On envy: stop comparing yourself

envy - stop comparing yourself

“Nothing in this world can so violently distort a man’s judgment than the sight of his neighbour getting rich.” — J.P. Morgan

I’m a horrible person.

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook (not because I needed to know to what my friends were up to, but to entertain myself out of my boredom.)

I saw my friends celebrating their successes, some are travelling around Europe.

Did it make me admire them?


I envied them. I was jealous.

And quickly I moved to look at my other friends who I deem to have a more ordinary life or at least one that looks less desirable than mine.

But I always catch myself and ask: Why am I feeling this way? Where does this come from?

With this, I started looking for answers and I can’t help but share what I found. Enjoy.


Envy Makes You (Very) Irrational

Back in 1995, researchers from Harvard asked students/staff which they preferred:

  • Earning $75,000 a year when everyone else around them makes $100,000.
  • Earning $50,000 a year when everyone else around them makes $25,000.

Prices of goods and services would be the same in both cases.  So a higher salary really meant being able to own a nicer home or a nicer car.

50% chose option 2, leaving $25,000 on the table, just to avoid earning less than their neighbours.

This makes absolutely no sense, but it is an accurate determinant as to whether one measures their success only to themselves or relative to others. It is nothing more than social comparison.

Think about it – much of our self-definition comes from comparison with others. We can’t define ourselves as great singers, if there is no one else around who sings worse than we do. Qualities like intelligence, beauty and skills are relative and thus when we compare poorly in comparison to our peers, our self-esteem suffers.

We experience envy when the quality we feel inferior about threatens our self-concept. We may not even be aware that we are lacking a particular quality, but the object of our envy heightens our awareness of our deprivation.

For example: Do you feel envy when you see a great diver at the Olympics? Probably not, because, for most of us, success at diving isn’t a core part of our self-concept. But let’s say you were a competitive diver — might you feel a little envious if you saw someone much better than you competing at the Olympics? (Aristotle wrote about this long time ago  – “We envy those who are near us in time, place, age or reputation.“)

Thus, envy of others is always a reflection of something we feel about ourselves. We’re not rich enough, or smart enough, or beautiful enough; we don’t have enough possessions, enough attention, enough success.


Envy Drives The World, Not Greed

“It’s not greed that drives the world, but envy.” — Warren Buffett

While ‘greed’ refers to an excessive desire to possess something, ‘envy’ is a desire to possess what the other person is possessing. And more often than not, greed is fueled by envy. A lot of times, we desire something simply because we see someone else enjoying it.

Everyone is here not just to make money, but to make more money than what the next person is making (the research earlier proves this). Comparison and competition is intense, creating a perfect recipe for envy.

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner, would go on to say:
“Envy has no upside. The idea of caring that someone is making money faster[than you are] is one of the deadly sins. Envy is a really stupid sin because it’s the only one you could never possibly have any fun at. There’s a lot of pain and no fun. Why would you want to get on the trolley?”

While a small pinch of envy is a positive motivator, a chronic comparison complex can ruin your life.  If you cannot control the ancient urge to measure your success against that of your peers, your happiness will always depend less on how much money you have than on how much money they have.  And that’s something you will never have any control over.


Two Types of Envy

It has been said that there are two types of envy – a good type and a bad type.

The first type is the feeling of inferiority that motivates a person to improve herself. This bias exerts its influence by framing the success of others as a learning opportunity for ourselves. It serves to inspire us to do more and be more than our current standing. Our envy leads us to imitate that hero in a quest for self-improvement.

The other type, though, is malicious envy, which motivates the envious to take good things away from others. To the malicious envier, ridding oneself of envy requires taking away from the other — the beautiful car or house should be stolen or damaged, the virtuous person corrupted or killed and the beautiful face of someone ruined or covered. The malicious envier believes that those things should be his rather than theirs. He, after all, deserves it more.


How to Deal With Envy

An important question remains: How should we deal with envy at a personal level?

The tip I’ve found the most effective comes from Naval Ravikant.

