You’re sitting down with coffee, taking a well-deserved afternoon break. While sipping your drink, you scroll through your Instagram feed. And then you feel it … an ache in the pit of your stomach. You peer at a friend’s latest success (house renovation, dream vacation, job promotion) and instead of feeling happy for her, you feel envious.
We’ve all been there. However, envy is not only dangerous to our emotional health, it also can be toxic to our relationships. Proverbs 14:30 sums it up this way: “It’s healthy to be content, but envy can eat you up.”
So how do we avoid envying others? I asked everyday women and experts for practical tips to help us change our mindset. Here are their suggestions:
1. Foster contentment
Contentment springs from gratitude—a spiritual fruit we cultivate when we recognize the beauty and provision of what God has given us, instead of grasping for more.
Licensed professional counselor Michelle Nietert explains: “You can find someone who has more than you, but it doesn’t take long to find someone with much less. Gratitude goes a long way towards changing our envious hearts. My father has traveled all over the world and reminds me often that in America, those of us who live with little, live like kings and queens compared to the rest of the world.”
Like Nietert’s father, our older loved ones are gifts who often remind us how blessed we are. “My grandmother used to say, ‘be happy with what you have until you can do better,’” says Cathy Childers, a retired educator. “She and my grandfather bought one iron bed for themselves in 1936. They never bought another, although they did buy new mattresses. They lived in the same house for 60 years and were very content. They believed that God would provide what they needed, not what they wanted, and they surrounded themselves with people who felt the same way. They were also free from social media, internet, and satellite television!”
2. Limit media consumption
Childers brings up an interesting dynamic of our modern age. In an instant–just by picking up our phone–we’re able to see a multitude of fabulous homes, vacations, and accomplishments. Several women I polled mentioned that they stay off social media (Pinterest-provoked envy is real!) or cut back on their HGTV watching when they’re struggling with envy. I think that’s a wise move.
Ever browsed a women’s fashion or gossip magazine and felt much worse about your life than before you picked it up? That’s because many advertisers employ tactics to make us feel as if we are not complete unless we buy their product or look a certain way.
Be careful about what you read and watch; as Proverbs 4:23 states (NLT), “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” After all, our value is not in our appearance, acquisitions, or accomplishments—rather, it stems from Whose we are.
3. Know your worth
“Know your value isn’t based on how attractive you are, or how well-liked or well-known you may be,” Nietert says.
Instead, she insists—and scripture confirms—that each of us have inherent worth because God made us in a specific way, “with an intentional purpose in mind that only you can fulfill. You are valuable because the price that was paid for you was the life of His son.”
When we center our identity on God and His son, it helps us resist envy and kick comparison out of our minds.
4. Ask yourself 3 questions
Life coach and publisher L.L. Barkat says, “I treat envy like any other emotion: as an indicator, a flag, a motivator. So, I take out a metaphorical cup and pour a little metaphorical tea. Then I ask a few questions of my questionable guest: Why are you here? Why now? Why visit me?”
She adds, “Invariably, the answers are far more interesting than I expect. It’s generally not about being wrong or ungrateful, like I might have guessed. More often, it’s about me needing to do something I’ve been putting off. Probing to a truth, pursuing a passion, pushing through a barrier.”
5. Take action
Similarly, licensed professional counselor Lucille Zimmerman explains, “Even though envy is an agonizing emotion, it signals something important. I think of envy as a signal, a flashing light telling me there is a void and I need to take action in this specific area.”
Zimmerman says we have power in these moments. Instead of envying, which leads to grumbling and complaining, we can make a shift and move our lives in a direction that “mirrors the hopes and dreams we have for ourselves.”
6. Live intentionally
When we view our station in life through the lens of purpose, we begin to understand that our journey is individual. God has gifted us with specific talents. The One who knows us best and loves us most has thoughtfully placed us where we are and given us what we have (or don’t have). Such a realization is freeing. In The Intentional Woman author and life coach Joan C. Webb writes, “If I live intentionally, being true to my own personality, serving out of my gifted-ness and calling, I no longer feel the strong urge to envy anyone else’s career, marriage, ministry, talents or mission.”
What a life-changing way to live!
Your turn: how do you avoid friend-envy? I’d love to know! Tell me in the comments.
Note: want to read more about women and friendship? The first chapter of Wounded Women of the Bible is all about that.
[This post originally appeared on Aleteia.org in 2017.]