Can envy be useful?

A little bit of envy can be a good thing. It can help you to remember that there’s more to life than what’s going on for you right now, and it can motivate you to do better. Feeling envy can mentally kick you in the rear and make you take action which may protect yourself or your loved ones.

It’s okay to feel jealousy and envy – they’re both normal human emotions. But what’s the difference?

Jealousy tends to be more related to feelings of anxiety around loss. when it feels like someone might take away something that is important to you, it’s natural to feel anxious, angry – or jealous. If someone else flirts with your partner, wins a competition you entered, or sees a show or concert before you’re able to – that’s jealousy.

Envy tends to be more about wanting something that you don’t have. If there are feelings of unfairness about a situation – say a colleague is much more successful than you on a similar project to yours- then the automatic way of justifying these negative feelings is to put that person down, or to externalise their success. For example, that colleague is bound to do better at work as they sit closer to the boss, or they’re so great at work, they can’t possibly have a social life as good as ours. Maybe a neighbour is looking good after losing some weight – but it’s easy for them, living alone and working regular hours. Being critical or cynical is an easy step to feeling better in the short-term.

But generally, this type of thinking just doesn’t help. It doesn’t move us forward. It just makes us bitter, and the more we react this way, the worse we feel. It’s a negative spiral. We make up stories about the other person’s success, and we lose sight of the fact that our ideas and opinions of others do not reflect reality. They’re not true.

Envious thinking focuses on the other person and analysing them. The only answers you’ll come up with are things that you are not able to control. The worst case scenario is when we start to believe that by copying someone else ridigly, we will get what they have. That is also not true. We will just be led further and further away from who we really are. We’ll stop asking ‘what makes me happy?’ because the only measures of what make us happy are material things that eventually become more and more meaningless.

It’s a more effective use of time to ask yourself two questions:

“What does that other person have that I want so badly?”


“What is within my control that I can change to move closer to my goals?”
It’s normal to compare ourselves to others – especially if we can see that they are doing better than us in some way. But how about using envy to motivate and inspire, instead? After the two questions stated above, it’s more helpful to move from asking “what” questions, to asking “how” questions, such as:
How can I replicate his success?
If I’m just as creative / smart/ funny as her, how come I didn’t push myself forward in the same way they did? And how can I do that in future?
How can I align my actions in life with the character qualities that I really want to be known for?

By acknowledging when you feel envy, then asking yourselves the right questions, you can use it to guide you towards what you really want. If you’ve found yourself drifting off-course in life, a jolt of envy can help you not to go after your neighbour’s good-looking partner or to steal your best friend’s new car – but it can help you remember that success and how it’s measured is a personal and unique thing. That other person has things they’re proud of- what are YOUR things that you are proud of? And if your list isn’t as long as you’d like, how can you add to it?


I’d love to hear your strategies for turning envy into a positive motivating force – drop a comment below with your thoughts.

One thought on “Can envy be useful?

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