In his interview with Farnam Street, he said that when he was young, he grew up a poor kid.

He would be envious of his peers on the other side of the field living much better lives. This went onto his late twenties where despite he was making a lot of money, he was still constantly envious of those above him.

But then, he figured out something that gave him peace of mind. It was:

“You can’t cherry pick the things you envy so much about the other person. You would have to take a 180 degree swap with that person. (You would have to take her age, her family history, her struggles, her failures, her medical conditions, her pains, her parents, her friends, everything. And lose everything you have built and leave everyone you love behind.) And unless you are totally comfortable with that swap, you shouldn’t be envious.”

After all, it was their experience that shaped their lives.


In Closing

“Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another.” – Nicolas de Condorcet

Envy is a real pain in the ass that we deal with on a daily basis. It’s one of the main reasons I have avoided my news feeds on Facebook and Instagram. But I guess only time will tell before I’m fully comfortable accepting where I am and stop comparing myself to other people’s lives.

While I know, you can’t remove envy out of your life overnight, you can at least be aware of it when it happens and question your emotions.


I once heard somewhere before that happiness is wanting what you have. And I think that is a good place to start.

And in case you’re wondering how you can avoid being the source of envy for others? Aristotle had an answer: “The best way to avoid envy is to deserve the success you get.”


Mental Model: Bias from Envy and Jealousy by Farnam Street

The Fastest Way to Career Success

Clearing the Path

Source: venngage.com

In his book, Ego Is The Enemy, author Ryan Holiday talks about what he calls “The Canvas Strategy.” It’s a popular concept among the personal development community. So popular in fact that its excerpt was featured in Tim Ferriss‘ book Tools of Titans.

The strategy was taken from the Romans. The Romans had a word for this type of person. They called them an “anteambulo” which means a person who cleared the path in front of their patron. If you are able to do that successfully, you will secure a fast and educational position.

In today’s lingo, it would translate to make others look good. But these four words “make others look good” make us cringe. It goes against the very essence of the “self made person” culture we are raised in. That everyone one of us is supposed to focus on ourselves and may the best man win.

Now, when I say make others look good, some of you would think it implies a lot of ass kissing and passing your credit to someone else that you don’t feel deserves it as much as you do.

But this isn’t so – it’s a mindset change. It goes from “slaving away my livelihood for someone else” to “giving my best to make others succeed which in turn will make me more successful.”

To quote Ryan himself:

… it’s finding the direction someone already intended to head and help them pack, freeing them up to focus on their strengths. The canvas strategy involves actively finding outlets for other people – in fact, actually making them better rather than simply looking so.

… In other words, discover opportunities to promote their creativity, find outlets and people for collaboration, and eliminate distractions that hinder their progress and focus. It is a rewarding and infinitely scalable power strategy.

The following are his 3 keys to the Canvas Strategy:

3 Keys:

1) Find new trains of thought to hand over for them to explore. Track down angles and contradictions and analogies that they can use. Ex: I was reading the biography of ______, I think you should look at it because there may be something you can do with the imagery.

2) Find outlets, people, associations, and connections. Cross wires to create new sparks. Ex: I know _________, and I think you two should talk. Have you thought about meeting ____?

3) Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas. Ex: You don’t need to do ___________ anymore, I have an idea for improving the process, let me try it so you can worry about something else.



There is a common saying that I constantly remind myself –

“If you are willing to make others successful, then you will be successful.”

This can be making your company more successful through exceeding your KPI’s, thus getting you promoted faster.

This can be making your friends more successful through introducing them to other people that would help them in their journey. People will eventually know of you and you will be talking to influencers as a result of word of mouth. You never know where it leads to. (Who doesn’t want to associate with someone who is proactive in their success?)

This can be making your clients more successful through delivering better products and services. My aim with this blog is to make you, my readers more successful, so that in turn, I will get my blog to read by even more people.

Remember, clear the path for others on their journey.



If you wish to listen to the excerpt on The Canvas Strategy in full audio form, click here.

