The One Cure For All Envy and Jealousy

I told him I would steal it. That idea is so good, I said, I think I want to steal it from you.

He said, Don’t worry. You can take it.

Which means, of course, that I’m going to give him full credit.

Ryan Holiday, author of the upcoming “Ego is the Enemy,” and I were having dinner. He asked me, “Are you ever envious of anyone?”

And I said, “Yes.” I feel like I’m envious of aspects of many people.

Like maybe I can be envious of someone’s athleticism, another person’s money, another person’s relationships, another person’s looks or success, and so on.

I know this is not a good way to be. In general, I tell myself, focus on right now. Appreciate the good things happening this second. Be healthy in spirit and in body.

Bad things happen all the time. Sometimes I’ll on the phone with someone and they will tell me a bad thing that happened and I will feel bad for them.

Or last week, I had some business issues that I felt bad about and had to work through them rather than spend the time writing

And sometimes much worse things happen. Like, a 5 year marriage can end for reasons that still can’t be understood. Or someone you completely trusted can steal from you and you will never understand why.

“Why did she do this?” I asked, with tears in my eyes, to a friend of mine.

“You will never know the answer why,” my friend said.

Don’t ask why. Which is why I try to only ask about “now.” What is good right now? The flowers of tomorrow can only bloom if you plant the seeds today. Regretting not planting them in the past will make nothing grow.

“Yes,” I said, “I’m envious of people.”

Here’s what you do, Ryan said. If you are envious of someone, you can’t just pick one or two things about them. Because it’s their entire history that has got them the one thing you are envious about.

So, he said, picture that you can change places in every way with them. But then it’s forever.

He said: Would you do it?

While he asked that, the hostess of the restaurant came up to us, She looked at me and asked, are you on TV?


You’re Ted Mosby, right? From the show ‘How I Met Your Mother.’

No, I said, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

She kept staring and then walked away.

Let me think, I said to Ryan. What about X, would you change places with him? – And I named someone we both admired.

No way, he said, look at A, B, and C with him. Would you want those?

Hmm, no.

Who else do you admire? he asked.

I had to think for a long time. There’s a lot of people I admire but which among them do I envy.

I named some more people I envied but for each one, he named some attributes that I would definitely not want to have for myself if I switched places for that person.

I guess you’re right, I said. I’m happy being me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be having such a fun dinner right now with you!

We talked about his next book. The book takes him completely away from the business world, which I think is smart for him. Business authors: don’t be boring and just write about business! Business is only a small part of life.

Don’t even tell anyone I’m doing another book, he said.


Then we left. As we were leaving, the hostess kept smiling at me, I know you are Ted Mosby.

And yet despite her smile, I wouldn’t switch places with him either.

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  • “Ego is the Enemy” – this is so very true indeed. Ego makes life difficult and unhappy. Despite knowing that, everyone carries a big ego. Killing your ego may perhaps help you to be happier. Here are some more thoughts on this –

  • Steven

    Thank you for this article. Envy is something I have struggled much with in my life without ever finding a solution in how to deal with it. The tip in this article has already helped and I can’t wait to start reading “Ego is the Enemy”.

  • Linda Sand

    Paraphrasing: “The part you envy came from the whole–to get that part you have to take it all.” Hmmm. I think my envy just went away. Thanks.

  • Thomas Dotson

    Take the word “my” completely out of your thoughts and speech and writing. You become a completely different person.

  • William Burton Harrison

    I had a rough day today. My sister told me on the phone, “If you don’t stop talking about jumping from someplace really high up, I’m going to call an ambulance for you.” I had missed important appointments and spent the day exercising some of my worst personal qualities of evasion, avoidance, and, later, self pity. My wife may walk soon, too – but if it happens, I will have a pretty good idea why.

    My mother used to ask me, “if you could trade places with anyone, would you? Think about it.” She was sure I wouldn’t make the trade. Today I thought yeah, I’d roll those dice, take my chances with a switch. Anything to not be me.

    Your piece today sort of expanded my mother’s old comments about sitting with our own problems and not underestimating other people’s trials and tribulations. You brought it home for me today!

    Pity party is almost gone. Tomorrow is another day.

    Thanks, James.

    • I’m hoping that your day today is better than yesterday. I know some days just suck.

      My mom was different than yours. She was the a constant pity party. She’s been gone a few years now. But she had so much good going on in her life. Way better than most. And she just couldn’t tap into seeing it.

      The crazy thing is… I think it’s awesome that today you had a call with your sister. My brother hardly ever calls me back and my sister can’t stand me. My brother in law has nothing in common with my wife or myself. And we see him a lot and it’s awkward. So I know that you at least have that for me to envy. You also apparently had a good and wise mom. I can’t say I had that either.

