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How to stop being so jealous


You know the feeling. When it hurts to see other people succeed. When you read articles about Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s youngest billionaire. When you watch some freak child prodigy playing piano like a mini Mozart. When your friend gets that thing you wanted for yourself.

I used to feel this way all the time. It was exhausting to live in a world where I was constantly jealous of everyone else. I didn’t want to be this way, but I couldn’t help it. When other people did well, it made me feel inadequate. I was obsessed with success.

Today, I don’t get jealous anymore. Okay – I do still feel jealous sometimes. But for the most part, I am genuinely happy for other people when I see them do well.

What changed?

I learned one thing – how happiness works. Turns out, people are really bad at figuring out what makes them happy. We think we’ll be happy if only. If only we get that job promotion. If only our longtime crush would date us. If only we had a bigger house, a better car. That’s not how happiness works at all, though.

Sure, these things give us a short-term boost in happiness. But they don’t affect long-term happiness. We quickly adjust to the new normal and start wanting more. Lottery winners surveyed a year later aren’t any happier. The reverse is true too – if you got into an accident and became paralyzed, miraculously your happiness will return to about the same level a year later.

Humans are biologically programmed to be resilient to hardships, but it’s the same trait that leaves us perpetually wanting more. It’s crazy, I’ve noticed that the people who most frequently post about their glamorous lives on Facebook are sometimes the most miserable inside.

Circumstances (like wealth and relationship status) make up only 10% of your happiness. Of the other 90%, about half is genetics. Some people are wired to be happier than others – it’s in their brain chemistry.

But the other half is completely within your power to change: it’s your mindset and how you choose to spend your time. Appreciating what you have. Taking the time to have meaningful relationships with friends and family. Helping others. This isn’t new age-y stuff. This is cold, hard, science.

Once I realized this, I could stop wanting things that other people had. I finally understood that their achievements and possessions weren’t the keys to their happiness. I could get my own happiness just by changing my mindset and behavior.

A lot of my friends are entrepreneurs, and I frequently get asked why I don’t start a company. I’d always thought the pinnacle definition of success would be to create a big-shot company. As someone who used to be obsessed with success, the entrepreneurial dream was certainly seductive.

But I haven’t started a company because I don’t think it will make me happy. Some people love it, and building a company makes them happy. But that’s not me. What makes me happy is learning and having fun. Designing is fun, and dancing is fun. The hours I spend doing these things aren’t work. They’re play. Because I’m having fun, it’s easy to go all in. And going all in makes you a lot more likely to succeed.

Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be successful? If you choose happiness, then you can have both.

15 Comments

  • I find that I have an almost biological predisposition to revert back to jealous behavior. It is important to have constant practice and reminders to help overcome it. Your post reminds me of the psychological “flow state”, and the work of Alan Watts. Ever seen this animated short that the creators of South Park made of Alan Watt’s speech on music, dance, and life? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERbvKrH-GC4

  • Well i think a bit comes down to the definition of success. Is it being popular or richer and busier?
    Maybe we should revise success as being fulfilled as individual, and in that regard. You look pretty successful ;-)

  • We don’t seem to make how to be healthy and happy a priority in our schools; it’s separate from schools, and for some kids it doesn’t exist at all, but what if we didn’t make it separate? What if we based our education on the practice of being happy and healthy because that’s what it is: a practice, and a simple practice at that. … Education is important, but why is being happy and healthy not considered education? I just don’t get it.

  • Thanks Karen, I saw your dance video on a british website and then found your blog. I needed to read this today. :)

  • “But I haven’t started a company because I don’t think it will make me happy. Some people love it, and building a company makes them happy. But that’s not me. What makes me happy is learning and having fun. Designing is fun, and dancing is fun. The hours I spend doing these things aren’t work. They’re play. Because I’m having fun, it’s easy to go all in. And going all in makes you a lot more likely to succeed.”

    What was the process like for figuring out that starting a company wasn’t right for you? Was that something you wanted to begin with?

  • I’ve got a few friends who are entrepreneurs. I respect the work they do so much, but it just doesn’t look that fun to me.

  • “What makes me happy is learning and having fun. Designing is fun, and dancing is fun.”

    After replacing designing and dancing with rock climbing, swimming and maybe discovering, I agree with your mantra wholeheartedly. Rock climbing can be dangerous, and if fear of heights is a problem, it looks like a bad idea. However, when I’m on the wall, focus on my next move, nothing matters. When I’m having a good climbing session, I float up the wall, it’s effortless and smooth, only to reach euphoria and an endorphine high at the top. And climbing outside heighten the experience exponentially.

    A business venture needs a lot of time, dedication and attention, much like taking care of another living being. This nurturing aspect, especially when reinforced by a positive feedback loop as the venture become successful, I’m certain can be quite fulfilling, but like yourself, it just isn’t for me. I need the freedom to roam about, learn new things and abandon uninteresting things freely.

    Good work Karen, my best wishes!

  • I hope it’s not rude to jump into such an old post, but… I just discovered you and your blog today (gee, I wonder through which video?! :p) and have been productively procrastinating my real work by reading through your interesting entries.

    From this post, a couple of questions came to mind:
    1) From a purely personal/nosey perspective, what changed in your knowledge / life / perceptions / etc. to go from “being an entrepreneur wouldn’t be fun” to… well, being an entrepreneur.
    2) To what extent do you think peoples’ personalities, core preferences, and temperament can change? For example… personally, I often feel that I’m more introverted now than when I was younger, but logically, this doesn’t make much sense to me. To use the phrasing you refer to in your post, it would seem that we have a set point for these sort of things, and that for the most part, this position wouldn’t likely change.

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