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Explanations > Emotions > Envy

The green-eyed monster | Envy and jealousy | Victim | Schadenfreude | So what


The Green-eyed monster

Envy is often associated with the color green and is portrayed as 'the green-eyed monster'. It is wanting what others have, desiring to possess what they possess. You can be envious of tangible and intangible things, including their wealth, their good looks and their innate intelligence.

Envy is often an 'identity' thing, as the underlying dynamic is not so much about wanting the things they have as wanting to be like them. Envy in such cases becomes generalized, from thing to the whole person.

Envy can sometimes be moderately positive, such as when you grudgingly admire what a friend has achieved, but do not like them any less as a result.

The most common form of coping with envy is, after recognizing it, taking a philosophical approach that says something like 'This is silly. Life is too short to waste my energy on this thing'.

Envy and jealousy

Jealousy is slightly different from envy as it involves a third party. It can involve potential loss, such as when we are jealous when someone threatens to woo away our boyfriend or girlfriend. Envy is always about potential gain.

Envy and jealousy overlap in the scenario where another person is admired by everyone else for possessing something. This gives you a 'double whammie' as  it means they are both giving someone else attention and also not giving you attention. You are envious of the attention that they are getting and jealous because you see them 'stealing' that attention from you.

Victim games

What is happening here goes something like this:

  • I see that you have got something.
  • I see that I do not have that thing and hence feel inferior to you.
  • I justify this by making it unfair, that I am a victim.
  • This makes you the 'bad guy'.
  • I can now legitimately dislike you, perhaps even making you the victim.

Notice how we work hard to justify to ourselves that feeling envious, an emotion we may consider to be generally undesirable, is in fact ok for us to feel in these 'special' cases.

Sometimes we even retrospectively create envy when something bad happens to other people, so we can say 'they deserved it'. Again, this is all about justifying to ourselves that we can feel bad about other people.


This is a German word that describes how we often cope with envy. It is the gloating feeling we get when we enjoy seeing another person suffer. We particularly seek schadenfreude in people we envy, an emotion which the press tap when they publish stories of the woes of the rich and famous.

The opposite of Schadenfreude is Mudita. This is a Hindu word meaning delight in the good fortune of others.

So what?

To create envy in a person, point out what other people have that they do not. Emphasize the bad qualities of the other people to allow the person to legitimize their feelings of envy.

You can also create envy of yourself by showing off. Avoid the backlash by doing this subtly. Done with care, this makes the other person want to be like you and hence like you.

Beware of being an envious person. It is not good for you or your relationships. Here's a quick test:

  • Do you congratulate those who succeed?
  • Do you feel good, bad or neutral about such people?
  • Do you worry that you may look bad in comparison?
  • Do you find yourself obsessing about another person's success?
  • Do you feel good when the other person fails?
  • Do you get upset when you don't get your own way?

Things you can do to reduce the envy you feel include:

  • Pinpoint what makes you envious. See envy as data on what you value.
  • Recognize the circumstances and qualities in others that trigger your envy. Notice where you feel insecure and lacking (eg. skills, beauty, etc.).
  • Don't focus on others - focus on improving yourself.
  • Seek to improve yourself rather than do down others.
  • Try to delight in the good fortune of others.
  • Measure your present self against your past self (not against others).
  • Beware of being ungenerous towards yourself.
  • Affirm yourself, knowing yourself as human and equal.
  • Notice even small wins and congratulate yourself.

See also

Envy, Consistency Theory, The Seven Deadly Sins, Stereotypes, Self-Evaluation Maintenance Theory

Lazarus, R. and Lazarus, B. (1994), Passion and Reason, Oxford University Press, New York

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