Hey, Jealousy!

Hey Jealousy isn’t just a catchy little Gin Blossom tune from 1989 (the actual year, not the recent Taylor Swift album paying homage to the same year – oof, I feel old. But I digress…). It’s the recognition of a powerful emotion. “Hey, Jealously! Where the hell did you come from?”

Jealousy is a sneaky little feeling that seems most often to come out of nowhere and the poor guy gets a bad reputation. Last week, I was talking with a friend who was having a hard time admitting she was jealous of a colleague. In the telling of a story about this colleague, my friend hesitated and said, “I know it’s bad and I shouldn’t say it, but maybe it’s jealousy?”

But here’s the thing. Jealousy itself isn’t bad. None of the emotions we feel are – we can’t help it. It’s how we feel. It’s what we do about jealously and his fellow emotion friends that can get us into trouble. We’re taught early one to assign judgements to our emotions – it’s good to feel happy, excited or joyful. It’s bad to feel sad, anxious or jealous. And that’s really what gets us into trouble. Our emotions are powerful guides that can help us and we should really cut them some slack when they show up. We need to be less quick to assign a judgement to them and listen to what they’re trying to tell us.

Take our good friend jealousy. He shows up when you see something you want. A colleague gets a promotion. A friend gets married. A cousin takes a trip abroad. If we see these things and want them for ourselves, jealousy can be an exceptionally powerful motivator. What do I need to do to get the promotion? Did I know getting married was that important to me? Should I prioritize a travel fund more than a new car? If we allow jealously to fester and he moves in, gets comfortable and starts making us say mean things to our colleague, wish our friend ill or be outwardly gleeful when our cousin gets food poisoning on her trip, jealousy is bad news. That’s where we get into trouble.

On the flip side, harnessing jealousy and understanding that it’s a reflection of our own values and shifting priorities can be incredibly powerful. In talking about this with another friend, she shared she gets jealous when she’s out and about and sees parents and children having a good time together. She doesn’t get jealous when she sees nice cars or the newest and biggest houses. Having a child is important to her and she doesn’t have one yet – having a nice car and beautiful house are not important to her. She’s listened to jealously and let it help her focus on what’s she’s prioritizing now.

So the next time you notice jealousy popping by to say hello, pay attention to what he’s trying to tell you before you kick him out. He may have a thing or two to share with you.

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