Envy and the Fixed Trait Mindset
Envy is passive greed. It is also the result of a particular way of thinking of yourself.
Greed, as the word is commonly used, refers to an "excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions." Of course, there can be a beneficial effect to a desire for more, when it is channeled through the free market system, where in order to get more yourself, you have to create value for others – as Milton Friedman so brilliantly explains in this video.
Envy is an expression of that same "excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions," but with a difference: The envious person does not believe that he has the ability to earn the things that he desires. This leaves only one alternative: He must covet what others have attained for themselves.
Wanting things is fine. Desiring a better life, a nice place to live, etc. is natural and normal and good. The harm comes when you get obsessed with attaining things so that you become disconnected from your relationships, your principles, your empathy and your own heart.
The same can be said of some of the potential triggers for envy. There is nothing wrong with seeing that somebody has something that you would like to have; whether that be a possession, a great marriage, a beautiful home, or satisfying work – or anything else that inspires you. We can inspire each other in this way to reach higher than we otherwise would, and this can be a great benefit to everyone.
The harm comes when you take that potential inspiration and turn it into a negative: wanting to possess it regardless of the effect on others, wanting to have what others have at their expense – and if you can't have it, feeling that they should not have it, either.
This is the foundation of the whole "tax the rich" policy of the Left. They have it, you don't, you should, they shouldn't, let's use force to get it for you – or at least to deprive them of it... out of a sense of "social justice," of course.
No, it's out of a sense of passive and spiteful greed – which is what envy is.
Industry and inspiration are the positive qualities toward which you can steer yourself when you feel the very human emotion of desire. You can choose to direct your energy in a benevolent way, looking consciously for a win/win scenario and applying yourself to achieving what you value.
Greed and envy are the negative qualities that you can fall into when you allow your Rat Brain to guide you – following your impulses and automatic responses without regard to your consciously chosen principles, values and priorities.
The dysfunctional nature of greed and envy have one thing in common: a fixed trait mindset.
We have a choice between two fundamental mindsets, or ways of thinking about ourselves:
- A fixed trait mindset is one where you think of yourself in terms of... fixed traits. "I am smart, handsome, talented, beautiful," etc. This can be negative, as well: "I am stupid, ugly, clumsy, untalented," etc.
- A growth mindset is one where you think of yourself more in terms of what you do, what you earn, the time and effort that you put into what you do and the results of that time and energy.
Most of us are some mixture of these two. To the extent that we think of ourselves in fixed trait terms, we tend to avoid challenges, give up easily and defend a more fragile sense of self from any criticism or evaluation.
To the extent that we think of ourselves in growth terms, we tend to embrace challenges, persevere through difficult times and be open to the opportunity that criticism and evaluations hold for our own improvement.
A person with a fixed trait mindset will be more concerned with comparing themselves with others, and making sure they come out on top. A sort of top dog/bottom dog or Lenin's famous "Who, Whom?" – Who prevails over whom – you either win or you lose ... a zero sum game, which is the antithesis of win/win.
A fixed trait mindset is not conducive to win/win scenarios. If someone has more than you, that diminishes you; if someone is smarter than you, then your ego is threatened; if someone is more successful than you, then they must be brought down; all in the name of protecting a more fragile sense of self.
Those with a growth mindset tend to be more successful, in part because they are looking for a win/win and are able to find more creative and effective approaches to problem solving. They also tend to embrace a challenge and dive in to difficult tasks with relish rather than aversion.
In one of the studies cited by Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2007), adolescent boys with a fixed mindset felt better about themselves when they thought of girls as dumber and more scatterbrained than boys. Boys with the growth mindset were less likely to think this way in the first place, and when they did, it did not lead them to feel better about themselves.
As Dweck points out, in the fixed trait mindset, "The lower you are, the better I feel is the idea."
So now for the good part: There is something that can be done about this mindset that leads to envy. It is not difficult to change a fixed trait mindset. The main thing that is needed is to be aware that you are using it.
