Is envy really bad?

Is envy really bad?

Envy is often associated with negativity. For many people, envy ranks as one of the worst traits to have or be associated with. This emotion is so vilified that it’s completely understandable why so many people find it difficult to accept that it is a common and natural emotion.

Envy can be defined as:

a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.

It’s often used interchangeably with jealousy, but these are two different emotions. Both Envy and jealousy are very complex emotions and can draw out other extreme emotions like anger and resentment; but envy has its roots in personal insecurity and inadequacies when comparing with the possessions or situations of another person. This insecurity, and sense of inadequacy can result in resentment and anger at the people you end up comparing yourself to. 

It is in this comparison that envy takes root and shows itself. Envy can be found as a result of:

  • Comparing our friend’s academic results to your own and find yourself feeling unhappy about their achievement over your own.
  • Comparing our friend’s relationships to your own and finding your own lacking.
  • Comparing the relative success of our neighbors and colleagues, and feeling your own success as being inadequate.
  • Comparing how much money someone else makes over how much we make.
  • Comparing our child’s success versus other children and feeling our own child to be inadequate.

The differences that can be drawn through comparison is then on full display to be looked at and judged by our own internal critic. Under such comparisons, we can’t helped but be confronted by what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Our own qualities and achievements look inadequate in such a light.

The internal conflict from envy also can spill out and become real adversarial conflicts between the people we are envious of. At its worst, envy can bring direct harm to the target of our envy, distract our focus from creating a happy and fulfilling life, and may even change our behaviour for the worst. This may even require help in the form of counselling.

Envy does earn its negative reputation.  However, it can also be a catalyst for something much more positive. Envy is a fantastic motivator; often able to inspire desire and purpose that we may not even know we had. This can be especially true for people who live comfortable lives, where the tendency to go through the motions can often make us complacent.

Envy can be a signal to possibilities that we once may have considered impossible or improbable, or out of reach. When we see our peers achieve, that feeling of envy can be channeled positively. It is a powerful emotion that can trigger constructive changes, and can be a catalyst to improving your life.

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