Wishing Well for Your Friends

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End the Envy

Envy's normal, but you don't want it to get the better of you. Here's how to keep it in its place and find room for true happiness for a true friend.

  1. Remember: Green eyes can be near-sighted. In other words, there may be trouble in what you see as paradise. Risa, 39, of Minneapolis, recalls envying a friend's "perfect" life as a full-time mom (with full-time maid) in London. Eventually the truth came out: "She had the trappings of an affluent lifestyle, but she and her husband were up to their eyeballs in debt. When the marriage dissolved -- he was cheating! -- she was far worse off than I ever was: two children, no home, no job, no skills." No gloating necessary -- just keep in mind that not everything is as enviable as it seems.
  2. Allow for double-think. That's the beauty of our brains: we can feel envy and be happy simultaneously. "Right after my miscarriage, I couldn't talk to any of my friends with kids," says Noa, 40, of Cranston, Rhode Island. "Eventually, I could manage to have both a big twinge of envy and a good time shopping for a baby gift." So don't wait in vain for the pangs to vanish before trying to drum up a smile.
  3. Remember that her success is a reflection on you. Hey, she picked you as her friend! "Why not bask in her reflected glory?" says Abraham Tesser, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Georgia. "You can think, 'When my friend wins an award, somehow that lifts me up, too.'"
  4. Try on her shoes. "The capacity to empathize is such an important part of friendship," says Gibbs. If your friend gets something you want, you are specially qualified to imagine how she feels. Say, "I know how happy you must be!" and you'll be telling the truth.
  5. Convert envy into "energy to fuel your own ambition," says Gallagher. Rather than seething on the sidelines, take a page from Valerie's playbook: "My close friend's business was a success right out of the gate," says the 38-year-old New York entrepreneur. "So when she got good press, I'd make more calls for my business. I let her success inspire me. Because of our healthy competition, we grew as businesswomen -- and friends."
  6. Jog your memory about what matters. Suggests Gallagher: Make a two-column list of "things I'm jealous of" and "things I love about her." This exercise helped Risa deal with her apparently fabulous England friend: "In the midst of my worst bouts of jealousy," she says, "I could draw upon a common history, a thousand shared interests, and remembered kindnesses."
  7. Vent to a friend who gets it. "My best friend from eighth grade was the only person who could relate to my 13 years of single hell. Knowing that I could call her in tears from the restroom of yet another wedding reception helped me keep my sadness between us -- and freed me up to be happy for my lovebird friends," says Anna, 38, of San Francisco.
  8. "Keep a long-term perspective," says Gallagher. "Think: everyone has great times and failures. Right now is her turn for the great times -- mine will come, too." This outlook helped Laurel, 37, of New Haven, Connecticut, when her best friend got engaged. "It helped me to remember that even though I desperately wanted to get married, I'd had a pretty good time being single -- whereas she'd been through total hell and heartbreak. I got happy for her when I realized she'd earned that ring!"

    Jane, 39, of Los Angeles -- who's survived her share of work envy -- likes to think of it the way people describe the weather in Boston: "If you don't like how life is balancing out, wait five minutes." The time will soon come when your friend is happy for you.


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