Envy: a Motivator or a Brake

Recently I have noticed myself mention the word "envy" a couple of times. It set my philological and also psychologically-oriented mind thinking. As the term is not normally very widely used, I decided to investigate into the matter.

It always makes sense to start with a definition. Here is how Wikipedia defines envy:

Envy is best defined as an emotion that occurs when a person lacks another's (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.

Envy can also derive from a sense of low self-esteem that results from an upward social comparison threatening a person's self image: another person has something that the envier considers to be important to have. If the other person is perceived to be similar to the envier, the aroused envy will be particularly intense, because it signals to the envier that it just as well could have been he or she who had the desired object.

Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. It is a universal and most unfortunate aspect of human nature because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but also wishes to inflict misfortune on others. Although envy is generally seen as something negative, Russell also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and must be endured to achieve a more just social system.

Can envy also be a driving force that stimulates human beings to move towards a better future? Or is it only an energy-blocking feeling that prevents one from taking any steps? There are popularly suggested to be two types of envy. Here is a very nice post "Envy - White or Black?" about it. Envy is called black if it makes you sit around doing nothing, feeling sad and thinking about other people's progress. White envy is something that makes you work hard to achieve what others have achieved and even more because you're neither worse nor less decent.

But there is the rub. Common sense tells me that an industrious person whose life is carefully planned, who takes advantage of every minute and does his best to reach his goals has neither time nor desire to compare his achievements with someone else's. In such a life each difficulty presents a challenge and there is no room for envy.

As it turns out, comparison is the fair way to envy. It is exactly what Nancye Sims says in the opening lines of her famous poem:

Don't undermine your worth by comparing yourself with others. It is because we are different that each of us is special.

Don't set your goals by what other people deem important. Only do what is best for you.

Now the way out is clear. What is not clear is how to overcome envy (even in its most "white" sense). Here are eight ways to do it:

  1. Getting more information about the person you envy eliminates the unwanted emotion.
  2. Complimenting the object of your envy helps you reveal the truth.
  3. Learning to do one thing better than the person you envy helps you build self-esteem.
  4. Remembering that life is not a competition and there is more than one way to success does you no end of good.
  5. Learning from the object of your envy provides the fastest way to success.
  6. Going back to the most important moment in your life helps you believe in yourself.
  7. Finding yourself will compensate both for your time and efforts.
  8. Doing your best is bound to bring results.

Well, now that the right track has been found, good luck!

Pearl's twirl аватар

Thank you Olga. Life is not a competition has always been my motto.

amblerangel аватар

I always tell the Offspring- Compare yourself to yourself.

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Girls, you’re so wise! I’m really glad for you.

Amy аватар

I like the idea about finding out more about the person you envy. Everyone has their foibles. The person you envy probably envies someone else (maybe even you).
It helps to remember we're all in the same boat.

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Absolutely true, we’re all in the same boat.

Cindy Eve аватар

very interesting Olga! this is a thought-provoking article. not least because we are taught through the media to want, want, want and that causes envy. I loved your post on Japan and again even in this context feel they have the right approach.

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Thanks, Cindy! What is the Japanese approach to envy, I wonder?

Edda Betton аватар

I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am quite sure I’ll learn lots of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Thank you, Edda!