Wright Foundation | August 13, 2019

Why Am I Jealous of Others’ Success?


We’ve all experienced feelings of envy and jealousy.

Do you feel green with envy over successes that aren’t your own? Here’s why we feel jealous of others’ success and how to address it.

Maybe you’re jealous of others’ success at work. Perhaps you’re envious of your friend’s great relationship, or their seemingly fabulous life.

In this day and age, when people share so much on social media, it’s easy to look at photos and Facebook announcements and feel a twinge of FOMO (fear of missing out) or concern that the realities of your life don’t quite measure up.

Why do we feel jealous of others’ good fortune? Why do we covet our friends’ lives? Is jealousy really so bad? And what should we do to clear up those green-with-envy moments?

The Haves and the Have-Not’s

There are a lot of ways to look at jealousy. If we view it from the perspective of psychologist Alfred Adler, jealousy stems from our inferiority complex.

Everyone has an inferiority complex. If you think someone doesn’t have one, you don’t know him or her well enough. Feelings of inferiority are embedded deep in our psyche. It’s part of growing up and navigating our world. As children, we’re fighting our siblings to get our parents’ attention. We’re fighting our way through a big world when we’re small. We’re learning about our limitations. These feelings are a natural part of being human.

When you view the success of those around you, you may interpret their accomplishment to mean you’re somehow inadequate.

Someone else was chosen over you. They’re one up, and you’re one down. Even if you tell yourself it’s not a contest or competition, you may still feel twinges of envy. You may wonder if they’re better than you are, or what they did to deserve what you didn’t receive.

These feelings are the trigger for jealousy.

Jealousy is the feeling of “I want what she’s having.” It’s an indicator you’re feeling less-than-okay about yourself. Even if you’re generally confident, jealousy still happens. Those feelings of being left out or left behind translate into jealousy. Jealousy is sparked by not feeling okay about some aspect of your self or your situation.

Jealousy is a deeply ingrained emotion in humans. We want what others have because we need resources to survive (and want comforts to thrive). If we look back through history, jealousy has always been part of us. Hera, the wife of Zeus, jealously turned his mistress Lo into a heifer in Greek mythology. Themes and teachings in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism all speak to jealousy as a damaging emotion. It seems as long as humans have existed, so has jealousy.

Why Do I Get Jealous of Others?

Growth mindset is a big buzz topic these days and for a good reason. When we shift to a growth mindset, we start to view others’ success as inspiring. We may still want what others have, but instead of seeing it as “being left out,” we look at as motivation to achieve success.

A growth mindset looks at success and says, “What would it take for me to achieve something similar? How can I do that too? What would I need to do or learn to gain the same success?” Then, we learn from the success of others and use it to propel us forward.

Inspiration is a very healthy way to look at someone else’s success (but it’s still perfectly okay to admit we’re humans who feel jealous from time to time).

Bob and I will see writers who create an instant best-seller, and although we may feel jealous for a moment, we shift it into a lesson. “What did they do right? How do we do what they’re doing to promote their book? What can we learn from their experience?” These lessons are beneficial in our future success, and we’ve both found so many takeaways from looking at what other professionals do well.

Jealousy is normal. It’s fine. Jealousy comes up. But rather than dwelling on it and beating yourself up as inadequate, learn how to tap into it and mine it as a resource. 

You may feel jealous of someone’s life (especially when you see beautiful vacation photos online, for example) but in reality, it may not even be something you want. You may discover you don’t even want what your friends have or wouldn’t want the same experiences. You may find an aspect of their achievement you value, but other pieces you don’t desire.

If you don’t truly value or covet what others have, then love that they have it and celebrate for them. If you do value what they have and want it for yourself, look at the lessons to extract from their experience. Apply them to your actions and figure out how to create more of the same success in your life.

What Are You Really Jealous Of?

I recently met with a man who said he feels intimidated and jealous of the other men in his leadership group. He told me, “They’re all big guys, earning a lot of money. I’m jealous of them.”

We started exploring where the feelings were coming from and discussing his values. He has a very service-filled life. His relationship with his wife is intimate and beautiful. He’s a good family man who serves those around him. He teaches others and gives back. He’s crafted his life toward his values and filled it with what matters to him. He doesn’t care so much about money, or he would steer his life toward it.

As we discussed his feelings about the guys in his group, he said, “Wait a minute! These aren’t even my values!” He started to realize if he wanted to earn more money, then fine, he could learn from his leadership group and follow a similar path. But feeling envious of others was denying his values. He values service, intimacy, and relationships and has done a beautiful job at building those aspects in his life. He was feeling jealous of the rich and powerful, but he wasn’t really honoring his values.

I consulted on an article in a women’s magazine on how to turn feelings of jealousy into motivation.

Jealousy rises when your own deeper yearnings aren’t being met, and you become envious of what another person has, how they are, or what they do.

Jealousy is a clue to what it is we really want, and what we’re yearning for. Jealousy helps us narrow our focus and tap into our core values.

Whether we’re jealous of a friend’s promotion, new car, or attractive partner, we should realize their situation doesn’t take away from our own. We may think we want EXACTLY what they have (this is especially true when it comes to romantic relationships) but look at the aspects of their situation causing your jealousy.

One fantastic aspect of life is there’s enough love, success, and happiness to go around. When someone else has something in his or her life you want, look at the lesson. What is it you really want? How do you achieve the same love, success, or happiness in your own life and your situation?

When harnessed correctly, jealousy is a powerful motivator to help us clarify our desires and move us toward getting what we really want in life.

For more ways to get what you want in your life, visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where you’ll connect with other growth-minded people. We’re also proud to announce that many of our courses are available online for download. Don’t miss this great opportunity and a special, introductory price.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.