The Evil of Envy & the Importance of Staying in Your Own Lane

Peperoncini & clothespins

Peperoncini & clothespins

One of the most prevalent superstitions in southern Italy (and in a lot of Mediterranean cultures), is the Evil Eye. Here it’s called “malocchio” and its roots are in envy, i.e., someone feels envious of another person, even without a malicious intent behind it, thereby bringing bad luck upon the person being envied. I’ve previously written about the Italian-American equivalent of being overlooked.

Malocchio can manifest itself in the victim physically via headache and/or general malaise or it may bring about acts of misfortune — such as what happened to P last winter when our chainsaw died literally moments after someone walked past our campagna, giving it a good once-over, which in southern Italy is pretty much the telltale sign of invidia. Ahem.

Envy, of course, is a completely natural emotion, and if you happen to believe in the Seven Deadly Sins business, well you know it’s one of the biggies. But why? What’s so horrible about envy?

Aside from it just not being very nice to covet your neighbor’s job, success, wife, husband, family life, whatever, there can be very personal effects turned inward as well.

Envy can prevent us from working on ourselves and our own goals.

We can become so fixated on what someone else does or has (or seems to do or have) that we neglect the importance of working on improving ourselves and our own situations. Or it can simply plant seeds of doubt that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, and doggone no one likes us (thank you, Stuart Smalley).

In its most malicious form, envy can even lead someone to try to destroy another’s happiness — but that extreme isn’t what happens with most of us.

And yes, I say us. I’m certainly not immune to the occasional pang of the Green Monster. For me, it rarely if ever involves friends, but perhaps a blogger I don’t know or particularly enjoy — how the hell did *she* score a book deal? Things of that nature.

Several years ago when I began reading about various religions in earnest, I was immediately drawn to the Buddhist concept of acknowledging feelings and letting them pass. It spoke deeply to my heart, but I didn’t know whether I could actually do it. Turns out, I could.

I simply had to decide to acknowledge feelings and then let them pass.

If that sounds too easy to you, believe me, I’ve been there. But it really is a choice, and I believe that anyone who is committed to following through with this concept can put it into practice. Indeed, I’ve noticed that with time, the feelings are floating on by even faster and with increasingly less effort on my part. Most of the time anyway. We all have room to grow.

This release of negative emotions has become a vital component of my mental health. There’s much more to this concept for the serious student of Buddhism, of course, but for me, this one little aspect has been a game changer.

Pick a lane

Pick a lane

But what do we gain by choosing to let envious feelings pass us on by? This is the best part. As a reward of letting go of envy, we receive the gifts of more time and increased focus to keep our eyes on our own prizes, stay in our own lanes, and not worry so much about what other people are doing and achieving. We no longer feel the urge or need to compare what is happening in our lives with what someone else is experiencing.

We each have our own unique paths, and that’s exactly as it should be.

Besides, keeping up with the Joneses is *so* 20th century.

This is not to say we should isolate ourselves from our friends’ and colleagues’ successes and happiness, though — quite the contrary! I find nothing more inspiring and heartwarming than seeing a friend realize a dream like having a screenplay become a feature Hollywood film, selling her own gorgeous handmade pottery, or becoming a mother.

Success and happiness come in infinite quantities — there’s no reason to believe someone else is taking your share.

Truly appreciating others’ success and happiness — but not coveting it — opens up your own path to personal and professional growth and fulfillment on your terms, and not on anyone else’s. What could be better than that?

As for malocchio, well, since we’re not all going to suddenly live without envy, there *are* a few precautions you can take to combat any envious feelings coming your way. In southern Italian fashion, you can sprinkle some salt around your house now and again, wear red, pepper your place with hanging peperoncino, the symbol that protects against the Evil Eye, and also make the horns (le corna) sign with your hand if and when you think someone is envying a bit too much.

Or you can always try my preferred method, killing the envy with kindness — though I still remind P to make the sign of the horns too. Just in case.

