Life, the Universe and Everything: Jealousy & Envy

Jealousy and envy are a bit like Kendall and Kylie Jenner: they look so similar (to the uninitiated) that it’s easy to get them confused; they’re everywhere (often cropping up when you least expect it); and they are perceived by many as a bad influence. I’ve written about jealousy many times for this blog and other websites, often being told that what I’m actually describing is envy, but I still don’t feel I know enough about this so-called Green Eyed Monster.

Merriam-Webster defines being jealous as ‘hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage’ while envy is a ‘painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage’. Wikipedia’s description of jealousy actually includes the word envy: ‘the term generally refers to the thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, concern, and envy over relative lack of possessions, status or something of great personal value, particularly in reference to a human comparator,’ So, it’s easy to see why the two words have become so interchangeable in our lives – the available definitions overlap quite considerably.

Budweiser advertisement from 1956, via clotho98's Flickr photostreamWhatever word you choose to describe this onslaught of emotions, most people find that their initial reaction to them is bad, because that’s what society has taught us to believe. That’s why it’s a Green Eyed Monster, rather than a kitten or puppy. However, jealousy and envy can actually be very useful emotions indeed because they are not the problem, but the symptom. They are a signpost that can help us work out what’s bugging us in our personal lives and relationships, or what we really want from our career. Unpick that pile of twisted feels and you’ll find a little voice in the middle that directs you towards your own happiness.

Like the emotional version of a ‘sat nav’, jealousy and envy point you left and right but don’t appear to show the bigger picture, so it can be tempting to just shout at the screen and then ignore the instructions. Instead, dig deeper. Ask yourself why you feel this way. Take time to look at exactly what provoked this emotional reaction and try to pin down the underlying cause. If you can’t do it alone, enlist the help of a trusted friend and schedule some time to talk things through over a drink. Anyone who cares about you won’t mind, just be sure to pick someone who can help you get some perspective on the matter.

Lynn Enright wrote a piece for The Pool on overcoming envy, saying that recently her ‘friends and peers have had their books published, popped up on news channels offering expertise, appeared in primetime TV dramas and achieved internet fame’ and that, because she’s happy about it, she thinks she’s outgrown envy. I’m not so sure. Perhaps she’s just found her path in life and is happy in her career, so now has a different reaction to her friends’ successes? Even if these feelings do subside with age, why wait? It’s so much more satisfying to face them head on.

Images via Richard Masoner and clotho98‘s Flickr photostreams. Both are used under Creative Commons licence

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