You want what they have
They have it, you want it, so you feel envy. Envy is not only felt for material possessions, more often we envy people who are well regarded, admired, influential, and successful. We wish we had their stature. At its root, envy is feeling bad because a colleague has now achieved a higher stature than you. It is an egocentric and selfish view of fairness.
- Wanting what someone else has [laz]
- Desiring other's stature objects
- Displeased about an event desirable for another [OCC]
- Feeling inferior to another person.
Envy is caused by a dissatisfaction with self-image—your perception of your actual stature. This dissatisfaction is also called low self-esteem—a poor self-appraisal of your actual stature. Because you feel inferior to the person you envy, envy is related to shame. Envy encourages you to achieve higher stature.
You believe that “if I had what you have, then I would be happy.”
Note that envy and gloating have parallel structures. Envy is when you feel bad because a rival did well, and gloating is when you feel good because a rival did badly.
Jealousy and envy are closely related, and some writers regard them as synonyms. In envy you want what you never had. In jealousy, you are threatened with the loss of something you have (or thought you had). Envy is a two-person emotion; I want what you have. Jealousy is the three-person love triangle, I want who you have.
Wishing the best for your rival may be an effective way to cope with envy. Reassess the situation to determine if you truly need or deserve the envied object. If you want what you have you will prevent envy. In any case, exercise the good judgment and self control to avoid hostility.
Listening to our envy
While becoming consumed with envy is destructive, listening carefully to our envy can be instructive. If you envy that fit person you see at the gym, the singing voice of your cousin, or the entrepreneurial success of your neighbor, perhaps it is because these represent goals you would like to achieve. Think carefully about what sincere desires might be triggering your envy, use that insight to carefully reexamine your goals. Revise your goals if doing so will better align with your authentic self.
Other stature-Related Emotions
Envy is one of several stature-related emotions. Contempt and gloating are kinds of reverse envy. While we envy those with higher stature, we feel contempt for those with lower stature. We gloat when we see others suffer a drop in stature due to their own mistake. We feel compassion or pity for unfortunate people with low stature caused by misfortune.
Intense envy can turn into hate, anger, or violence if it is not constructively coped with.
Paths of Envy
Understanding what can trigger our envy, what separates envy from jealousy, and how we can resolve our envy helps us to cope with our feelings. The following figure illustrates choices we have and paths we can take to either prolong or resolve our envy. Use this like you would any other map: 1) decide where you are now, 2) decide where you want to go, 3) choose the best path to get there, and 4) go down the chosen path.
You may wish to print out this one-page version of the Paths of Envy and Jealousy map.
This diagram is an example of a type of chart known by systems analysts as a state transition diagram. Each colored elliptical bubble represents a state of being that represents the way you are now. The labels on the arrows represent actions or events and the arrows show paths into or out of each state. You are at one place on this chart for one particular relationship or incident at any particular time. Other people are likely to be in other places on the chart. This is similar to an ordinary road map where you plot where you are now, while other people are at other places on the same map. Begin the analysis at the green “OK” bubble, or wherever else you believe you are now.
OK: This is the beginning or neutral state. It corresponds to yourself being free of envy or jealousy. The green color represents safety, tranquility, equanimity, and growth potential.
I want what you have: You see what someone else has and you desire it. You believe that if you can get what the other person has, your stature will increase and you will feel more satisfied. You may be desiring their car, house, boat, vacation, or more likely their recognition, stature, looks, health, fame or other personal attribute. Be careful here. Make certain: 1) that if you had it it would increase your genuine stature, not just your futile stature seeking, and 2) you could actually get it.
Envy: They have what you want and you will be unhappy until you get it. You are feeling badly about your low self-esteem and you believe if you can get what they have it will increase your stature and you will feel better. Maybe it will, but probably it will not. stature is more often earned than acquired. A lot of energy is wasted in this type of futile stature seeking. It is better to understand your true needs, recognize you cannot substitute material goods for well being, and work to meet your actual needs. The yellow color represents the discontent you feel.
Needs not met: It is likely that your needs will not be met by by your envy. Perhaps what you are seeking can't be transferred to you. This is true of health, fitness, good looks, and many other non-material items. It is also true of many material objects. Another common problem is that even if you are able to acquire the object you are seeking, it may not increase your stature. stature is more often earned than acquired. Staying stuck here is destructive; reappraise and move on.
Needs Met, or Reappraisal: Either you get what you want and you feel better, or you have increased your stature to that of your envied peer, or you reappraise the situation, recognize you don't need what they have, and you feel better. Try wising the best for your rival and see if you any feel better. “Sour Grapes” describes an insincere disparaging of the object you originally sought. This allows you to walk away and avoid a public humiliation.
A Buddhist Perspective on Attachment
- “To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves” ~ Will Durant.
[laz] Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions, by Richard S. Lazarus, Bernice N. Lazarus
[Ekm] Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, by Paul Ekman
[OCC] The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins
[Gol] Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, by Daniel Goleman
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Arun Gandhi
Fear, Sadness, Anger, Joy, Surprise, Disgust, Contempt, Anger, Envy, Jealousy, Fright, Anxiety, Guilt, Shame, Relief, Hope, Sadness, Depression, Happiness, Pride, Love, Gratitude, Compassion, Aesthetic Experience, Joy, Distress, Happy-for, Sorry-for, Resentment, Gloating, Pride, Shame, Admiration, Reproach, Love, Hate, Hope, Fear, Satisfaction, Relief, Fears-confirmed, Disappointment, Gratification, Gratitude, Anger, Remorse, power, dominance, stature, relationships