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St. Thomas Aquinas on how to avoid envy on social media



Daniel Esparza - published on 05/30/24

Instead of succumbing to the comparison trap, we can cultivate a spirit of gratitude and celebrate the good in ourselves and others.

The urge to unplug, to ditch the literally endless scroll and algorithm-curated feeds, is a growing phenomenon. It is not an exaggeration saying that many are choosing a digital detox, a conscious break from social media’s constant hum – or even a complete withdrawal from it. This isn’t just a fad, like juice cleansings or intermittent fasting; it is a healthy response to the constant pressure of online perfection. Social media platforms, while offering connection, can also cultivate a gnawing sense of envy.  But what if there were a way to navigate this digital landscape without succumbing to this vice?

Enter St. Thomas Aquinas, the noted medieval philosopher and theologian. His timeless insights are surprisingly relevant when it comes to thinking through our modern struggles. While Aquinas couldn’t have predicted the rise of social media, his thoughts on envy provide a powerful framework for navigating the comparison trap that these platforms can create.

What is envy and why is it destructive?

According to Aquinas, envy is a “sorrow of another’s good.” It’s not simply jealousy, which is the fear of losing something you possess. Envy is a more insidious emotion, a bitterness that festers when we see another person’s good fortune. In the age of social media, this good fortune can take many forms – the friend’s perfect vacation photos, the colleague’s relentless work promotions, the carefully crafted image of a life that appears effortlessly happy.

Aquinas reminds us that envy is a destructive force. It not only eats away at our own joy but also hinders our ability to appreciate the good things in our own lives. Aquinas further argues that true happiness comes not from comparing ourselves to others, but from living a virtuous life according to God’s plan.

So how can we apply Aquinas’ wisdom to our social media habits? Here are a few strategies:

Be mindful of what you consume

Curate your social media feeds to be uplifting and inspiring. Unfollow accounts that consistently trigger envy or negativity.

Practice gratitude

Shift your focus from what you lack to what you have. Take time each day to reflect on the blessings in your life, big and small.

Celebrate the success of others

Genuine joy for another’s good fortune dispels envy. Use social media to offer congratulations and encouragement to others.

Remember the “curated reality”

Social media is a highlight reel, not real life. Everyone faces challenges, even those with seemingly perfect online personas.

Focus on your own life

Comparison is a thief of joy. Set goals and aspirations for yourself, independent of what others are doing.

Social media can be a valuable tool for connection and information – that’s undeniable. But by applying Aquinas’ timeless wisdom on envy, we can use this digital space with greater awareness and inner peace.  Instead of succumbing to the comparison trap, we can cultivate a spirit of gratitude and celebrate the good in ourselves and others. By focusing on our life, we can find true happiness beyond the filtered lens of social media.

Catholic LifestylePersonal GrowthThomas Aquinas
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