Uprooting Bitterness

When someone you know gets a cool gig, there are a lot of emotions and thoughts that might come up and play through your mind. I could have gotten that gig, or on the flip-side, I’m never going to get a gig like that. Maybe something like They don’t deserve that job any more than me, or The gig probably sucks anyways, or one of several other mental rabbit holes we can fall into. It’s obvious to tell looking at these thought patterns from a distance that they’re not coming from a particularly wholesome place, and yet we sometimes experience them whether or not we want to; to deny their existence isn’t exactly helpful, either. So how do we deal with them? Here are a few ideas that I’ve found helpful.

First, acknowledge these feelings when they come up. As I mentioned, denying feelings can, in my experience at least, tend to only push them down temporarily; they seem to have a habit of boomeranging back with even more force than when they initially appeared.

Instead of disregarding them, see them clearly, and perhaps even investigate them a little bit; why do I feel this way? Am I afraid I’m not ready? Am I insecure with where my skills are at? There may be practical ways to address some of the roots of these feelings, like taking online courses to fill gaps in your knowledge and skills.

It’s also important not to condemn yourself for having that feeling; feeling jealous is a natural part of being a human (why do you think so many stories involve envy and jealousy?), and it’s easy to imagine how it might have come in handy in the hunter-gatherer tribes of early humans. In modern society, though, it’s not so beneficial, and so we have to find new ways of handling it. We can see them, acknowledge them, make note of them (I see you, jealousy.), address their root causes if need be, and move on.

Sometimes that can be enough, but more likely than not, those thoughts or similar ones will arise again. It would be very easy for, in a moment of idleness, these thoughts to begin playing out in the mind without being noticed, taking a hold of mood and intentions, gradually crafting a sense of bitterness and cynicism in the mind. But we can feed our minds an alternative narrative: one of sympathetic joy and abundance: we can feel happy at someone else’s success, recognizing that there is more than enough happiness to go around as we realize that happiness is not a zero-sum game.

This can take a bit of effort and feel a little awkward at first, but think about it for a moment. Even from the most self-serving point of view, supporting friends will lead them to want to support us as well. If we foster a sense of possibility, abundance, and opportunity, and if we act from a mindset that takes this abundance to be true, we are more likely to find success in the future than if we are bitter towards our friends’ success and act as if another’s success is our own failure.

It’s unfortunately true that, in a capitalist society, there is only so much money to go around, but we can still inspire each other to do greater work and find more success in each of our fields as a whole. There’s just no use in treating it like a fight.

Of course, even after thinking through all this, those negative feelings might still be there; we still can’t deny their existence. At this point I’ve found a lot of help in a certain style of meditation practice called metta, lovingkindness, or heartfulness meditation. It may sound a bit sappy, but it’s a powerful tool. Traditionally, it basically involves mentally sending good vibes first to yourself (potentially easier said than done), then to a benefactor (e.g., a teacher you look upon fondly), then a good friend, then a neutral person (e.g., perhaps a bus driver you see often), then someone you have difficulties or even hostilities with, and finally to all living beings.

The specific mechanics of this can vary by teacher, tradition, etc (it may involve visualization of sunlight shining on the person making them happy, or the simple repetition of phrases like “May you be happy”), but I’d encourage you to give a few different versions of this a try and see if it improves your mindset (you can find some basic instructions here, or in a lot of other places if you search the web for “metta/lovingkindness meditation”). If it works even a little, keep it up; if you practice it for just a few minutes every day, you can slowly begin to replace any negative thought patterns of bitterness, cynicism, and ill will.

Habits of negative thoughts are a hard thing to overcome, because they’re often deeply ingrained in us, having long dug their roots into our minds without our noticing. With attention and work, though, we can develop a more positive outlook on things, be more supportive friends, and be ready for when the right opportunity does come our way.

How do you deal with these sorts of feelings? Do you experience them at all (if you don’t, I’m impressed and a bit jealous!)? Have any of these ideas been particularly helpful? Let me know in the comments!

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