What is Jealousy, and How to Overcome It

Written by Naren on January 29, 2009

Ask a fifth grader who has secured a second position in his class if he is happy? He is not, because the kid who is first has reaped more applause, prizes, and praise than him. He returns home with less excitement than the other kid. His parents try to cheer him up by saying, “Don’t worry, you did a great job. You came in second in the class. You have left many others way behind. You only lost to one. And, remember there is always next time. You will beat him and be the number one.” Instantly the kid’s face beams with the light of satisfaction. He feels relieved as he has still managed to do very well in comparison to the other kids. On the other hand, the kid who secured first position in the class returns home like an emperor. His parents can’t stop showering praise on him. They keep on telling him, “See, you are the best. Nobody can beat you. You did an awesome job. There is nobody better than you. You are the superior of all.” The kid who came in second was obviously jealous of the kid who came in first. But -- why? Despite having done so well in the class, why is he jealous? What are the reasons behind his jealousy?

This has made me tap into some other significant questions such as:

All of these questions have led me to write this article where I will be exploring the psychology behind jealousy, delve deeper to the roots from where it sprouts and spreads its branches of misery in our lives, and suggest few simple steps on how to overcome jealousy..

What is Jealousy?

In one of his talks, Osho Rajneesh speaks that: "Jealousy means to live in comparison, and it is one of the powerful, clever and undetectable devices created by the priests to exploit the individual, to destroy his integrity -- so that he can never be himself – because that is the only thing all the old religions are afraid of. And the device is to instill the idea of comparison from the very childhood."

Certainly, jealousy is nothing but the outcome of comparison. It is indeed a cunning strategy devised by every society to control and divide individuals. And yes, the strategy is so clever and subtle that it does not arouse any doubts in us as to how much of an impact jealousy really has on our lives. It is true that from the very beginning of our lives we are taught or somehow influenced to compare. Society, culture, and upbringing all has been drawing us into this game of comparison, prohibiting us from discovering our own individuality, and ultimately giving birth to a disease called jealousy. Cure -- simply stop comparing, and there will be no jealousy. It will disappear into thin air. But, the strategy is so effective that it would be difficult for us to give up comparing. Its roots have already burrowed and settled so deep in us that it would take quite a toll to free ourselves from its grip.

However, the society has managed quite well to keep us from exploring our own inner possibilities and immense dimensions. Why? Because society wants us to be totally ignorant, so that they can feed us their ideas, moralities, dogmas, philosophies, religious beliefs and doctrines, and manipulate us in whichever way they want. Let’s see: A child’s mind is empty like a sheet of paper, or soft clay filled with innocence and playfulness. You could write anything on it, or mold it into any shape you wish. This is exactly what is happening to a child from his early life. The unconscious society, the unaware parents, the teachers, the culture and the religious institutions have been influencing the child under their domain of beliefs and ideologies, and the child who has so much potential and dimension to explore life and his own inner being, will be forced to believe whatever has been fed to him. Now, what would a small, helpless child do? Neither can he fight or resist. He gets poisoned from an early age. He is being conditioned and manipulated by the same people who seem to love him. This has been going on for many generations as your parents were also conditioned by their loved ones, and all out of unawareness and due to the lack of understanding. And since the child is not allowed to blossom in his own individuality and taught to compare; he will remain miserable, and destined to be jealous from the very beginning. The example in the opening paragraph proves all that.

Neurotic Society

Pay close attention to today’s world. It has become absolutely neurotic. In every society, every culture, people have been living a life of comparison. Everybody is comparing. Somebody is better looking, somebody has a bigger house, somebody has a nicer car, and somebody has a more charming personality than you… Everybody is so involved in comparing that they have forgotten about themselves. People have completely forgotten their inner treasures. Instead, they go on comparing. They have become so caught up in this game of comparing that their lives have turned into hell. People become mean, angry, and selfish out of jealousy. Nobody wants the other to succeed. But, what can you do? There is always somebody who is in a better position than you. There is always one who is higher than you and there is also somebody who is inferior to you. You are so caught up in the middle that you don’t know what to do. You look above, somebody is there and enjoying all that you have desired. He is more successful, more respectable, and richer than you. It hurts. It really hurts. Not only does it hurt, it burns. It stings. And it’s immensely painful to see that someone is already ahead in the race and that you have been left behind. Somebody has already climbed the ladder of success before you. And if the person is your crooked neighbor who has taken all the immoral paths, then the pain would be deeper and intolerable. Then you can go on blaming your fate, destiny, past karma, chakras, whatever, it won’t help. The jealousy is already there, and has stolen your inner peace making your life miserable. No wonder why people have a hard time sleeping these days.