If you know that you are using a fixed trait mindset, then you have the opportunity to choose to think of yourself differently. Rather than thinking of yourself as smart, or talented, or dumb, etc., think of yourself in terms of what you do – how much time and energy do you put into improving your skills at work, in your relationships, your interests?
Is there something that you want in your life? What do you need to do to earn that? Do you want a better marriage? What are you doing to improve your behavior in the marriage that will improve things? (As opposed to identifying what your husband or wife needs to do to make a better marriage)
Channel your desire into active, benevolent behavior that has integrity with your conscious values, principles and priorities.
If you find yourself coveting what somebody else has, catch yourself; remind yourself that this is a passive, helpless stance and see if you can find a way to earn what you are drawn to that they have. If you find yourself enjoying somebody else's loss, catch yourself and remind yourself that this is a symptom of a fixed trait mindset – see if you can identify the static position you are holding and open yourself to doing whatever your best is, while appreciating the best that others bring.
To free yourself of a fixed trait mindset is to open up a world of delightful challenges, dynamic allies and greater resilience and success. It will also likely relieve you of the burden of dysfunctional greed and envy, which is a great win/win for you and everybody you deal with.
Joel F. Wade, Ph.D. is a Life Coach who works with people around the world via phone and e-mail. He can be reached for life coaching service at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.drjoelwade.com, where you can arrange a free 20-30 minute phone call and see whether coaching can help you to make the changes you want and reach the goals you aspire to. Joel is the author of Mastering Happiness and A Pocket Guide to Mastering Happiness. "A highly skilled clinician, trained in a variety of psychological disciplines, Joel Wade is a man of immense sensitivity and compassion who has a wide repertoire of problem-solving strategies to bring to the practice of Coaching." Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D., author of The Art of Living Consciously.
Posted by seer on 12/05/12 10:38 PM
I am quite comfortable and feel quite lucky to be so. However, the concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent over the past 32 years and the corresponding inequality in the USA is sure to breed discontent and eventually societal unrest. The Hedge fund manager who loses money but still makes almost a billion in compensation illustrates my point or the Investment Banks that have disrupted the world's economy by unregulated side bets and still pay their Chairman millions in compensation again prove my point. This author is out of touch with reality in my opinion and his nice sermon will not go over well with the 10 million unemployed who are educated, qualified and living on hand outs.
Posted by rossbcan on 12/05/12 01:12 PM
JW: "Greed, as the word is commonly used, refers to an "excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions."
... hmm, another meaningless definition. Whom, exactly is to define "excessive"? Our "blessors of truth", the law? To an impoverished bag lady, you latte can be defined as "excessive". This plays right into the subjectively defining reality word games of socialists...
Try this: "Greed is the degree to which you consume, acquire or covet in excess of what you produce or contribute to civilization". A measurable concept, as is everything REAL. Thus Bill Gates is not greedy, whereas, banksters, producing nothing but counterfeit currency, as are politicians coveting and wielding power that is not theirs (unearned) for personal benefit are GREEDY.
Now that a REAL, measurable handle of the concept of greed is in hand, where does it lead?:
Click to view link
Posted by dkmeller1 on 12/05/12 01:07 PM
Why are words like "greedy" or "rapacious" only and always attached to activities of those in the private sector, producing, exchanging, and profit-seeking in a productive and useful manner?
One hardly ever hears such terms applied where they could be more correctly, at the parasites in government and their military and banking/corporate cronies. After all, it is certainly not generosity, altruism, or any sense of brotherhood which explains the behavior of governments in their collection of taxes, but rather the naked rapacity of the robber vs. his victim(s)!
It would so much more accurate to describe "greed" correctly, where government is concerned, as a robber gang telling the rest of us "your money or your life" over the harmless and civilized ideal of trade, commerce and honest exchange characteristic of free market/private property arrangements.
Maybe we should start a useful trend of using words like "greed", "looters", and "rapacity" applied to the government and their tax collection systems and personnel, and less to the rest of us trying to survive government predation in what remains of a free market!
PEACE AND FREEDOM!!