Do you have any envy/malocchio stories to share?

What are your tips for staying focused on your own goals and not comparing your achievements to those of others?

64 Beans of Wisdom to “The Evil of Envy & the Importance of Staying in Your Own Lane”
  1. Kelly

    Excellent post, Michelle. I have a problem with envy. I love the concept of acknowledging the feeling and then letting it go – instead of beating myself up over it, which is what I usually do.

    I had to laugh about your story of the person giving your campagna a “good once over” and the chainsaw dying – my father-in-law (whose heritage is Calabrian), warns of “over looking” someone or something – it’s bad luck to the person being over looked!

    michelle Reply:

    Hi Kelly, yes I had written about being overlooked before, so now I’ve added it in the post. Beating yourself up over natural feelings is a terrible habit — and one most of have to learn to overcome. Best of luck 🙂

  2. 01.19.2012

    When I was growing up, my Italian grandmother, who just turned 99, was forever making “le corna” and trying to explain malocchio to my Irish mother. 🙂 To this day, she will tie a red ribbon around something new, throw some coins under the mat of a new car (as will my dad), which I assume is related to malocchio, or see one of us doing something good or important and make le corna in order to keep us “from being overlooked,” which was always the term that confused my Irish mother. I think I’ll go get myself some red peperoncino to hang in my house so I can continue the tradition — and maybe make it to 99 myself.

    michelle Reply:

    Yes, I had written about being overlooked before, so I’ve added that link in the post now. I’m not sure the coins have to do with malocchio — there are so many random superstitions in Italian culture!

  3. feeling it, then letting it go…hmmmm

    We like.

    Gives you something positive to aim for without demanding superhuman powers of goodness (I am yet to be awarded a cape in this area)

    michelle Reply:

    Ooh I’d like a cape. Not gonna happen, but I think I’d look cute in one……

  4. 01.19.2012

    thanks for this blog entry and information dear Michelle…one of my biggest concern hwever is how to deal with people (who have as much as you do) but poor their envy non-stop on you; I really have difficulties keeping calm in those situations when the people “attack me”, without realising they owe/have the same (amount of holidays, salary); any tips on this?
    have a good rest of the week+very happy and sunny 2012!

    michelle Reply:

    Jana, you have to understand that those people aren’t attacking you (though I know it feels like that!), they’re attacking the parts of themselves that continue to hold them back from doing what they really want to do. If you really feel the need to defend yourself, make it clear that you have made your priorities and stick with them — it’s not your fault that they haven’t done the same. xx

    Jana Reply:

    you are so right! its hard though..but thank you sooo MUCH!

  5. 01.19.2012

    Bella mia,

    You are *spot on* …again… ;D with one of the things I am struggling with in my life – as in this morning in the shower… when I pulled into work a couple of hours ago… and I keep telling myself, let it go, it is not for me, I have other things to focus on, not my business, not my issue, and I also keep telling myself that I’m lucky I’m not where I once wished I was, because that place probably isn’t what I thought and hoped it would be. If I really was there – it probably wouldn’t be the sparkling wonder I imagined; nothing’s ever as good as we thought it would be.
    I remind myself I’m probably better off, and that I have multitudes of good things to focus on and I try to remain on that path.

    My mind and heart, like errant children, wander off to those things I’m letting go of, though, and I have to reign them back in and focus them on the possibilities in my lane, on my road, that I can and will make happen, if I only give those things the attention that is being divided and diminished by envy, jealousy and spiteful irritation and anger.

    About a million years ago, you and I and a couple other great ladies wrote Cardinal Rules… remember that? Yes… and one of them, my first one, actually, was “~ Thou shalt not hate. No good comes of it, which consequently makes it a monumental waste.”… I think that could apply to a great many things. Do not be envious, no good can come of it, which consequently makes it a monumental waste.

