To Reduce Envy, Increase Gratitude

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Sometimes you might find yourself envying that lucky friend. Perhaps she made a bundle picking the right stock at the right time. Or you envy that talented relative who excels at almost everything. You might find yourself wishing you were luckier, more talented, richer, healthier, etc. Getting mired in envy can really bring you down. If you want to feel better, try cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

Most of us are enduring something painful. As the writer Henry David Thoreau wrote, we all “lead lives of quiet desperation.” It’s not hard to summon a list of complaints about your job, boss, spouse, health, kids, government, etc. Yet dwelling on our complaints does little to resolve problems. Dwelling on problems can really get you riled up with anger, anxiety and stress.

Research on Gratitude

Research psychologists, Joel Wong and Joshua Brown, of Indiana University, found that subjects who wrote letters of gratitude, reported higher levels of happiness. Also, they found that after three months of gratitude exercises, subjects showed greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of their brains. This part of the brain is responsible for learning and decision making. This and other research studies suggest that gratitude can have lasting, positive changes in the function and structure of your brain. Gratitude seems to shift your mind away from negative emotions such as anger and envy, and as a result, you feel happier.

How can you start thinking with more gratitude. Try the following:

  • Keep a nightly journal and list the people and things you appreciate in your life.
  • Write thank you notes to those who have shown you a kindness.
  • Send a brief email or text to your friends to thank them for their friendship.
  • Just think about those who’ve shown you a kindness.
  • Appreciate the simple things, like having arms and legs, eyes and ears.

The research shows that the benefits of gratitude grow over time. So don’t expect instant happiness the first time you try it. The more you exercise your gratitude muscle, the stronger your happiness will grow.

To get inspired here’s a beautiful song called Thank you to life, by Mercedes Sosa. English translation included. Enjoy!

Try our downloadable meditation to help you relax, and appreciate the calm you can create with your own mental imagery.

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Photo courtesy of Sheila Craan.