But, look at the cunningness of society. Just like they have sowed the seeds of jealousy in us; similarly they also have an antidote for all the pain that we have to endure from its sting. Now, we are taught to look down on those people who are lower than us. We are taught to develop an attitude of positivity and look on the brighter side. A chill wind of happiness runs all through your soul and pervades your jealous mind with a tremendous sense of satisfaction. You seem to take a deep breath of relief. A hint of a smile will break from your tattered lips. You will feel so much better. But, have you ever meditated on this before? No, because you have been conditioned and taught that way; to compare, and to keep on comparing. Even though society, priests, politicians and so-called gurus can adorn it with sugary words, saying that you are simply being positive, and you are simply dwelling on the bright side. Looking down on the people who have succeeded less than you or who are less privileged than you -- isn’t it a selfish act of comparison. If not then why were you so happy? Why a sense of satisfaction pervaded your entire being?

See, you have missed again – the web of deception and cunningness that has been woven around us. Whenever we see people who are better than we are, then we get jealous. A cloud of misery, suffering, and feeling of humiliation, hopelessness, and worthlessness hover around us. We feel like we have failed and life is completely meaningless and empty. Our motivation and zeal seem to desert us and we tend to look upon ourselves as a burden and a complete failure. But then the moment you look down to those who are below you, you are immensely satisfied.

The Burden of Jealousy and Be Positive Attitude

Furthermore, the burden of jealousy that you have been carrying is so heavy, that it makes you feel completely worthless and miserable. You feel stuck in the middle. On one hand there are people above you who make you feel inferior, while below there are people who make you feel superior. You get so torn in between these two that you find yourself muddled in a strange dilemma. What to do? Should I give up? But you cannot give up. You cannot jump out from your stance. Either you strive to be better, or you will be left behind. You become helpless as you have no courage to make the jump. You have already trod the path of enormous upheavals. Thus, you keep on hanging to the edge, and this persists all of your life. And there will be people telling you constantly, “Keep hanging on. Don’t give up. Be optimistic. Be positive. You are doing great -- just a little push. You have worked really hard, just a little more effort. Every cloud has a silver lining. The night is darkest before the dawn. Hang on. Keep on biting the bullet. Every dog has its day and so on….” I can list thousands of those uplifting examples which prove nothing but a simple array of fake consolation and hopeless hopes. It is nothing more than a hopeless, positivistic attitude of life. They neither bring growth nor any transformation in you. Instead they will push you deeper into the abyss of misery because then you will keep on hoping, waiting and wanting. But, how long can you wait? How long can you hope? And what good does being positive or optimistic do, when your whole life has sunk into a dark well of misery and unrealistic hopes? It is simply a cover up. It is nothing but make-believe that there is no negativity. It does not help you stop comparing. In fact, it is comparing.

Let me give you an example:

A man had lost one leg during the war. When he came back home depressed, he was told: “Look at things positively. Look at others, some have lost both eyes, both legs, and some have lost their lives. You are fortunate that you lost only one leg.” That’s the attitude of being positive. But, he is being forced to compare to those who were beneath or in more miserable condition than he. But what would happen when he sees the ones who have both legs. Won’t it make him feel inferior and depressed again? Won’t he be jealous? It is not a good approach to force somebody to choose only one, when both negative and positive are ends of the same pole. How can we simply choose day over night? We cannot. How can we simply ignore the other side of the same coin? Negative and positive should be complementing each other. Will there be any beauty in roses if there aren’t any thorns?

Caught in The Net of Jealousy

However, the game of comparison is cunning. You have become addicted to it now. You simply can’t give it up. Why should you? If everybody is continuously comparing, then why shouldn’t you. If the others are playing this game, why shouldn’t you too? This is such a foolish attitude though. But, everybody is walking around, carrying this attitude. And look what’s happening. You are comparing and others are also doing the same. And yes, the grass in the neighbor’s lawn always appears greener than yours, and your neighbor’s wife seems prettier than yours. Now, you are jealous. The neighbor seems happier. But you don’t know, perhaps the neighbor is also thinking the same way. He may think your wife is more beautiful and is jealous of you. You are jealous of him and he is jealous of you. Everybody seems to be caught up in a net of jealousy. Have you ever looked at the harsh consequences that jealousy can bring to our lives? Out of this jealousy, people have cultivated the “dog eats dog” mentality where everybody is bent on bettering themselves in comparison to others. Everybody is deeply involved in cut-throat competition and has created a hell, out of their jealous behaviors. People have become rude and lost respect for others, as well as for themselves. People’s jealousy has gone too far now. Everyone is competing to take over the place of a person ahead of them. Everybody is sweating, running, struggling and have gone completely insane. The jealousy is so out of control that people have sunk lower than the animals. The person below you is pulling on your legs just as you are pulling on the legs of the person above. It is simply unbelievable!

