If you’ve ever felt envious of another person’s good fortune or overshadowed by someone’s success, you’ll know how it can rob you of happiness. I’d like to share a unique approach for overcoming jealousy, called the ACTive Method, which is based on Jewish thought and psychotherapy. It views anxiety as a call to look within ourselves and express our authentic selves more deeply.
At the method’s core is a three stage process of personal transformation which was taught by Rabbi Israel Salanter – these stages are Awareness, Control and Transformation.
STAGE 1: AWARENESS
The first stage requires us to become aware of our jealous thoughts and their source. The triggers of jealousy can range dramatically from person to person, but it frequently occurs when we consciously (or subconsciously) feel lacking; for example, when suffering from personal hardships, such as a financial crisis or sickness.
Unraveling the roots of jealousy may also involve understanding our own self-defeating behaviors, for example being over-fearful, controlling or unmotivated. Often these behaviours result in us feeling stuck, dissatisfied or unproductive that make us prone to more envious feelings.
STAGE 2: CONTROL
After clarifying our jealous thoughts and their source, we move to the next step of controlling these feelings. We do this through our powers of thought, speech and action.
Jealousy can arise from faulty thinking which distorts our perception of reality. As Rabbi Dessler explains, “Jealousy happens when we focus on a few moments of success in someone else’s life, and ignore their suffering.”
Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches that it is not an actual event but our interpretation of it that causes our emotional response. By becoming aware of our cognitive biases (irrational thought patterns), we can change the way we think about a situation and thereby alter our emotional reaction to it. It is therefore important when feeling envy, to decide if we are looking at the situation in all or nothing terms, where we disqualify the positive that we have and magnify the good the other has. By challenging our initial view, we gain a more realistic understanding and reduce our jealousy.
Sharing jealous thoughts and feelings confidentially with a supportive person can also help us see through our irrational thought. Sometimes, when we are going through a difficult time, the process of expressing these emotions can also bring great relief. In other situations, when another person is doing something that makes us jealous, it can be helpful to speak to them directly about it to try to improve the situation.
Instead of trying to get more of what others have, we can use jealousy as a positive motivation to improve ourselves. The Talmud teaches, “Jealousy between rabbis increases wisdom.” When the sages felt jealous of each other’s spiritual attainments, they used it to motivate themselves to study more and to become wiser.
When we are jealous of others, we can use it as an incentive to better ourselves – we thereby become more fulfilled within ourselves and consequently less jealous.
STAGE 3: TRANSFORMATION
In this stage, we go beyond reducing our jealousy to changing our nature so that we no longer begin to feel jealous in the first place. How can we accomplish this? We need to eliminate the self-destructive traits (e.g., laziness, lack of confidence) which are at the root of the jealousy and replace these with positive traits. This is achieved through repeating positive actions until new habits are formed.
At the end of the Cain and Abel episode, God placed a mark on Cain and made him a wanderer. There is an opinion that this “mark” was a gift of a dog. The reason Cain was given a dog was to help him learn the true nature of giving and gratitude, as dogs have a giving and loyal nature. This was the trait Cain needed to internalize in order to overcome his selfish and jealous nature.
When a person repeats acts of giving, over time he will become a more generous person. He will uproot the jealousy and free himself from it. He will then start to experience joy for the good fortune of others, instead of letting it diminish his happiness and create animosity.
A beautiful example of this level is described when Moses was chosen to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. His brother Aaron could have easily felt overshadowed and been jealous of him. But Aaron is described as having “joy in his heart”; he was truly happy for his brother. God’s appointment of Moses only increased Aaron’s love for him.
We too can find a new sense of joy and closeness to others when we transform jealousy from a troublesome emotion into a positive force.