“My best friend got engaged, and I know I should be happy for him, but I can’t even find a woman who’ll go on more than four dates with me,” said a man in his mid-thirties.
“My former co-worker got promoted. I had to clap for her and listen to all the congratulations when we went out, and then I had to buy a round of drinks. We graduated the same year and all I could think was that she got my promotion,” said a 27-year-old woman.
Have you ever felt jealous of your friends’ successes?
Everywhere you look, there’s someone doing what you want: getting married, buying an apartment, having a baby, driving a new car, getting a book contract, achieving whatever you’ve defined as success.
So what gets in the way of you sincerely cheering for your friend, family member, or colleague?
Let’s get beyond calling it sour grapes, because there’s no psychological nuance involved in that construct. When you dig deeper, you’ll find that it comes down to a mindset: scarcity, or abundance mentality?
Is life a pie?
Do you look at life as a pie or an ocean? What does that even mean???
If life is a pie, it’s a finite amount of something. Four people sharing a pie will each have a generous slice. Eight people sharing that same pie will have a piece reduced by half. Sixteen people sharing that pie will each have half a forkful.
Applying this to life means that there is a finite amount of success or satisfaction in the world. Someone who does well is getting your slice of success or satisfaction. I happen to love pie: pumpkin, apple, angel (it’s a southern thing), pecan, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry. Delicious to eat.
But a “pie mindset” is toxic, if you want to have a satisfying life.
Or an ocean?
If you think of life as an ocean, there are plenty of drops of water to go around. You don’t have to begrudge your friend, family member, or colleague their drop of water, their glass of it, or their 50 gallons. It doesn’t take away from what’s possible for you in the least.
Scarcity mentality versus abundance mentality
This is an abundance mentality, rather than a scarcity mentality.
This is the idea that if everyone does the best they can, life is more fun. Much more fun than guarding your success against the people whom you imagine can steal it from you. It’s the difference between ambition and competition.
Ambition is doing the best you can and being happy for other people to do the best they can. You’re not looking over your shoulder to see who’s gaining on you or trying to gain on anyone else. Doing your best and enjoying whatever comes from that leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. You’re open to collaboration, because you see that people doing their best means that we all rise together, through synergy. It’s more fun. It’s expansive.
Competition versus ambition
Competition is about comparing yourself to others, and measuring your “slice of pie” against theirs. There will always be someone with a larger slice, and someone with a smaller slice, so how do you then feel about yourself?
With competition your self-esteem is based on the size of the slice someone standing next to you is holding, so it fluctuates wildly. You may find yourself trying to grab someone else’s share of attention, praise, success, whatever. It’s a grasping, contracting, scarcity mentality that doesn’t leave you feel connected to others in a generous, positive way.
Pie is finite.
The ocean is abundant and infinite!
What your parents modeled for you during childhood shaped your ideas of scarcity and abundance, of competition and ambition. If you realize you’re living your life based on scarcity, competition, and emotional tightfistedness, you’re not going to get a “do-over.”
Treatment can help you sort through and understand your influences, build on what works, and learn to work around the mindset that gets in the way.
If you’d like to learn to embrace an abundance mentality and let go of the scarcity of “pie theory,” please reach out.
Diane Spear, LCSW-R, owns a private practice in the Union Square/East Village area of Manhattan (New York City). She specializes in anxiety, depression, couples, and parenting treatment, and has been helping people find the joy in everyday life since 1995. She is accepting new patients. To learn more about Diane’s approach to treatment, click here.