Yes, I repeat again, out of jealousy we have created such a hell. And priests in all cultures have been talking about hell after death. I say, it’s right here. Just open your eyes and look around. Where are this meanness, selfishness, and deception springing from in people’s behaviors? We didn’t have these vices when we first came into this world. As a child we were innocent and playful. But, we have been poisoned, taught, conditioned, forced, molded, and manipulated so early that now innocence is being replaced with rudeness, and playfulness has turned into wiliness.

Comparing has gone so awry that now we have even started comparing our happiness, joys, and sufferings to others’. If others are suffering and in pain, then it feels good to us. You feel relieved. You feel that you are not the only one. And when others seem happy, then great jealousy descends on you – and you become miserable. Why it has become so intolerable for us to endure even other’s happiness? Why do we presume that we are the only one who is suffering, and our suffering is larger than the others?

Here, I am reminded of a beautiful story:

Halku had been having a tough time sleeping for several days. Not only has he recently lost a job, but also his wife of five years has left him for some other man. Though there were many who had been with him in his time of pain and suffering including his relatives, family, his Priest, as well as the whole village, yet he was inconsolable. He was so weakened and burdened with his pain and suffering that he used to pray to God everyday saying: “God, why me? Why you have chosen me? What have I done wrong that I am being punished so harshly? Everybody in the village seems so happy, and I am suffering day by day. I am so tired, God. I am willing to take anybody else’s pain, but please take mine. It is unbearable.”

May be, God, was really listening to his plea or perhaps the plea of the whole village. That night, the man fell asleep like a baby, and had a beautiful dream. In a dream, he saw that God had appeared and asked everyone in the village to bring their sufferings into the village courtyard. All the villagers started packing their sufferings in a bag tightly so that no misery escapes, and started gathering on the courtyard. He also hurried towards the courtyard where people have already assembled. Now, the God said: “Drop your bags near the walls.” Everybody dropped their bags. God then said: “Now, anybody can choose any bag they want. You all wanted to exchange suffering. Feel free. Go ahead”

As soon as God had finished uttering his words, an interesting thing happened. Halku was quite astounded to see that everybody was rushing towards their own bag, and quite happy to get it back before everybody else could choose it. Halku, who thought that his suffering was the biggest, and had been praying that God would take away his misery, somehow managed to get his bag back. The scene on the courtyard was incredible. What happened – despite the fact that everybody had a chance to choose another’s sufferings after having seen the size of the bags, some were as big as their own; some were even bigger. The villagers were happy to choose their own bag. Why – because everybody had become so accustomed to their own suffering, and to choose the others’ bag would be a big folly. God knows what’s in their bag and why would somebody want to take a chance? At least, one already knows about his suffering, and has found ways to deal and live with it. Why bother, by taking somebody else’s sufferings?

Everybody returned home, happy and pleased with the same old bag of suffering that they had taken, but they were proud of themselves as they managed to get their own bag back.

Halku woke up from his dream. The morning sunlight was dancing inside his room. Birds were chirping. The morning was simply beautiful. He then thanked God for the dream. The dream had made him understand many things. Now he was not whining and comparing about his suffering. He knew that the God had given an opportunity to the people to exchange the sufferings, but people wouldn’t part from the sufferings to which they have become so accustomed. He said to God: “I am happy in whatsoever you have given to me and whatsoever I have. I will never compare and ask you for more. Thank you for opening my eyes.”

We can also learn many lessons from this story. We only know what’s inside us and what’s outside others. Likewise, the others know their interior and our exterior. This gives rise to jealousy. From faraway everything looks different. The other may be smiling and happy outside, but how do we know if he is happy inside. The other may be generous, kind, and compassionate outside, but he may be something else inside. The person may be phony and deceptive, but you don’t know his inside. Appearance can be deceptive and looks different than the reality.

Jealousy has indeed made everybody miserable. Out of jealousy, people act differently. They start losing their inner charm and become more unnatural. They lose their individuality and adopt many fake personalities. People lose their aliveness and become more like plastic and unreal. Forms of mass media such as films and television have, as well, done quite well in instilling the idea of “others” and the influence is visible on all of us. Everybody is imitating, pretending, comparing, and competing. Everybody wants to be like somebody else. Nobody is happy with themselves. What has happened to us?

What to do then? How to overcome Jealousy?

