Envy & Jealousy

Envy & Jealousy

Fact. Humans are not created equal. Not biologically. Not culturally. Some are smarter than others, some wealthier, some luckier, some prettier, some stronger, some healthier. Some are born into good fortune. Some are not. Opportunity follows some like a puppy dog, talented or not. Opportunity evades the grasp of some, talented or not. Inequality pervades nature, and always will. It profoundly impacts our lives, despite us. It is deeply part of the human condition. 

The fact that humans are by nature unequal, more than anything else, even more than greed or love, drives world affairs. Mark Twain wrote, "Man will do many things to get himself loved; he will do all things to get himself envied." How true. Envy touches us all, whether we envy or are the envied. Indeed, every human being both envies and is envied.

What is the difference between envy and jealousy? Envy occurs when we lack an attribute or possession someone else enjoys - intelligence, strength, attractiveness, money, social status, a partner, the corner office, recognition, etc. One who envies, covets. Jealousy occurs when we fear losing to another person a possession we already enjoy; a partner, a job, social status, etc. 

Envy is a reaction to lack. Jealousy is a reaction to fear.

There are two types of envy - good envy and malicious envy. Good envy motivates us to improve ourselves, to hone our own unique strengths. We teach ourselves to view the success of others as a learning opportunity for ourselves. We train ourselves to be inspired by those whose capabilities and accomplishments surpass our own. We use our envy to evolve toward our own unique unsurpassable individuation.

Malicious envy motivates us to take from and malign others. We lessen the good in the world by trying to corrupt the one we envy. We experience pleasure at their misfortune. We experience pain, resentment, a sense of unfairness (true or not) and anger at the good fortune of others. We hate those we envy. We demand that they diminish themselves for our benefit.

Usually, the degree to which we believe that we have been treated unfairly versus the belief that our disadvantage is the result of our own actions or shortcomings determines which type of envy we will experience in any given situation. The former belief commonly provides the foundation for experiencing malicious envy. The latter belief commonly arouses the motivation for self-improvement.

Social comparison is at the heart of envy. We compare ourselves to others and construct a core self-concept. Envy arises when qualities we embrace for ourselves as part of our core self-concept compare poorly to someone else. Our self-esteem suffers. For example, I personally would not feel envy toward someone who plays the piano better than I do because I don't play the piano or consider myself to be an expert pianist. On the other hand, I personally do feel envy towards those who are smarter than I am because high intelligence is part of my own core self-concept. 

As a big fish in a little pond, I was usually among the smartest and oftentimes the most smart among a group of people. As a little fish in a big pond (university), it was difficult for me at first to emotionally accept that there are a lot of people smarter than I am for whom advanced calculus and particle physics come naturally, whereas I struggled to understand these topics. Once I accepted the reality of my own inferiority in these subjects, I became motivated to improve my understanding rather than to focus my energy on feelings of possible gender discrimination or hatred toward those gifted in these areas. Today, I am grateful for those who are gifted, I joyfully accept the enrichments that come to me through the intelligence of those able to tease out truth from the cosmos in ways that I cannot.

How can we deal constructively with envy?

1. Focus on the differences rather than the similarities between you and the other person. 

2. Consciously shape our malicious envy into a drive for self-improvement in some area. Learn. Discover in what area you excel.

3. Stop the emotional feeling of malicious envy in its tracks. Deny it life. Remind yourself that the world is not a fair place and does not owe us everything we wish we could possess. Remind ourselves that the success of others does not take away from us or our own potential for success. Remind ourselves to appreciate the good traits we do possess and all that we do have.

How can we try to avoid being the source of envy for others?

Aristotle provides us with a reasonable answer: "The best way to avoid envy is to deserve the success you get."

And if Aristotle's advice fails to work in dissolving malicious envy directed toward you, remind yourself not to diminish yourself to satisfy the envy of the one who envies you.

Reference - Mental Model: Bias From Envy and Jealousy