“I was one of the many people who tuned into the Golden Globe awards ceremony the other day. I am embarrassed to admit that I did feel some pangs of envy as I watched the glamorous celebrities pose for the cameras on their walk down the red carpet. I will also confess that I periodically feel envious of those “perfect parents” who appear to have their children and lives completely under control.”

Table of Contents

What is Envy?

A recently published comprehensive article by Dr Richard Smith and Dr Sun Hee Kim, from the University of Kentucky, describes the nature of envy as well as the negative effects it can have on our mental and physical health. Historically considered one of the seven deadly sins (and appearing in two of the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament), envy is a “state in which the desired advantage enjoyed by another person or group of people causes a person to feel a painful blend of inferiority, hostility, and resentment.”. As a medieval theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Charity rejoices in our neighbour’s good, while envy grieves over it.”

It thereby proves that Envy is the feeling of wanting something that others possess and its absence may drive a feeling of hatred in oneself.

How does Envy manifest?

“Envy does not allow Humanity to sleep”C.G.Jung

The feeling of envy has a negative effect on a person. It can serve to be a destructive emotion both physically as well as mentally. Envious people tend to feel angry, irritable, resentful, and aggressive. These individuals don’t praise what they have, but rather, they ignore their positive traits in the process of comparing themselves with someone else. They get distracted and cannot focus on their own goal. As a result, they harbour negative feelings for others better than the positive ones for them. They start separating themselves from others and get depressed, anxious, and unhappy.

Envy manifests features such as anxiety, mystery, suffering from a complex of incompleteness, and resentment. To be precise, envy can be considered as a phenomenon that manifests itself on three levels: at the level of consciousness – the realization of one’s the lower state, at the level of emotional experience – anger and pain, and at the level of real behaviour – the loss of the object of envy.

Envy affects mainly those people who are mentally not satisfied with their lives and are unhappy with their belongings. These people ignore the qualities they have, ignore the process of becoming successful, and desire to be successful in a short span of time. Hence, they feel envious of seeing others become successful. It is an emotion that affects not just the individuals experiencing it, but also the people around them.

Types of Envy

In addition to its centrality to discussions in the philosophy of emotions, envy also sparked controversies in political philosophy.

Various kinds of Envy may be classified as follows

1. On the basis of justiciability

Some languages, such as Dutch, distinguish between “benign envy” (benijden in Dutch) and “malicious envy” (afgunst), pointing to the possibility that there are two subtypes of envy.

a. Malicious Envy: It may be defined as a form of invidious envy that involves a desire that the rival loses the good even if it comes at an individual’s own loss.

b. Benign Envy: This is, on the other hand, an emulative form of envy. It still remains negative in the sense that it causes restlessness, unease, and a feeling of discomfort in the person possessing it. This is the positive kind of envy that can provide improvement, motivation, positive thoughts about the other person, and admiration. If dealt with correctly, it can even positively affect a person’s future by motivating them to be better people and to succeed.

The point of the distinction is primarily to identify a class of cases in which envy is somehow permissible or justifiable and separate them from cases in which it is not. However, philosophers argue that ‘Benign Envy’ is not a subtype of envy in itself as it is the mere longing/desire of a person to possess some superior quality. Therefore, it cannot classify as a subtype of envy.

2. On the basis of Theories of Envy

a. Integrative Clinical Model of Envy: It flows from the following aspects: normalizing envy, validating envy to decrease shame and guilt, relating envy to positive values, focusing on turning envy into admiration and emulation, differentiating the self-concept beyond a focus on one dimension, and acceptance of envy while acting on valued goals.

b. Evolutionary Model of Envy:  This model suggests that the members of groups compete for higher status and dominance as it is associated with greater access to food, mates, procreative success, nesting sites, less depression, less anxiety, better health, better life prospects, lower cortisol, and longevity and status often can be passed down across generations. Envy has much in common with anger as a “negotiating strategy”, though it does not always involve anger and may be directed toward individuals with whom the person has no contact and, therefore, no position to negotiate. It is therefore plausible that envy and concomitant anger in some contexts may help negotiate the more desired distribution of resources and power.

