The Nature of Envy

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.


Envy is an emotion that people generally don’t like to experience. Even when we do, we don’t like to admit we experience it. Books and wise men often tell us how bad it is. And yes the insidious envy that frustrates and builds resentment is bad indeed (Smith, Parrott, Ozer, & Moniz, 1994)

But it is important to know that there is another form of envy – called Benign Envy that is motivational in nature (Foster et al., 1972; Van de Ven et al., 2009). This kind of envy inspires us, makes us look up to the individual who has achieved things, and basically gets us going.

It isn’t possible for us to achieve everything we desire in one quick and easy step. There will always be people who are ahead and behind. If we just look up, we compare ourselves to people who are “ostensibly” better off, and this gives rise to envy. Too much of envy can be bad for us, interfering with our cognitive abilities (Hill, Delpriore, Vaughan, 2011)  even. So if it is not good for us, what recourse do we have? The actual challenge lies in transmuting the “malicious” envy into something positive – i.e. benign envy. Which motivates, inspires, and makes us want to be better people.