I’ve never been a bridesmaid and I’m not particularly interested in getting married so I really can’t relate to the adage, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” My equivalent looks more like: “Always a renter, never a homeowner.” Thanks to astronomical prices and climbing interest rates, I’ve been priced out of Toronto’s real estate market. But I have a few friends who got condos just in time or have benefitted from a massive family handout.

I’m happy for them. But…I’m also a bit sad for myself. I can’t help but feel a pang of envy when I hand rent checks over to my landlord or creep my pal’s new digs on Instagram. To help tame the green-eyed monster, I got advice from my two favorite Shannon’s: financial planner, best-selling author and founder of The New School of Finance, Shannon Lee Simmons, and Toronto-based registered social worker and psychotherapist, Shannon Stach.

Photo: James Bombales

Why do we get envious?

Envy is defined as “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities or luck.” In other words, someone has something you want and it makes you feel bad about yourself and your own life.

“As a therapist, we try to help people define what their thoughts and feelings are — to recognize when the emotions you’re feeling are brought on by the thought patterns you have,” says Stach. The reflex to “compare and despair” is one that Stach sees come up again and again. When homeownership enters the picture, the feeling is compounded.

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“I think we base success in our personal lives now by having ownership of something. The idea that once I own something, I’m successful. When we don’t have something but our friends or the people around us do, a lot of those thoughts can go to, ‘I’m no good without those things.’ Envy comes from this place of thinking some pretty uncomfortable thoughts about our own worth,” says Stach.

1. Don’t judge yourself.

Envy is a universal human emotion, and you will never be able to completely slay the green-eyed monster. To help keep it at bay, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings without judgment.

“I think the comparison game is impossible to escape forever because it’s human nature. By saying stop comparing yourself that’s like saying stop breathing,” says Simmons. “You have to accept that it’s going to happen and be aware of how long you let that feeling of inadequacy linger, and how much you believe it.”

Photo: Timothy L Brock on Unsplash

2. Notice and name it.

“You can stop that negative thought process just by calling it out,” says Simmons. “I think recognizing it is half the battle and not feeling guilty for having those feelings.”

One strategy Stach uses with her clients is called “notice and name.” Whenever you feel envy, or are in a bad mood in general, try to get in touch with the thoughts beneath the feeling. Instead of sitting with it endlessly — call it out — so you can start doing something about it.

Photo: A. L. on Unsplash

3. Be aware of the meaning you attach to homeownership.

Despite the fact that I love my rental and my city and I’m grateful to have a roof over my head, I can’t help but feel like a perma-child when I fund someone else’s mortgage, instead of my own. That’s because homeownership has become synonymous with status, success and being a real adult.

Without it, I question the choices I’ve made to get to this point — doubting my career path, romantic relationships, personal finance skills and overall maturity. As Stach puts it, we’re taking homeownership and tying it to many overarching issues in our lives: “We bring so much meaning to this one event.”

It’s true, homeownership has historically been a marker of “settling down.” But in an era of astronomical home prices and climbing interest rates — especially in markets like Toronto and Vancouver — we really need to cut ourselves some slack and stop comparing our personal milestones to the generations that came before us.

Photo: James Bombales

4. When the future freaks you out, remember this…

I’m pretty content in my life. But the minute I start future-tripping, I spiral: what if prices keep rising and I miss my chance? What if I have to move to the suburbs? Will I be single forever with nothing more than a lease and a cat?

“Anxiety is based around this idea of not being able to control what’s to come. A lot of anxiety thrives on the fear of the unknown and what’s coming in the future,” says Stach. “And there’s a lot of fear around what the market is going to do.”

It’s important to remember your situation is temporary. “When we get so lost in the discomfort of things, it can get really heavy. We feel like this is always where we’re going to be but it’s not — it’s very temporary.”

Almost every homeowner was a renter once. Instead of comparing yourself to your friends who have purchased homes, think about how much you’ve grown in the last year alone. We can’t predict what’s going to happen to us in the future but there’s one thing we know for sure: nothing stays the same.

Photo: Alicia Steels on Unsplash

5. What to do when a mortgage comes between you and your friend.

When envy creeps into friendships, things can get weird.

“I think it’s really important to be reflective in those moments,” says Stach. “If you’re feeling outwardly jealous of someone else’s life, there’s something going on inside.” One strategy is to write a letter that you’ll never send: “Very often, writing it out with a non-judgemental pen and paper can help us process the feelings we’re experiencing.”

Unless you have a toxic relationship, most of the time your friends are just living their best lives, when they innocently say something that triggers you. If they’re a good friend, try talking to them about it. You could say, “I’m really happy for you but I’m feeling sensitive because I’m still renting.”

“I think if they’re a friend and they support you, that’s a conversation that can be had,” says Stach. “It’s about acknowledging it and hopefully, that will lead to a really good conversation where your friend understands and can empathize, And it might help decrease some of the envious feelings you’re having.”

6. Remember things aren’t always as they seem.

As Simmons puts it, social media has put the comparison game on steroids. “We have so much access to people’s lives now and we don’t know half the story,” she says. “You have no idea if those people are swamped in debt, or got a massive handout from family that you will never get. You don’t know how they’re managing it, so don’t compare your financial situation to theirs. It might look wonderful, but you don’t know what’s going on, on the other side.”

Photo: Element5 Digital on Unsplash

7. Identify your core values.

When we feel unhappy in our lives, often there’s a misalignment in our values. Maybe we’re making choices based on our friend’s values or what our parents want for us, instead of doing what’s truly important to us.

“I work with people through a therapy called acceptance to commitment (or ACT, for short.) It’s all value-guided decision making and behaviors,” says Stach. “When we get in touch with what our values actually are, we can define if we’re living true to our values. If we’re far off the mark, what behaviors can we do day-to-day to live closer to them?”

You might find you’re actually okay to be renting for now because it allows you to travel six months out of the year or you might discover homeownership is the be-all-end-all for you. When you narrow in on your values, envy naturally falls to the wayside. You need that energy to fuel your dreams, instead.

8. Adopt an attitude of gratitude.

Instead of focusing on the things you don’t have, turn your attention to what you do have. Notice what you love in your space, or make small positive changes to turn around the things that aren’t working for you. For me, decluttering works like a charm.

“Do you have a bed that you really love curling up in at night? Can you take a hot shower? There are so many things you can try to focus on to feel that gratitude towards your space,” says Stach.

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