What jealousy can teach you

We’re told that jealousy is bad and we should rise above it so people deny or suppress the feeling.

The problem? They are still jealous but now feel guilty and ashamed too and are no closer to understanding why the jealousy emerged or what they can do to manage the discomfort.

But if you really want to know what you value, then jealousy is a merciless guide.

Nothing cuts through the theoretical idea of what you think you value to what you actually value faster. Learning to read it is invaluable.

For example, tell me about a runner who broke the world record for the 100 meters and while I am glad for them I am otherwise unmoved. The same can be said for the Oscar winners, Grand Prix drivers, math geniuses, amazing business people or International Most Fabulous Persons Of All Time.

But mention a 20-year old novelist who has managed to shortcut the tortuous path to publishing and create an immediate best seller and that gets the heart pumping.

Why? Because my path to publishing has been long and at times tortuous. Apart from the published works I have 11 unpublished novels, umpteen plays and short stories in the drawer (of my Mac that is).

That jealousy rails it’s not fair. And it may not be. But that is what it is. The deeper lesson? That I love and value writers and writing. The path out of the jealousy? To write more.

Used in this way jealousy is a map that shows you what your value and how you should spend your time.

You can flip just about any jealous experience on its head this way.

But what about being jealous of possessions? Isn’t that a different ballgame?

No. Even here you can use jealousy to understand why you want what others have and find other ways to get it.

Hypothetical: let’s pretend you’re jealous of a friend’s Porche. Acknowledge it at least to yourself.

What do you think that car means?

Do you think it means s/he:

  • Is more important than you?
  • Has an easier life?
  • Is more deserving?
  • Is lucky?

Rarely are any of these true.

They could have bought it because they think it gives them status or simply because they love the design. They could be rich or on the skin of their teeth from loans. If you think their car says something about your worth then the problem is how you measure your worth.


We often correlate worth with possessions but it’s a false correlation as many wealthy people will tell you.

What do you think having a Porche would give you specifically?

Do you think you would feel more valued? If so then ask yourself what else you can do to make you feel valued?

Sometimes it can be as small as buying yourself fresh flowers or blueberries for your morning porridge.

Consider too how much you value others.

Do you take the time to understand what’s important for them? Listen? Show in real terms (not theory) how much they mean to you? Make a list of how you can show others you value them and work through it. That will do more to make you feel good than just about anything else.

Let’s face it, the inequitable distribution of wealth is not going to change any time soon. It’s good to have financial goals but it’s pointless to think that being wealthy will make you worthy or feel worthy.

A final observation – you may not care when a stranger you don’t know wins lotto but be upset by a friend’s good fortune even if you don’t aspire to their form of success. We tend to value ourselves relative to others and the closer to home the experience, the more real it feels. Wish them well.

Be your own person. Learn to live relative to your values. When you feel jealous instead of suppressing it or acting out use it to identify what you value, what you would like and why. Then actively try to bring that into your life in other ways.


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