    Thank you so much for the wonderful insight. I love it. 😀


    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    michelle Reply:

    Hugs to you sweet Scarlett; you of all people should never be envious of anyone! I know what it’s like for the mind to wander, though, of course…hope you are easily putting it back in line these days 😉

  6. M.

    Envious? Seven years ago, I moved to Italy as a recent graduate to work in my field of study. Over two plus years, I worked for two employers as an indentured servant in hopes of my employer obtaining the proper documents for my stay. Yes, I was naive, but I am a dreamer. I am second generation Italian-American. I do not qualify for Italian citizenship due to the legalities of when my Nonno naturalized, my Nonna not being recognized, and my father’s birth is prior to 1948. After some time back in the States running my own practice, I have this innate feeling of living and working in Italy, legally. I have obtained the Dichiarazione di Valore for all my education. Unfortunately, due to my lack of Italian citizenship, I need the permesso di lavoro. Most employers do not want the hassle of obtaining this visa. Therefore, I am somewhat envious of those Tom, Dick, Harry, and Susan who can obtain the Italian citizenship. The people who are planning to live in Italy short-term or have minimalist intentions. “It is what it is”.

    Michelle, I truly appreciate you taking the time to write this blog. I do not consider you a “Susan”. You are making a long term impact with your work. In bocca al lupo.

    michelle Reply:

    Thank you for sharing this, M. The citizenship laws are frustrating indeed, I agree. Did you look into getting citizenship after two years of legal residence here? It’s for second-generations like yourself who couldn’t claim citizenship because the direct line was broken in some way.

  7. 01.20.2012

    Ah Michelle! I love this post! The flip side are all the Italians – in my experience anyway – ready to blame misfortune or plain bad luck on the malocchio that they’re convinced someone out there has cast their way… My little girl’s father is Pugliese doc from a very small village so I know a bit about this sort of mindset….but that’s a story for another day! 😉 Your antedote of killing envy with kindness is fabulous and the best way I know to riagggire. Bravissima! Jxx

    michelle Reply:

    SO true, Janine. That is very intertwined…that when anything goes wrong, it’s malocchio. Sometimes it may be bad luck, but a lot of times there are…contributing actions. The concept of personal responsibility can really suffer where there is a firm belief in malocchio.

  8. 01.20.2012

    One of the reasons I don’t miss living in the States is because of this very topic. I would ALWAYS lament over what I don’t have instead of being grateful for what I do have. ‘Why does that person have a baby and I don’t?’ ‘Why do they have an iPhone and I don’t?’ etc… Then one day my SIL told me that she thought how great it was that me and the hubs lived below our means which made it possible for us to take long vacations to NYC, San Francisco & Hawaii before we moved. I realized then that maybe someone was envious of me and my life (and future life).

    I still tend to get a bit envious but I doesn’t bother me anymore. I still don’t have an iPhone and I really don’t need one. What I NEED.. is to be happy, healthy and strong so that I can be here for the hubby and my daughters.

    michelle Reply:

    I think I’m much better at this too now that I live here. There are still materialistic people here, of course, so I think it’s more a result of my having changed with the help of my lifestyle, which were all choices. I’ll still get a pang when I see someone in the States talking about their awesome new dryer though (not so much for the dryer itself as I could just buy one, but for the price of electricity for how much it would cost to run it!)….hahaha……

  9. 01.20.2012

    You offer us much wisdom, as always, Michelle.

    A buddhist teacher, whose name I have forgotten, said,”Don’t judge. Don’t compare. Just keep going.” I try to remember that when I am tempted to stray from my own lane. Or to bring me back when I have strayed!

    michelle Reply:

    LOVE that, Anne. I’m putting it on my vision board.

  10. 01.20.2012

    I’m not a very envious person. I find that when one thing doesn’t manifest in my life, another [often better] thing appears. I’m cool with that. I don’t need to control everything. But I realize that many, many people do.