How to Have a Great Day Everyday

I don’t know about you. But whenever Friday comes along, two things come to mind:

  1. Hooray! It’s the weekends! I can finally rest and be at ease (for about 2 days and 2 nights of all-you-can-sleep)
  2. Damnit! It’s the weekends already. Time sure flies and I don’t remember achieving what I set out to do or at least enjoyed myself.

Fridays are a constant reminder to me that life is not meant to be delayed. Or as Tim Ferriss would call “a deferred life.”

It seems irrational to slug it out for 5 days while hating the process so that you can finally give yourself permission to enjoy yourself on the weekends.

This post was written to provide food for thought for those 5 days.


Designing Your Life By The Day

The exercise is to learn how to design your ideal day.

What on earth does that mean?

It would mean to really think about what would make the day a great one for you.

Now, some of you may think – but to me, an ideal day is travelling the world and sipping Margaritas on the beach.

Fair dream. Fair goal, I would say.

But if it is not within reach right now, why be unhappy till then?


Now, just imagine how great your life would be like if you were able to identify what makes a great day for you that you can do right now?

You would be able to do it all over and over again 🙂


Here’s my list to give you some ideas:

  1. Sleep eight solid hours (or as much as I need)
  2. Have a good meal (home cooked food tastes awesome)
  3. Exercise and sweat
  4. Meditate for 20 minutes
  5. Have a mid day nap for 20 minutes
  6. Make others more successful (for my company, or for my readers of my blog)
  7. Have “present” time (watching a movie, dancing, reading, writing)
  8. Talk to a loved one
  9. Explore a different part of the city / Change environments


Having a checklist such as this will not make you instantly happy but it would serve as a reminder of what you can do in order to feel as though that you made the most out of your day.

One of the things I do every morning is to ask myself what would make today great.

As you can see, it doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be a good lunch, exercising, watching a good movie or accomplishing something at work.


Sometimes, we all need to shut up (or learn how to speak right)

Being young and brash, I often feel the need to exert my “righteousness” onto people. Whenever I notice something about my friends, I point it out. Not because it had to be said, but because my mouth has the habit of always having an opinion.


The Times I Messed Up

One time, I pointed out to a friend of mine that her straps on her backpack looked like seat belt straps. Now, it made a good joke but at the same time, was it important that she now views her once cherished bag as a sack with seat belt straps?

Or the other occasion when I was in a group and a friend of mine told me that a colleague is going to Company A. But I was so sure it was Company B that I mentioned it into submission. (Later I found out it was Company A)

Or this one other time where I was tempted to talk about this one fellow who I greatly admire, but just had to (for no good reason) mention what I think is wrong with him.

Ben, you just had to. Don’t you?
I know I know. I’m a jerk who just can’t shut up most of the time.


Getting It Together

Realizing my mistakes lately (always happens this way), I decided to look for answers by reading the classics like How to Win Friends and Influence People and reading articles by my favourite modern writer, especially Ryan Holiday.

His best pieces of advice?

  • Always say less than necessary
    (the more words you say, the higher the chances of saying something wrong)
  • Ask yourself: “Am I saying this because I want to prove how smart I am or am I saying this because it needs to be said?” When you’re just getting started, it’s usually the former.

This was in of itself extremely helpful, but there was a test that was written ages ago by a philosopher named Rumi that is still used today and it goes:

  • Before you speak your mind, let your word pass through the 3 gates:

    At the first gate, ask yourself “Is is true?”
    Is it factually correct? (My error with Company B fits here)

    At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”Are you saying it to prove how smart you are or does it need to be said? (My seat belt observation fits the former)

    At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”
    Is it something good and positive? (My for-no-good-reason negative opinion of someone fits here)


The Cost of Being Wrong?

Being young and up-and-coming, we all feel the need to prove ourselves or exhibit some form of superiority to show that we got it going on. But at times, this is all merely a facade. Often times, it’s insecurity. But it is alright to be wrong or to keep your mouth shut.

What do you got to lose by being wrong? Nothing much.

What do you got to gain by being right? Nothing much.