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Don't let envy make you blue

Keeping the green-eyed monster at bay can leave you happier—here are some tips

Jen Weigel

May 15, 2012

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Wishing for more is human nature. Whether it's longing for a nicer house or pining over a friend's tropical vacation pictures on Facebook, being envious of those who seem to have it all is as common as finding the Kardashians on a magazine cover. But did you know that too much envy can prevent you from being happy?

"Being in the clutches of the green-eyed monster can really sabotage your overall happiness," says Todd Patkin, author of "Finding Happiness: One Man's Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and — Finally — Let the Sunshine In." "Envy makes you focus on what you don't have instead of all of the great things that fill up your life."

Patkin said the immediacy of social media has taken envy to a whole new level.

"Most people only share the wonderful things in their lives in social media," he said. "What you don't know is that they could have a sick relative, or maybe they had a huge fight with their spouse. You're rarely going to see bad photos up there or tweets that someone is miserable. It's always how great everything is going, but you're really only seeing half the story."

Patkin said the "glorification" of people's lives through social media can lead to the disillusion that people we know or idolize don't have problems. This constant feeling of jealousy, he said, can cause depression.

"It's like a switch goes off and everything goes dark," he said. "It can be so negative."

Here are some of Patkin's tips to help keep envy at bay:

Admit that you're envious. "To some extent, envy is really quite natural," Patkin said. "When you're honest about how it shows up for you and start to keep a tally of how often it happens, it can help you realize the hold it has on you. Maybe you're jealous someone got more praise than you at the office. Your jealousy could be burning bridges at work. Once you see the effect it has on your attitude or behavior, you can start to make a change."

Know that not everyone's definition of "happiness" is the same. "So often the people who look the happiest aren't," he said. "We see these reality shows with the rich and famous or these 'Sweet 16' parties where their parents buy them a Porsche. But what we don't see is a lot of times these kids are really sad. When you give yourself permission to live your life based on your terms instead of letting others set the bar, you might be surprised by how good you already have it."

Take a walk. "Any time I start to get in a rut, I seem to exercise more," he said. "This changes your chemistry and will make you feel better instantly."

Be generous. "Say a friend is getting married and you're jealous you haven't found someone in your own life, it's OK to feel envious of them at first," he said. "Rather than sit in disappointment, call the friend and wish her well. Doing something nice for someone will make you feel better immediately."

Shut down social media. "If looking at other people's photos and updates will trigger something for you, make a choice to do something else," he said. "You could spend that time building something with your son, or spending time with your spouse. Our relationships are suffering and we need to make a conscious effort to keep them healthy."

Be grateful. "I send thank-you notes to people who matter in my life — but you don't always have to send a note," he said. "At any point and time, you can look to the left and see all the people who have more than you or you can look to right and see all the people who have less than you. Then look right in front of you. Chances are you are staring at something wonderful, but you didn't realize it because you chose to focus somewhere else."

Learn more at our TribU seminar, "Finding Happiness," with Jenniffer Weigel and Todd Patkin at 6 p.m. May 23 at the Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Drive. For tickets and information, go to http://www.chicagotribune.com/classes.

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel