I bought my first magazine when I was twelve – the April edition of Glamour. I’d never read it before and I thought it was so grown up and sophisticated and, despite the fact that I. Did. Not. Look. Like. Those. Girls (except maybe the Glamour Don’t girls on the last page), it started me on my lifelong addiction to magazines. Every magazine since then has created wants in me. Architectural Digest – why can’t I have a house like that? Shape – why can’t I have a body like that? Fortune – why can’t I have a job like that? Leisure & Travel – why can’t I go on a vacation like that? Cosmo – why can’t I have sex like that?
But despite this love/loathe relationship, in which I am teased by everything I see and yet cannot get enough of what’s between the pages, I still read the articles hoping for some epiphany on how to get my house/body/face/job/vacation looking like that.
With so many images and messages bombarding us — in magazines, on TV, even on our friends’ Facebook statuses – it’s easy to start to feel discontented with our lives. We start to feel envious of other people, to feel somehow inadequate to all the seeming perfection around us. What we don’t do is question the images and messages with a critical and objective eye. We may not acknowledge that the beautiful model in the advertisement has been airbrushed to unrealistic perfection. We may not know that the gorgeous house in the magazine spread has been staged by a team of 12 professionals to look so stunning. We may not appreciate that our friends post their most glamorous vacation photos but suffered from sunburn or lost their wallet while on holidays.
So how do we tame the envy and discontent that threatens to overtake us?
1. Put it in perspective. There will always be people who are better off in life than you are and there will always be people who are worse off in life than you are. You may not know what lies behind the envious life that our friends or neighbours may lead, and there may be people looking in on your life and envying you.
2. Adopt an “attitude of gratitude”. Studies show that happiness is related to feeling grateful for what we already have. People who keep a gratitude journal, writing down 3 things a day or a week that they are grateful for, feel better and tend to be more optimistic about their lives as a whole . They also tend to be more spiritual or religious, forgiving, empathetic and helpful, while being less depressed, envious or neurotic.
3. Borrow an idea to improve your circumstances. If, like me, you aspire to the “better” house/body/face/job/vacation that you see in magazines, on TV or even in your neighbor, ask yourself what one idea you can take from that source and apply it to improving your life. Can you try a new exercise routine featured in a fitness magazine? (Hello, sexy body!) Can you re-arrange your furniture to make your house function better? (There’s no place like home!) Can you try a new, local Italian eatery to emulate the feeling of a Roman getaway? (Staycation, anyone?)
4. Borrow an idea to help others. This is perhaps the most significant point to help us overcome envy and to build happiness. Ask yourself what idea you can take from that source and help others. If you are decorating your home, are there any household goods that you no longer use or love that could be donated to charity? If you are adding new accessories to jazz up your look, are there any clothes you can give away to people who may need them? If you are looking for a new job, can you share your knowledge and mentor someone who is more junior while you pursue your own dream? People who do good for others enjoy greater well-being, health and overall happiness (as long as they are not overwhelmed by helping tasks).
Rather than allow the barrage of images to create discontent in our lives, we can use it to inspire good in ourselves and to help others. Hmmm, maybe those magazine articles are on to something after all.