Envy (from Latin invidia) is an emotion which “occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it”.

Aristotle defined envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we ought to have.” Bertrand Russell said that envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. Not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his or her envy, Russell explained, but that person may also wish to inflict misfortune on others, in forms of emotional abuse and violent acts of criminality. Although envy is generally seen as something negative, Russell also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement of economies and must be endured to achieve the “keep up with the Joneses” system. He believed this is what helps to maintain democracy, a system where no one can achieve more than anyone else.

Types of envy

Psychologists have recently suggested that there are two types of envy:

malicious envy and benign envy—malicious envy being proposed as a sick force that ruins a person and his/her mind and causes the envious person to blindly want the “hero” to suffer; on the other hand, benign envy being proposed as a type of positive motivational force that causes the person to aspire to be as good as the “hero”—but only if benign envy is used in a right way. However, Sherry Turkle considers that the advent of social media and selfie culture is creating an alienating sense of “self-envy” psyche in users, and posits this further affects problem areas attached to attachments. Envy and gloating have parallel structures as emotions.

The only type of envy that can have positive effects also is benign envy. According to researchers, benign envy can provide emulation, improvement motivation, positive thoughts about the other person, and admiration. This type of envy, if dealt with correctly, can positively affect a person’s future by motivating them to be a better person and to succeed. Our human instinct is to avoid negative aspects in life such as the negative emotion, envy. However, it is possible to turn this negative emotional state into a motivational tool that can help a person to become successful in the future.

jealousy and Envy

jealousy and Envy

Socioevolutionary view

One theory that helps explain envy and its effects on human behavior is the socioevolutionary theory. Based upon Charles Darwin’s 1859 theory of evolution by natural selection, socioevolutionary theory predicts that humans behave in ways that enhance individual survival and the reproduction of their genes. Thus, this theory provides a framework for understanding social behavior and experiences, such as the experience and expression of envy, as rooted in biological drives for survival and procreation. Recent studies have demonstrated that inciting envy actually changes cognitive function, boosting mental persistence and memory.


Invidia, allegorical painting by Giotto di Bondone, ca. 1305-1306

Invidia, allegorical painting by Giotto di Bondone, ca. 1305-1306

Schadenfreude means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others and can be understood as an outgrowth of envy in certain situations.

Envy and schadenfreude are very similar and are linked emotional states. Both emotions are considered very complex and oftentimes looked down upon, which is understandable considering they are both antisocial behaviors. Given the detrimental states of these emotions, it is very important to understand their development in the early stages of childhood.

The two social emotions, envy and schadenfreude, act together as sister emotions during the developmental stages in adolescents. Both emotions have a strong presence during these early stages in a child’s life.

In previous studies, it has been shown that envy becomes less prevalent as a child gets older. Researchers believe that this results from an increase in the regulation of envious type emotions as a person ages and gains more wisdom about life. Depending on age, the correlation of envy and schadenfreude increases. For example, a younger child is more likely to make spiteful decisions when they feel envious towards a person.

Regarding possessions or status

Often, envy involves a motive to “outdo or undo the rival’s advantages”. In part, this type of envy may be based on materialistic possessions rather than psychological states. Basically, people find themselves experiencing an overwhelming emotion due to someone else owning or possessing desirable items that they do not. For example, your next door neighbor just bought a brand new ocarina—a musical instrument you’ve been infatuated with for months now but can’t afford. Feelings of envy in this situation would occur in the forms of emotional pain, a lack of self-worth, and a lowered self-esteem and well-being.

In Nelson Aldrich’s Old Money, he states that “envy is so integral and painful a part of what animates human behavior in market societies that many people have forgotten the full meaning of the word, simplifying it into one of the symptoms of desire. It is that (a symptom of desire), which is why it flourishes in market societies: democracies of desire, they might be called, with money for ballots, stuffing permitted. But envy is more or less than desire. It begins with the almost frantic sense of emptiness inside oneself, as if the pump of one’s heart were sucking on air. One has to be blind to perceive the emptiness, of course, but that’s what envy is, a selective blindness. Invidia, Latin for envy, translates as “nonsight,” and Dante had the envious plodding along under cloaks of lead, their eyes sewn shut with leaden wire. What they are blind to is what they have, God-given and humanly nurtured, in themselves”.


Hieronymus Bosch, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things (Invidia)

Hieronymus Bosch, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things (Invidia)

Envy may negatively affect the closeness and satisfaction of relationships. Overcoming envy might be similar to dealing with other negative emotions (anger, resentment, etc.). Individuals experiencing anger often seek professional treatment (anger management) to help understand why they feel the way they do and how to cope. Subjects experiencing envy often have a skewed perception on how to achieve true happiness. By helping people to change these perceptions, they will be more able to understand the real meaning of fortune and satisfaction with what they do have. According to Lazarus “coping is an integral feature of the emotion process”. There are very few theories that emphasize the coping process for emotions as compared to the information available concerning the emotion itself.

There are numerous styles of coping, of which there has been a significant amount of research done; for example, avoidant versus approach. Coping with envy can be similar to coping with anger. The issue must be addressed cognitively in order to work through the emotion. According to the research done by Salovey and Rodin (1988), “more effective strategies for reducing initial envy appear to be stimulus-focused rather than self-focused”. Salovey and Rodin (1988) also suggest “self-bolstering (e.g., “thinking about my good qualities”) may be an effective strategy for moderating these self-deprecating thoughts and muting negative affective reactions”. Further research needs to be done in order to better understand envy, as well as to help people cope with this emotion.


