd as it sounds, some of us deliberately make friends with people we'll end up envying, says Mary Lamia, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst and a professor at Wright College in Berkeley, California.
“It’s not unusual to gravitate toward people we admire and to want their approval," says Lamia. "One’s self is validated — even if it is a house built on sand — if you admire another person, and, in turn, they like you,” Lamia tells TODAY.
When that admiration turns to envy is the problem.
But emotions exist to inform us, Lamia says. “Envy, which is related to the emotion of shame, draws our attention to qualities or characteristics we want that would more positively define us,” says Lamia.
Don't fixate on what a friend has that you don't.
Instead, focus on what issues envy brings up in us — and then figure out what we want to change about ourselves.
These are every day situations that cause envy to rear its ugly head. The trick? Flipping the script, our experts say. Let envy help you reflect on what you already have — or let it inspire you to go after what you want.
1. She gets a promotion at work — or she’s suddenly making a bigger salary than you.
Ask yourself: What is it that the new money or success will buy her that you feel you’re not getting in your own life? Remember, too, that big salaries don't always bring happiness, says Degges-White.
If it’s really more money or success you want, use that envy to motivate yourself to aim higher, says Lamia.
2. She scored a great new mate — but you’re still single.
Ask yourself: What are the ways you feel your life would be different if you were in a relationship? What’s keeping you from enjoying the things you want to enjoy right now?
3. She’s so bubbly and confident, people like her more.
"If we’re socially anxious," says Degges-White, "we are going to envy people who can walk into a room and make new friends."
Try to appreciate the friendships you already have, or force yourself to be bolder and willing to take a risk to make a new friend.
4. She's a bigger hit on social media.
Studies have shown our Facebook and Instagram profiles filled with celebratory posts and vacation photos — what Degges-White calls our "Photoshopped lives" — are inspiring scary amounts of envy. But social media doesn't tell the whole story.
If your friend gets more shares and comments than you do, celebrate the fact that someone popular is your pal, says Degges-White.
But try not to look for self-esteem online. Being noticed and cared about in real life, by people you care about in return, is more valuable than getting a "like" on your vacation photo from an old high school classmate.
When it comes to friendships, says Lamia, envy may be the greatest compliment we can pay another person— they have a quality we would love to have ourselves.
The good news? “We are not completely stuck with who we are. What would you have to do to be more of who you want to be?” says Lamia.
5. She’s more attractive and her body is perfect!
“This one often feels awful because such envy is the side of body image shame that people try to hide from themselves," says Lamia. "It is much easier to envy someone else’s looks and physique than to feel shame about your own."
The solution? Either accept how you look —or do something about it.
6. Everything she owns — her house, her car, her new kitchen remodel — is newer and nicer.
“Remember that objects are not a person’s life and possessions are not a measure of someone as a person,” says Degges-White.
Ask yourself: what do you think that fancy car would do for you that your regular car isn’t doing?