My whole effort in this article is to help you see the very root of the problem, and leave you with a clear understanding about jealousy and its source. Here are my suggestions on how to overcome jealousy:

1. Understanding, Responsibility, and Awareness: Jealousy is nothing but being oblivious of a simple fact – that the idea of comparing with others and the feeling of superior and inferior has been taught and instilled in our minds since childhood by an unconscious society, greedy priests and politicians, and unaware parents. First let this understanding penetrate you. Secondly, be responsible for your jealousy. Yes, a great damage has already been done. Yes, we have been conditioned, but that does not mean we should keep on playing the blame game, and simply do nothing. Jealousy also results out of the unconsciousness, ego, and your inability to accept responsibility. For example: There are plenty of husbands who tend to be extremely jealous and angry when it comes to their wife, especially if somebody gazes at her or she looks at somebody. It goes the same way for wives as well. This jealousy erupts into a big squabble which can ultimately lead to some serious consequences. The real problem is neither the husband nor the wife, it’s inside them. Jealousy is simply stemming from their own feelings of insecurity, ego, unconsciousness, and the inability to trust each other. Hence, be responsible. Look deeper and deeper inside you. Things will start changing by themselves. Don’t go on blaming your problems on others. Gradually you will start becoming aware. You have been living a life of unawareness. Ego sustains only in the dark valley of your unconscious mind. Be a little alert. Meditate, peek inside, and ignite the light of awareness, and jealousy will disappear with no trace.

2. Stop Judging, Comparing and Competing – Just Be Yourself: Everybody is unique and different. Everybody is different than the others. This is why out of so many people nobody looks alike. But, since we have been molded and conditioned so subtly and cleverly that now we are constantly comparing and judging, who is better than whom, who is good, better, or worse. Who is superior or inferior, right or wrong… We have become so unconscious of ourselves that we have not allowed our own inner being to blossom. We have let our eyes only see the exterior; and missed the tremendous beauty that’s already inside us. Hence, drop comparison, competition, and judgment. Jealousy will vanish. Otherwise, you will drive yourself to insanity. You will go absolutely nuts. It’s not possible to compare with everyone. There are more than 6.6 billion people in this world, yet everybody looks different. Why? Because, existence is not interested on creating duplicates. There are no photocopies. How are you going to compete with everyone? Just be yourself. All the enlightened masters (Buddha, Gurdjieff, Lao Tzu, Boddhidharma ...) have been saying, "Just Be Yourself. Be your own light," and instead of heeding them, we have been simply overlooking this truth and preventing ourselves from the greatest treasures of the existence. My simple suggestion: Allow your own self to blossom in its own way. Make space for your own inner juices to flow, and find your own individuality. There is no other joy than being yourself. The bliss is simply incomparable. (Please read The Joy of Being Yourself) But this is possible only if you cultivate a habit of deep acceptance. Simply accept yourself as you are with no shame, guilt, conditions, and fear.

Conclusion

So drop this foolish attitude of comparing. It is nothing but a clever tactic created by so called moralists, priests, politicians, societies, and religious institutions to prevent you from being yourself. Why – because then you would be free from their imposed beliefs and dogmas. You will start asking questions about your inner dimension. They have no answer for your questions. They don’t want you to know the truth. It would be a big threat to their institution which is nothing more than a business. They don’t want you to discover you own individuality to bloom and blossom, as it will lead to absolute fulfillment and blissfulness in life. You will experience your freedom and a life full of ecstasy and contentment. Once you are free as an individual and have broken the shackles, the boundaries that have been created to divide and rule people of all color, race, religion, ethnicity, creed, value and belief, then you won’t be worried about being better than somebody else. Neither will you be happy to see people who are inferior to you. You will be simply content with who you are. Nothing worries you. Now even if Warren Buffet, or Bill Gates, or even a great emperor passes by you, you won’t be jealous. You won’t be hurt. You won’t get a sense of inferiority – because you are simply happy with whom you are. You have arrived at the understanding that there are no inner differences, we are all same. We all carry the tremendous potential to taste the beauty of the existence, and celebrate life in ultimate freedom and awareness, and enjoy the eternal dance of joy and blissfulness. Now you won’t feel superior when a poor person or an under privileged person passes by you – because you have dropped comparison, you have dropped the phony game of being somebody else. Now, you are neither superior nor inferior, but simply a free conscious individual who is living his life in its totality and awareness.

So just allow yourself to be and let your authentic individuality blossom. Cultivate deep love for yourself and others. Respect others as who they are, and respect the way God has created you, then instantly a surge of blissfulness will fill your entire being. You will be free from all the trammels and cunning clutches that have tortured your soul, with jealousy. Comparison and competitiveness will seem meaningless to you, as you have come to experience how profound, full and significant your own inner being is. Yes, now you have lost jealousy, but look at what you have found – your own individuality, your own inner treasures, inner tranquility and peace, and the beauty and joy of the whole existence – and above all, your own freedom as an authentic individual – not a blind follower, and not somebody wearing somebody else’s face.

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