Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin says envy is a tough emotion — but it can help you realize what you truly want out of life.
"What do I want out of life?" is the kind of question that's so vague, and yields such broad answers, that it's practically useless. Happiness? Success? A puppy?
If you're trying to craft a more fulfilling existence, you're going to have to get a little more specific — and subtle — with your introspection.
On an episode of Blinkist's Simplify podcast, host Caitlin Schiller spoke with happiness expert and bestselling author Gretchen Rubin about some tricks for knowing yourself better. One such trick? Ask yourself: Who do I envy?
"Envy is an emotion that's extremely unpleasant to experience. It's kind of a shameful emotion, so we often don't even want to admit to ourselves that we envy somebody.
"We might say that we resent them, or we're angry at them, or we'll make fun of them even, rather than admit that we envy them.
"But when we envy somebody, it's actually a super helpful emotion because it tells you that somebody has something that you wish that you had yourself. And a lot of times, once you acknowledge that truth to yourself you can take steps to get it."
In other words: Instead of asking yourself directly what it is you want, listen to what your emotions may already be telling you.
Rubin gave an example of a friend who was always making fun of a coworker that blabbed about her vacations. "Then she [Rubin's friend] was like, 'Wait a minute! I totally envy her! I love to travel. I wish I was organized enough to plan these cool trips. Why don't I? ... So that envy was like a big red siren going off."
Rubin knows firsthand the power of envy. She's previously written: "When I was considering switching from law to writing, I noticed that when I read in my college magazine about people who had great law careers, I felt a mild interest; when I read about people who had great writing careers, I felt sick with envy. That was an important clue."
The broader theme behind asking yourself "Who do I envy?" is the importance of leaning into — not resisting — your feelings. (One psychologist calls it "showing up" to your emotions.)
As Rubin pointed out, envy can be uncomfortable, and it's tempting to try to tamp it down. But if you accept that someone else has a thing you'd like to have, you'll be in a better position to eventually get it.