    I think that our society sets us up to fail by telling us “we can have it all.” When individuals figure out that is impossible, they turn their frustration outward and become suspicious of others’ success. Enter envy.

    Great ideas in this post as always. Thanks.

    Scarlett Reply:

    Ally!!! I am so thrilled to see you here! 😀 YAY! It’s been forever. Good points about the ‘you can have it all’ societal norms. So detrimental to our cultue in many, many ways. 🙁

    Big hugs!

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    michelle Reply:

    Agreed on all accounts xx

    michelle Reply:

    Ally, I agree that modern society has taken envy to a whole new level — it’s such an ancient emotion, though, and even those not exposed to extravagant images feel pangs…might be that someone is coveting their neighbor’s well fed pig around here 😉

    Ally Bean Reply:

    Michelle, you’ve given me my laugh of the day. So true. Thanks.

    And “hi” right back at you, Scarlett.

  11. 01.20.2012

    I have found it easier to let go of envy as I have gotten older….but shall remember to sprinkle salt when and if it shows up. Lovely post 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    The salt will never hurt! I think it’s a good policy 😉

  12. 01.21.2012


    Of course once again you have dipped into the human psyche in such a way that many us totally understand…a result of your own life experiences…

    This is a subject that even the “ancient desert dwellers” were aware of and tried to deal with.

    It is my belief that envy represents a spiritual fault in me, it goes even deeper than that. Envy is the manifestation of “Acedia” for me. (see

    It is indeed my lack of desire to know my Source of Life better and a lack of constant endeavor to be a visible out-picturing of that Source that leads me to envy and yes most or all of the other “7 deadly sins”.

    The 8th “bad” as they were known was in fact Acedia, “spiritual laziness”…yuppppp been a long time problem of ahhhhhh not only me I think many others also.

    I affirm Michelle that your article here will lead many to look even deeper at the cause of envy not just the effect.

    “grazie per essere come sei ..”

    Love and light

    michelle Reply:

    Spiritual laziness…I like that. I mean, I like the term/concept 😉 Thx Richard.

  13. awedree

    Michelle, what an inspiring post! It’s funny you should mention the commonness of these traditions throughout Mediteranean cultures. I am actually from Afghanistan, and many of the practices you mentioned (the color red, salt, mentioning God’s name when paying complements) are practiced in our culture as well fairly frequently to ward off the evil eye. We also burn incense to clear the air of the bad vibes.

    Thank you as always for your insight.

    michelle Reply:

    From all I’ve read it seems that just about every Mediterranean culture has its own version of the Evil Eye. *So* interesting!

  14. 01.22.2012

    This is an excellent post Michelle. I struggle with jealous especially for those to whom things seem to come without them doing anything. I think sometimes a bit of percpective is needed to be pleased for them and not jealous. However with friends I am normally thrilled for them.

    michelle Reply:

    It’s important to remember, too, that we don’t always know all that is going on behind the scenes…so that maybe when we think something has just fallen in someone’s lap, it didn’t actually happen that way, not entirely or even not at all. Though sometimes it does, and I agree — that’s hard not to be envious of…..

  15. 01.24.2012

    I am so in love with your blog!

    I just got home from Italy, and I have to admit – I am envious about people living there! I wish I could just pack my bags and bring everything (including my husband!) to Italy and live either in Anacapri or Venice.

    Cheers to this post. So timely for me as I face big decisions I have long been postponing 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Sending you strength and positive energy for those decisions, Emma; thanks for coming by 🙂

  16. 01.25.2012

    this is so good,
    i must say!

    {{ how old are you?
    you show such wisdom, missy! }}

    ~~how many lanes do we need to B in anyway?~~

    i do hope you have an opportunity to see
    Happy: The Movie
    i know you would like it…


    michelle Reply:

    Will definitely check it out, SPF! Thanks 🙂

  17. Sigh. This is something I struggle with.

    Things are better now that I don’t live in L.A. I would be in a great mood and then have a meeting with other people in the business. Without fail, the conversations would turn into “Why does that HACK have a deal with Paramount?” or “Why did that actress get that part? She’s couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag!”

