Envy and Jealousy

In everyday speech, “jealousy” is used in place of “envy”, and envy is almost never used. “Jealousy” is so commonly use in place of “envy” that the dictionary definition of jealousy now includes envy:

The main definition above is how the word “jealous” is used in everyday speech (jealous = envious). For example, “I’m so jealous!” after seeing someone’s vacation pictures where “I’m so envious!” would be correct, but less palatable. The bullet-pointed definitions are all variants of the correct definition. In the most general terms, jealousy is feeling that arises when someone feels like they will lose something they already have to someone or something else.

Notice that in this definition, there are three parties, and only one party has to be a person (the one who feels the jealousy). The object of jealousy can be a person or a thing. The same goes for the party that is the perceived threat to the object of jealousy.

The first bullet-pointed definition is “feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship”. In this case, the object of jealousy is the other person in the relationship, and the perceived threat is most likely another person. This is the classic example of a jealous boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife.

The second bullet-pointed definition is “fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions”. In this case, the object of jealousy is a thing, not a person, and the perceived threat can be anything or anyone that the person thinks might take the object of jealousy away from them. Imagine someone jealously guarding their prized possessions.

The third bullet-pointed definition is “(of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship”. In this case God is the one feeling jealousy, the object of jealousy is the faith and worship of his followers, and the perceived threat could be anything that he thinks could direct the faith and worship of his followers away from him, like false idols.


So what’s the difference between envy and jealousy, then?

“Jealousy is when you worry someone will take what you have. Envy is wanting what someone else has.”

— Homer Simpson

Here’s another, slightly different take:

Starting with Homer’s definition: isn’t wanting something greed, not envy? Why is it relevant who owns the thing that you want? If somebody has an old car that you want, the focal point of the emotion is on the car, not the owner.

The random picture says that envy is the feeling that occurs when you don’t have something that another person has. In this case, the emphasis is on your lack and how it contrasts with someone else’s possession of something. But this definition doesn’t make sense, either, since people who don’t lack something can still be envious of other people who have that same something. Also, this would imply that those who don’t have anything would be generally way more envious than those who have more, but this doesn’t seem to be the case either.

Neither of these definitions really adds up. When this is the case, it’s usually a psychological defense against the true meaning of the word, which everyone understands but nobody wants to acknowledge out loud.

Envy is the desire to deprive someone of something they have. Schadenfreude is the satisfaction you get when that person is deprived of that something.

It’s no wonder that people shy away from the word “envy” in everyday speech. Claiming that you are envious of someone is the same as saying that you want to deprive them of something, which is a threatening statement. You might ask: if nobody knows what correct definition of envy is, what’s wrong with using the word envy in everyday speech? Wouldn’t people interpret it as you wanting something they have?

Not only does everybody understand what envy is, they realize that everybody else understands as well and that it is a socially unacceptable emotion to have, so people quickly learn to substitute “jealousy” in place of “envy” in everyday speech.

This begs the question: Why would you want to deprive someone of something in the first place? Why the focus on depriving the person as opposed to obtaining the thing that the person has? Also, in most cases, someone else having something has no effect on your life, so why even care?

One answer might be that resources are scarce, so one person’s loss is another person’s gain, and vice versa. But again, in this case the focus is on gaining the resource, which is greed. This is, however, a good psychological justification for the envy that you might feel. Think about people who rail against capitalism and want to bring down the billionaires — is it because they are kind people and they want to distribute the billions to the poor and disenfranchised? Or, if you peered into their heart of hearts, are you more likely to find a desire to deprive these people of their wealth, justified by the distribution to the poor?

Or, in the words of Edward Teach M.D.:

Your problem is envy, not greed, and when you claim to care about others you should check to see if it’s not in order to deprive someone else. Because it is.

— Edward Teach M.D., Sadly, Porn

Sidenote: In Sadly, Porn, Edward Teach goes into detail about the way envy shows up is media, relationships, and many other places. A common theme in relationship-related envy is the concept of the ledger that needs to be balanced. In this case, envy and deprivation are used as a means to balance the ledger if one person is enjoying or gaining the other person too much. This is just scratching the surface, go buy the book.

The answer to “Why do people feel envy?” is simple. If you’re envious of someone, you want deprive them of the thing they have because them having that thing says something about you that you don’t like. By depriving them of that thing, you remove that threat to your identity.

Some closing thoughts from The Last Psychiatrist (same person as Edward Teach M.D.):

If it’s not grandiosity, then what is narcissism?

Shame over guilt; rage over anger; masturbation over sex; envy over greed; your future over your past but her past over her future…

— The Last Psychiatrist, A Generational Pathology



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John Doe

Processing information, stacking concepts. Writing this down so I don’t keep thinking about the same things over and over again