3 min read

Go Ahead, Envy Your Friends

There's a right way and a wrong way, though.
Go Ahead, Envy Your Friends
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Most of my friends these days earn a lot more money than I do. When we go out for drinks, I worry about how I'm going to pay for myself. Partly, this is because I tend to stress about finances a lot, whether out of habit or circumstance.

Some of my friends, though, are crossing over to a separate income group altogether, earning the kind of money that might mean they get to buy their own houses and send their kids to fancy schools.

This leaves me with a fear of being left behind. I have not cared much for having a lot of money, and I've written before about the sacrifices I've had to make peace with. A new challenge now arises, though: that of envy.

Envy in Friendships

The funniest scene in 3 Idiots is when Farhan and Raju discover that Rancho topped his class. They sit there with their faces hung, and Farhan says,

Uss din ek baat samajh me aayi: Dost fail ho jaye toh dukh hota hai, lekin dost first aa jaye toh zyada dukh hota hai.

This is something we can all relate to. We wish well for our friends, but you know, not too well. We want them to stay within the same vicinity as us in all areas of life: don't get too cool a partner, too great a job, or too much money.

I can't speak for you, but for me, this comes from wanting not to be reminded of my full potential. If people similar to me do extraordinary things, I'm confronted with the uncomfortable realization that I can too, but haven't yet.

The Concept of Emulative Envy

I recently learned about something called 'emulative envy'. For all its vices, envy is great at bringing out our deepest desires to the surface. Whenever we feel envious, we can choose to use it as a vehicle for self-awareness: "Oh, the thing this other person has is something I want. Who knew!"

My envy of my friends' incomes has made me confront the fact that my approach to money needs to change, and I need to start building for financial abundance. I deeply enjoy not having to look at prices on the menu, and I want to figure out how to sustain that lifestyle.

Of course, our definitions of financial abundance could vary greatly. Part of the work of handling envy, I think, is to recognize that we're all on unique paths. While on those paths, though, we can choose to be inspired by other people, and change course when we feel the need to.  

Emulative envy helps me feel grateful for the people in my life who paved the way, showing me that earning at a different level was even possible for us as liberal arts graduates. Here's a piece that introduced me to the concept of emulative envy:

Wise love is committed to protecting the loving relationship and making it flourish despite negative, aggressive emotions that might arise. That commitment implies that the lover can even encourage the beloved to feel emulative envy toward her. Envy can be an opportunity for the lovers’, and love’s, growth. When envy is emulative, loving wisely takes rivalry and competition as a chance for shared and authentic improvement, and reciprocal and altruistic support.
Envy can poison love, but it can also nourish growth | Aeon Essays
Envy is the dark side of love, but love is the luminous side of envy. Is there a way to harness envy wisely, for growth?