How do I get over "envy?"

The following article was inspired by a Facebook post by a fellow choreographer and dancer, MJ. In addition to performing with several Chicago based companies, he also runs a vlog on YouTube describing his journey through dance.

Greek philosopher Aristotle defined envy as "pain caused by the good fortune of others." In the 1700s, the philosopher Kant described envy as "viewing the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one's own." 

My preferred definition of envy, however, is laid out by one of Kant's contemporaries, Adam Smith. As defined in The Theory of Moral Sentiments: 

Envy is that passion which views with malignant dislike the superiority of those who are really entitled to all the superiority they possess.

I believe that this definition is how you should move forward with understanding the emotion. The most defining feature of Smith's definition that the other two fail to incorporate is in the second half of the sentence: The person who you envy has achieved some success because they worked to accomplish it. By thinking of envy in this way, we come to terms with the fact that someone other than us has attained success due to their individual circumstances.

I firmly believe that envy is the quickest way to determine your idols. When you realize someone's successes, whether it be academic or dance related, make you feel envious, you are unconsciously idolizing them. Think about what would make you less envious - most likely, if you accomplished a similar level of achievement, putting you on an even plane with this other person, you would no longer feel any ill-will towards them or their successes. Envy manifests itself as a desire to accomplish what they have.

Envy is a natural human emotion, and is not inherently bad. In some cases, envy causes a negative and toxic mind state. When this happens, we focus so much on the other party's accomplishments that we forget ourselves. In the end, you can't control the successes of other people, especially when they are hardworking enough to deserve their accomplishments. The only thing you can do is use their success as fuel for your own successes. 

In my free time, you can catch me playing League of Legends, an online cooperative team game where you have to rely on a group of 4 strangers (who are your teammates) to make smart decisions. Everyone who plays the game makes mistakes. What I learned through this game is very relevant to real life: You can't control other people's actions, you can only control how you react to them. 

Other people will become successful at certain things, and you will have no control over them. To focus on yourself, you will need to turn their success into a positive for your own life. Using Smith's definition of envy, it becomes evident that there are positive, actionable responses that you can take when you begin to feel envy. Envy, if it really is one of the Seven Deadlies, is supposed to be an evil - but the secret to sustained growth is to turn that evil into a good. Use your envy to identify who has created some sort of success for themselves, then instead of internalizing negative emotions about your lack of success, find out what steps they took to achieve their goals. You can use this knowledge in turn to bring you closer to your personal goals.

Take a few minutes and reflect on someone you know personally who you envy. Identify exactly what it is you want that they have, and think about what steps you would take to become successful. Is it what they have accomplished in their career or dance life? Odds are, it's a matter of putting several hours in the studio or at work. Take notes of their habits and learn from them - maybe you can glean some small behavioral tidbits that have been successful for them, and try to apply them into your own life.