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Keeping Envy and Jealousy Under Control

When someone gets a raise or a special perk, can you say congratulations and mean it? Or do you seethe inside and think, "That really should have been mine?"

Feelings of resentment at another's good fortune have been around since recorded history. These feelings commonly take two forms, envy and jealousy. Envy rears its ugly head when someone has a thing or benefit you want for yourself - a bigger office, a bigger paycheck, a special privilege. Jealousy results when you covet a relationship. For example, you might feel jealous if your supervisor and co-worker are lunch buddies and leave you behind.

Both envy and jealously are fanned by the perception that the "winner" had an unfair advantage. The jealous or envious person finds themselves constantly thinking about the situation, wondering when their "turn" at recognition is going to come.

In small doses, these emotions can be motivating. When someone else has what you want, this increases your determination to get it. Some business models even encourage these feelings to create a more competitive environment.

When envy and jealousy get out of control, though, they can be highly destructive to people and to organizations. Plotting to "get even" with someone who just got a new title, for example, probably won't change the situation, but it could make life in the office very unpleasant for you and everyone else.

In the same way, someone who decided to get back at the organization by coming in late or doing a less effective job would probably find it harder to get a promotion in the future.

Envy and jealousy also contribute to stress and anger, which are closely tied to several illnesses. Anger has been shown to be a risk factor for heart disease. Similarly, long-term stress impairs the immune system and has been associated with some forms of cancer.

Follow your own star

Negative emotions can exhaust you, causing you to lose your focus on your goals. Rather than thinking about the situation, take control by making conscious choices about what you want in your life and career. Set your personal priorities, based on what you value the most. Decide upon issues such as work status, how many hours you are willing to work, or commute time away from home, for example.

Steps to take

Here are some other strategies for managing these negative emotions:

  • Use "decision language." Instead of casting yourself as the victim, describe the situation in words that put you in charge. Instead of saying, "I got shafted," say, "What can I do next time to better myself in order to have an equal opportunity for the promotion?"

  • Count your assets. Take an inventory of the positive things you've achieved in your work and in the rest of your life. Is it possible other people are envious of you?

  • Level the playing field. Envy and jealousy thrive when "office politics" take the place of clear rules for success.

  • Choose a stress-reducing lifestyle. Regular exercise and a healthful diet can help you get a grip on feelings of anger and frustration. Look also at ways to manage or reduce other areas of stress. Could you make a long commute less stressful by taking public transportation?

Talk with someone about how your perception of unfairness is making you feel. A therapist or counselor can help you sort out these emotions, and help you concentrate on the direction you are choosing for your life. Once you attain the confidence to proceed with your goals, you will most likely experience a decrease in the amount of time you might have been worrying about what is happening with someone else.