Envy from the meta-perspective

The green-eyed emotion arises in an individual when there arises a sense of differentiation and separation between oneself and the other being envied. When explored deeper, envy tends to affect the other aspects of the psychoanalytical personality of an individual.

1. The uncompromising self

Envy” is a negative personality trait that may reduce people’s self-efficacy, which was one important positive component of psychological resilience.

2. Idealization of the other person

Most of the time, the feeling of Envy is acquired to avoid the deeper questions of analyzing one’s own worth. The envious person begins to look at his opponent as both- “An idealized person” and “A threatened opponent”. The feeling of envy en route from the lack of a particular “status”, that the envied person possesses. Overcoming this hostile feeling requires one to realize their loophole and work on it. However, since this self-realization might lead to the process of discovering one’s shortcomings, a number of people choose to rather attach themselves to the outside world to avoid this process of self-reflection, thus avoiding the proper remedy to enhance and better one own self.

3. Consequence of Duality

An envious person portrays duality in the sense as due to the lack of trust in others and the feeling of insecurity, such a person is always on their heels to ensure that no one is able to outright them. This feeling of consciousness tends to lower their self-esteem and they are always on the guard towards others. Thus, possessing the 2 contrasting ideas of Envy on one hand and the aspect of lowered self-esteem on the other. The envious person thus focuses more on lowering the envied person’s trait, rather than bettering their own traits.

How to Treat Envy?

Envy is a social emotion focused on problematic comparisons with others where the self is viewed as performing poorly compared to a specific individual. We can see envy in a wide range of social contexts—envy between professional colleagues, siblings, and friends.

From the above research and facts about Envy observed, it can be understood that none of its impositions can be argued to be generating a positive outcome Following are a few pointers to convert this feeling into a positive aspect

1. Shift your focus to the goodness in your life.

Focus on the positive aspects of one’s own life rather than making the achievements of others.

2. Avoid resentful comparisons.

Comparison only till the extent that motivates one is fruitful. When the comparisons cause more disappointment, they should be avoided.

3. Be generous and mindful.

Think wisely and clearly before arriving at hasty conclusions that generate the feeling of envy. Be positive and try to spread happiness.

4. Spend time with grateful people.

Spending time with grateful people makes one realize the importance of appreciating and rejoicing in the success of others. Thus, guiding him/her to think clearly and control the negative impacts of envy.

5. Celebrate the success of others.

Be a fellow in one’s achievements, and try to gain through the positive experiences of people to avoid envy.

Apart from these, the scientists also suggest a few methodologies to dilute the drawbacks of envy.

1. Self-Reliance and Perseverance.

To “perseverate” is to repeat an action over and over. The term is used here to suggest that one repeatedly examines their thoughts to determine whether they are envious. On discovering the feeling of envy, it is important to remind oneself of how these thoughts don’t help anyone in life and can actually harm it. Greater is the managing of envious thoughts, lesser is their occurrence.

2. Selective Ignoring and Distraction.

It works on the principles of distraction. On being reminded of envious thoughts, quickly revert back and remember that the other person’s advantage isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. This is followed by a shift of focus to other thoughts (a pleasant memory, things that need to be done, etc) or engaging in another activity. Thus, the distraction keeps one away from the disgraceful feelings.

3. Self-Bolstering.

This strategy does not focus on lowering envy itself, but it helps one to focus on their own positive traits and characteristics. Thereby, making one less angry and depressed in an envious situation.


Envy is thus, a pan-human phenomenon, universally feared, as a particularly dangerous emotion, since it implies hostility and aggression capable of destroying individuals and even societies. This emotion makes one wary of the other person’s happiness, causing a dent in one’s moralistic principles

It leads to depression, anxiety, and personal unhappiness, thus affecting the mental health of a person. Envy creates a sense of hatred as well as a flow of negative thoughts in the mind of a person and causes one to see others as their arch-rivals. Moreover, envious people separate themselves from others because they feel inferior and hence, try to be lonely and cut themselves from social life affecting their social relationships.

 It thus becomes necessary to take care of the negativity of this emotion and harness it to generate a positive outcome.

“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.”Harold Coffin