      • William Burton Harrison

        I was delighted to see your reply. I guess my mother was pretty wise, and my sister is probably my best confidant. (My family is messy, but we do tend to stick together.) Fortunate things, I guess! Today I wouldn’t trade.

        I’m also reminded of one of those quotations that has stuck for me and is tangentially related:

        “Be kind to others because you don’t know the invisible burdens they carry.”
        (Can’t remember which Greek or Roman said it and I’m feeling too lazy to look it up.)

        Thanks for the little lift –

        • That’s funny that you put that quote up because I tell people that a lot. I called out a friend the other day who tried to tell me that we should always be kind to people but sometimes you have to not be nice to get things done. And I told her that was a totally insane way to look at motivation and productivity.

          I managed to survive living through some really crazy and bad times as a kid. I think it’s made me enjoy my adulthood more and appreciate being around good people. I have a friend who’s going through a hard time professionally at the moment. I try to send him positive thoughts every day. I worry about him. But it really is a beautiful life.

  • John Bennett

    Great passage: “The flowers of tomorrow can only bloom if you plant the seeds today. Regretting not planting them in the past will make nothing grow.” Planning for the future is important – though has no guarantees. We must act upon them … Even then, if the planning is for something worthwhile, there I’ll be stumbles and missteps. As Steve Harvey says, we all have to “jump” act upon our passions!!!

  • The hard part is when you DO meet someone who is smarter, funnier, better looking, taller, more organized, more financially savy, and to top it all off, you like them too.

    • I’m wondering if your kinda joking. But if not, I think you’re kind of making James’s point. I’ve been moderately successful in my life. But not always. I don’t remember envying people when I was younger and had a lot less. I remember being ugly, broke and lonely. But I don’t remember envying anyone. I just remember envying the guy I knew I could be. So I lost weight (there are really very few fit ugly people). That helped me find a great woman. And I worked really hard to gain some great skills and a ton of friends and now I’m fairly financially secure.

      It’s pointless to envy anyone other than the person you know you can be.

  • Sarse

    I guess I’m the weird one. The closest I’ve come to envying another person is someone with a gorgeous woman in tow, and knowing he shares a bed with her. I realize she may be a btch to live with, but as long as I’m envying I don’t take that part. Besides, the wife I have is the my best friend, which is worth more.

  • doug garland

    envy is an emotion not an action. as such it is broken down into good or upward envy; bad or downward envy. You descibed good envy which is seeing someone’s good trait and working hard “to be like mike”. the good emotion motivates you to improve. Bad envy is taking some negative action against the person to bring him down to your level. It occurs more in low self esteem people, which is surely not you, to bring them down to their level since they assume they cannot rise to your level. Downward envy is comparing yourslef to some lower than you which then elevates your self worth. Jealousy involves three people such as a love triangle and the jealous person is losing something that was once theirs so their self image is being destroyed. Your article was not about this and the two emotions should not be interchanged.

  • clemdane

    There was a girl I envied terribly when I was a graduate student. She had gone much farther at a much younger age in a field that I desperately wanted to excel in. When we each started our Master’s degree at the same time she already had a book deal! It turned out what she was writing was in my opinion ‘trendy rubbish,’ but that didn’t help. She taught herself Classical Greek in about three years and was 5 years younger than me and already dazzling people with her interpretations of Greek myths. She also had two of the most attractive men in the college chasing her. We were both up for a very prestigious fellowship…and she got it. And a bunch of other things. I started to obsess with how jealous I was to the point where I couldn’t be friends with her anymore.

    But my other friend pointed out to me something I already knew but had pushed to the back of my mind; that what I wanted was “a poisoned chalice.” What I didn’t mention about this girl was that she was a diagnosed anorexic and had periods of severe agoraphobia. She was quite manipulative and would demand that I go to the dining hall with her “Or I won’t eat” because she was afraid to go there by herself. This wasn’t just once! This was for every meal. She demanded I go to the supermarket “Or I won’t eat anything.” She went through periods of black depression where she lay on the floor in her room for days, eating nothing but cereal from a box. She was on multiple psychiatric drugs. She was obsessed with her much older, married thesis advisor and the two gorgeous men who pursued her got nowhere.

    Many years later I am out of the center of that maelstrom of emotion and don’t wish I could have traded places with her at all.

  • sunny

    Live a life of being “present” and you’ll find peace.

  • Raj Saxena

    Please read this small book “The First & The Lost Lessons “

  • MantasM

    That hostess mixing you with Ted Mosby is actually a very good technique to get more tips, you know. Robert Cialdini type of stuff.

  • Dr. Joel Bryant

    Envy, maybe, when I was younger. Age teaches us to bathe in our own pool, whether the water is hot or cool. Admire, definitely.