    I would leave so depressed. Plus everyone’s successes are so in your face. It’s hard not to be a little jealous when you can’t pay your rent. It’s also hard not to punch someone in the throat when they are complaining about making “only” 2.5 million a year.

    There’s no rhyme or reason as to why some people make it and others don’t. Now, I try to focus on doing the best work I can and let the chips fall where they may.

    Thanks for the shout out!!


    michelle Reply:

    TBH I don’t know how anyone keeps a straight head in LA; from a distance it definitely seems like its own world, and since so many people think THEY are their own world too, well I can only imagine the struggle of gravitational pulls hahaha. Glad you’re over here and doing awesome work to share with all of us xx

  18. 01.28.2012

    I’m so with you on this one! You are so spot on (as usual). As for me, I also am of the school of letting it pass through and moving on -in my own damn lane. It is funny if you look around my house I have all the malocchio things from just about every culture -like they say in Napoli, ‘I don’t believe it but, it doesn’t hurt to do it -just in case.’

    michelle Reply:

    Haha…exactly! Thx for coming by, Alex 🙂

  19. 02.02.2012

    I battled with this last year between a colleague and myself. I kept comparing myself to her and how well she’s doing in her job. She was fresh out of school with no experience. I had the experience, but in a different field. So, in essence, we were both new. After awhile, she started to succeed and I was, too, but I wasn’t the way that I thought. It got me down and made me think all too often that maybe I maybe a mistake in changing careers. I was so used to my old career where I just exceled in 6 months instead of still fumbling after a year. I never was mean to here. In fact, I always supported her, but I forgot about me. Any good thing I did, I belittled it in a way. Then, 2012 came and I decided to let go of that. I took my weaknesses and made them my goals for the year. I have to take back control of my life.

    So, great post. And I loved the Stuart Smalley reference.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for coming by, Kristi; hope all is going well for you this year 🙂

  20. 02.04.2012

    This was a great post Michelle.

    It reminds me of a quote I heard Bob Dylan say was passed onto him from Liam Clancy.

    He said, “No Fear. No Envy. No Meanness.”

    Thanks again for this post.


    michelle Reply:

    Love it, Zack. Thx for sharing!

  21. 02.05.2012

    I grew up surrounded by a lot of Buddhist philosophy and was actually Buddhist for the first 13 years of my life. One of the things I remember learning is the concept of “turning poison into medicine”.

    If we really want, poison (in this case, envy) can be turned into all kinds of medicines such as inspiration, motivation, positive self-challenge, admiration or an opportunity to learn from someone else (meaning, if someone has something you want, it never hurts to reach out and try to learn from them).

    Five years ago I started following a blog written by a freelance translator. I was envious as to how on earth she could manage to do such a thing with her life. Why couldn’t I do that too?!?! Yet I was drawn to her blog because her writing “voice” was so friendly and welcoming. One morning I realized that since she was doing something I wanted to do, I had two choices: I could sit there feeling sorry for myself and doing nothing, or I could contact her and maybe learn a thing or two from her.
    So I wrote to her. She was more than happy to help and sent me a very kind, long, detailed response talking about everything under the sun regarding translation. I still have the e-mail and look at it once in a while, and the best part is we are friends today. 😀 Had I not made the choice to reach out and learn from her, I’m not sure I’d be earning a living the way I do today.

