Why we hate it when our friends become successful

Admit it, you have to give it to Morrissey. I even unconsciously, mentally play this song in my mind whenever someone gets a raise, promotion or lands an ass-kicking job at a giant bona fide company with paycheck that makes you scream (mostly, internally) “ANJIR!”

So, why is it? Why, as Moz puts it, do we hate it when our friends become successful?

One thing and only, my friend: it’s—gasp!—envy.

The thing you should know about envy is that it’s different from jealousy. When you are jealous, you’re afraid that someone might take something or someone you love away from you. When you envy, you wish you had what another person has.

I don’t know about you but I experience envy since I was a kid. I watched with envy as my friend got a new, shiny pair of inline skates (I never had one, let alone a pair), I had a complete contempt for my friends who got fancy lunch box.

Even though I succeeded in getting over the inline skates and the lunch box cases, the feeling never actually goes away. It continues into my adult life.

Today, I can handle envy pretty well when my friends got new material possessions a.k.a stuffs but it’s worse when it comes to the context of profession and success. And thanks to social media, the situation now becomes more rampant as people shove their achievements in your face.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of people more successful than you and some of your friends (take Raffi Ahmad* or Mark Zuckerberg, for example). But, stangely, you don’t envy them, do you? Even though they have a bigger house, the former just had a huge, grand wedding and they both are a lot richer than you are.

(*I don’t think being a rich and famous celebrity is a sign of success, but I believe it is to some people).

But why is envy more apparent when it comes to your friends?

Because we are similar to them. We are the same age, coming from the same background, having the same degree etc., etc. And that’s why it’s a lot easier to envy our friends than Raffi or Zuck.

The easier we relate to somebody, the closer we are with them, “the more there is a danger of envy” according to Alain de Botton in his insightful TED talk.

(On a side note, imagine how Raffi Ahmad’s friends are feeling!)

Because envy is a painful emotion, we often try everything we can to reduce it. In his song, Morrissey wonders if he could inflict pain on his friends (If we can destroy them/you bet your life we will destroy them/if we can hurt them, well, we might as well). He also tries to ridicule his friends (Oh, look at those clothes/now look at that face it’s so old/and such a video, well, it’s really laughable).

Now, no wonder if you meet a coworker, say, spreading nasty rumors about someone (or—god forbid—you!) who earns more money than he/she does.

That, or you try to bring yourself up by working your ass off to get the same amounts of money, the same respectable job (often blood-sucking, soul-crushing, high-pressure ones), or anything that can take you to the same level as or higher than your friends.

While it can be one of the sources of your driving force to compete and achieve your goal, more often than not, the feeling of envy just sucks.

So, what can you possibly do about it?

I’ll say admit it.

Believe me, if there’s a thing shittier than envy it’s admitting that you have it. Remember that oh-so-profound quote from The Fault in Our Stars: “Pain demands to be felt.” Since envy is also pain, it too demands to be felt.

Whenever I’m overwhelmed by envy, I just let that icky feeling stir my gut, creating a churning sensation in my stomach and chest. Then I write down how it feels. I cry like a bitch. I scream my lungs out (through a pillow it is). I welcome it. I embrace it.

And, finally, I let it go.

Then I realize that only after the storm subsided do I get a clearer view about myself, my priorities, my values and the things that are important to me. I try to find what I’m good at, what I like to do and all the in betweens and focus on that.

You see, envy is not entirely bad. I believe that when you treat it right, envy can be put to a good use, say, as a motivation to work harder so that you can be the person you’ve been dreaming to be. But then again, make sure that your goals and what you strive for is your own. Because, as Alain argues (man, I really admire this guy!), “it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”

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Citra Saraswati

I'm a bit into analog photography.

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