Latalia White, AMFT

Moya Sarner from The Guardian unpacked envy in the digital age; summarized below are her findings.

Envy is a universal emotion, ubiquitous enough to be one of the seven deadly sins. Humans have always struggled with envy (defined as feeling a resentful longing for someone else’s possessions/attributes/etc.), but the ways in which envy is stirred and expressed have evolved with technological advances. Thanks to the Internet, we are now connected to the rest of the world by a click. Thanks to smartphones, we now carry small computers with us 24/7 and can connect instantly to millions of other people. The rate at which we take in what others have, do, say, and share is exponentially faster than what it was before the Internet, computers, and smartphones, so we can be guaranteed an envy-producing experience if we interact with online content and social media for enough time.

Social Media’s Influence

Thanks to social media, we have digital access to just about anything we could envy in perfectly curated forms. If I visit even just one social media site, I could be hit with beauty envy, fashion envy, size envy, home envy, career envy, party envy, kid envy, hobby envy, etc. during a scrolling session. We now have access to parts of people’s lives that we previously had little to no exposure to. A major player in envy today is that others choose to post their so-called highlight reels online without acknowledging the ugly, negative parts of their lives in their social media profiles (and sometimes those ugly parts are acknowledged, but in a way that still allows the user to come across as put-together and admirable). Filters on apps like Instagram and Snapchat even let everyday, non-celebrities photoshop their images in flatterings ways that did not exist in the past.

Essentially, we now have the tools necessary to compare to the extreme. The Joneses are no longer just down the street with a manicured lawn; they are all around the globe, and we have unprecedented access to their clothes, cars, vacations, awards, promotions, friends, and family, waiting to be consumed online with just a click.

The Psychology Behind Today’s Envy

For many of us, the ability to carry around the world in our pocket is hard to resist – so we keep our phones on hand from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, maybe even checking our phones for notifications if we wake up in the middle of the night. Smartphones with social media can feel inescapable, which contributes to the strength of envious feelings.

Additionally, logically knowing that what we are consuming online is an edited highlight reel is not enough to combat feelings of envy – emotionally, the feelings of envy are too strong to be tampered with those acknowledgments, particularly when you are viewing content that rubs up against your own unfulfilled aspirations.

Psychologist Sherry Turkle also posits that our resentment draws not only on others’ edited highlight reels, but our own, as well. Today, kids, teens, and adults have the capability to create an online persona that they present to the world; however, that persona may not match up with the person you feel like on the inside or in the confines of your non-Pinterest-looking apartment. You can start to feel envious of the “you” that you portray to your friends and family.

Changing How We Respond to Our Envy

To curb resentment, consider the following suggestions:

Work on raising your self-esteem. Low self-esteem is a risk factor for envy, so building confidence in yourself and your abilities can make you less susceptible to others’ influences.

Work on your “deprivation intolerance.” Deprivation intolerance refers to the inability to tolerate not having things that you want, and working on this means recognizing that you are able to move forward without that promotion or sweater or fancy dinner without it lowering your self-worth.

Use social media actively, not passively. Studies have shown that being active on social media sites (commenting, messaging, etc.) as opposed to being passive (simply scrolling through pages/profiles) leads to better outcomes when engaging with social media.

Or, stop using social media so much. While talking about taboo issues can bring benefits to yourself and others, if you know you’re just engaging on certain apps for the external validation, consider taking a break. Also do this if you know that the “you” on your profile does not match the “you” that you feel inside yourself.

Sarner, M. The age of envy: How to be happy when everyone else’s life looks perfect. GetPocket. Retrieved from https://getpocket.com