    Tina Reply:

    P.S. I wish I were better at applying this philosophy to tango as well! Though oftentimes I find myself the victim other people’s jealousy in that realm and for no good reason! In the performing arts, è sempre così… ah well.

    michelle Reply:

    PIan piano….. 😉

    michelle Reply:

    Lovely, Tina, and so true that we can turn our self-pity into something very productive 🙂

  22. Sam

    Dear Michelle,

    Did you get any snow in your area? My parents grew up near Cosenza and they said snow is usually not more than a skiff. However, La Sila usually gets enough for skiing.

    michelle Reply:

    All the mountains, they say, are covered — parts of the Aspromonte had around 80 cm — but nope, nothing in Badolato. Not even a snowflake.

  23. 02.07.2012

    While I don’t think I regularly have a problem with this, I certainly am having a problem with it today so coming by your blog and reading this post is just the tonic I need to refocus my goals and my breath. Thank you.

    michelle Reply:

    How wonderful to know, Courtney; thank you for sharing 🙂

  24. 02.08.2012

    Daddy always said: “Jealousy is the ruination of the world.”
    And he was right.
    Great post – love the pepper/clothespin pic.
    Waving at you wildly from a NYC that hopes to see you soon.

    michelle Reply:

    Waving back at you, cara…who knows, maybe I’ll hit the city in 2012?! 😉

  25. 02.08.2012

    Hi Michelle. Indeed, it is long time no hear :))
    Being envious…hmmm… I always try to think positive. I think I am grateful enough for what I have got: a good wonderful caring loving husband, lovely active children, a good green property that allows us growing our own home produce, the in-laws who are supportive and caring, a couple of good friends who always are there when I need them. However, I sometimes long for having time for myself, take a proper food photos for the blog or hunt for more props… but I just tell myself that this phase will pass and I will eventually get time for myself again. I keep faith on it as time goes by 🙂
    Have a great day, Michelle and thank you for visiting me.


    michelle Reply:

    Always lovely to “see” you Arfi; hope all is well xx

  26. 02.08.2012

    Great post! One thing I do when someone close to me meets with success, I think, “Alright, it’s getting closer to me now. I’m next.”

    michelle Reply:

    That’s such a wonderful outlook, Lenora 🙂

  27. 02.11.2012

    You learn to largely ignore ‘envy’ early on, when you go to a school where more than a few of the children are children of multi-millionaires and billionaires. That, or the guy sitting next to you in French class was the son of a famous movie director.

    You want one pony. Your classmate has a whole farm of horses (or her father does). In fact anything you want, she has and has a whole factory of it sometimes. After all this, someone having a better car than you, a better job than you and so on is a small thing really. Someone will have always have it better than you and many will have it worse than you. Life is such.

    I like the way you mentioned staying in your own lane. Even if you don’t have envy, you might panic and think that you are doing the wrong thing with your life and go off on a tangent and divert away from your own path. It’s easy to do this with all the peer pressure around you – and people telling you you need to do this and that. The little things they tell you might finally get to you when you’re having a bad day. In this sense, remembering where you lane is and staying in it is really important.

    Nice article. 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for adding your thoughts here; much appreciated 🙂

  28. 02.29.2012

    Interesting post. And a lot of truth for me. The moment I was able to recognise and let go of the ‘envy’ I felt towards my ex who seemed to be sailing on with creative success without me, I began to focus upon my own writing goals. Everything changed. I found more discipline within than I could imagine, and my efforts were no longer poisoned by negative thoughts. I felt freed up and positive and sold my novel, which is now about to come out. I even have a second book of stories being published in 2013, many of which in dealing with certain painful events have given me liberation and lightness.

    michelle Reply:

    Wonderful, Catherine; looking forward to reading your book 🙂

  29. 03.01.2012

    I am a cyclist and first read your headline in a totally different way, dodging cars wandering around the road. A friend of mine crashed last weekend when a car pulled in front of her and I instantly thought of her tumbling through her “lane”. She’s okay, btw.

    Anyway, I’m really glad you caught my attention. Great post, and a fantastic reminder. Be thankful for all we have everyday!


    michelle Reply:

    Indeed, Sam; thanks for coming by 🙂



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