Envy can be a painful emotion that can result from an unflattering social comparison of someone who is perceived to be a superior person. Aristotle defined envy as the pain a person experiences at the sight of another person’s good fortune. While envy is seen to be negative, it is the driving force behind the “keeping up with the Joneses” philosophy. This means that there is always something to work toward, and to never become complacent with life. Envy can tell a person many things about themselves. It can tell them who they admire, what they want, and where they can grow. Being envious of another person can seem negative at that moment but has the potential to have positive effects in the future. For example, if a person envies someone who is successful it might drive them to work harder and to be more diligent which can in turn can attribute to their success in the long run.

In adolescence

Children show evidence of envy at an early age. Adults can be just as envious; however, they tend to be better at concealing the emotion. Envy plays a significant role in the development of adolescents. Comparing oneself is a universal aspect of human nature. No matter the age or culture, social comparison happens all over the globe. Comparison can range from physical attributes, material possessions, and intelligence. However, children are more likely to envy over material objects such as shoes, video games, iPhones, etc. Kids believe these material objects are correlated to their status.

Social status has been found to have a strong connection with self-esteem. An adolescent’s self-esteem is very fragile during early years and is heavily impacted by peer opinion. If a child is comfortable with who they are and self-confident they are less likely to become envious of others’ material objects, because they do not self-identify with materials. Material objects are not the only things that adolescents become envious over; however, it is the most prevalent.

As children get older they develop stronger non-materialistic envy such as romantic relationships, physical appearance, achievement, and popularity. Sometimes envious feelings are internalized in children, having a negative impact on their self-esteem. Envy comes from comparing; these comparisons can serve as a reminder that they have failed social norms and do not fit in with their peers. A feeling of inadequacy can arise and become destructive to a child’s happiness and cause further internal damage.

A child’s identity is formed during their early years. Identity development is considered the central task during adolescence. When children grow up understanding who they are, they are able to better define what their strengths and weaknesses are while comparing themselves to others. Comparison can have two outcomes: it can be healthy in aiding in self-improvement or it can be unhealthy and result in envy/jealousy which can develop into depression. This is why self-exploration and identity development are critical in adolescent years.

It is important to identify healthy and unhealthy envy in a child at an early age. If a child shows signs of unhealthy envy, it is best to teach the child productive ways to handle these emotions. It is much easier to teach a child how to control their emotions while they are young rather than allowing them to develop a habit that is hard to break when they are older.

In adulthood

The things that drive people mad with envy change throughout their lifetime. Studies have shown that the younger the person, the more likely they are to be envious of others. Adults under the age of 30 are more likely to experience envy compared to those 30 years and older. However, what people become envious over differs across adulthood.

Younger adults, under the age of 30, have been found to envy others social status, relationships, and attractiveness. This starts to fade when a person hits their 30s. Typically, at this point in life, the person begins to accept who they are as an individual and compare themselves to others less often. However, they still envy others, just over different aspects in life, such as career or salary. Studies have shown a decrease in envy as a person ages; however, envious feelings over money was the only thing that consistently increased as a person got older. As a person ages, they begin to accept their social status. Nonetheless, envious feelings will be present throughout a person’s life. It is up to the individual whether they will let these envious feelings motivate or destroy them.


Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder are often envious of others or believe others are envious of them. A narcissist may secure a sense of superiority in the face of another person’s ability by using contempt to minimize the other person.

In philosophy

Aristotle, in Rhetoric, defined envy (φθόνος phthonos) as “the pain caused by the good fortune of others”, while Kant, in Metaphysics of Morals, defined it as “a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another’s because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others”.

Religious views

In Buddhism

In Buddhism, the term irshya is commonly translated as either envy or jealousyIrshya is defined as a state of mind in which one is highly agitated to obtain wealth and honor for oneself, but unable to bear the excellence of others.

The term mudita (sympathetic joy) is defined as taking joy in the good fortune of others. This virtue is considered the antidote to envy and the opposite of schadenfreude.

In Christianity

The Seven Deadly Sins - Envy, engraving by Jacques Callot. The snake and the dog are both symbols for envy.

The Seven Deadly Sins – Envy, engraving by Jacques Callot. The snake and the dog are both symbols for envy.

Both in the Old Testament and New Testament there are various descriptions of envy and events related to it, mostly with a dramatic outcome.

Envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins in Roman Catholicism. In the Book of Genesis envy is said to be the motivation behind Cain murdering his brother, Abel, as Cain envied Abel because God favored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s.

Envy is among the things that comes from the heart, defiling a person. The whole body is full of darkness when the eye, the lamp of body, is bad. He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished, said Solomon. Envy ruins the body’s health, making bones rot and prohibiting the inheritance of the kingdom of God. Sometimes, as a punishment, people are left in their sins, falling prey to envy and other heavy sins.

Envy is credited as the basis of all toil and skills of people. For example, mankind will choose occupations to gain wealth, fame and pleasures to equal or exceed their neighbours. Envy is, therefore, a sin deeply ingrained in human nature. It comes into being when man lacks certain things, a circumstance that exists when God is not approached for provision or when the provision is used for one’s own selfish passions and pleasures.

Envy may be caused by wealth (Isaac, envied by the Philistines), by the brightness of wealth, power and beauty (Assyria kingdom envied of other kingdoms), by political and military rising (Saul eyed David from the moment he heard the women song of joy), fertility (Leah, envied of Rachel), social ascent (Joseph whom his brothers were jealous of), countless miracles and healings (the apostles envied of high priest and the Sadducees), popularity (Paul and Barnabas, envied of unfaithful Jewish from Antioch), the success of Christianization of many Thessalonians (Paul and Silas, envied of unfaithful Jews from Thessalonica), virtues and true power to heal, to make miracles and to teach people (Jesus envied of the chief priests).

In the NT, Jewish Christians are admonished to not look with evil eye at the last converts (“Gentiles” or Pagan Christians) to avoid therefore becoming the last ones, missing the kingdom of God. They should be happy for anyone saved, like Christ, who came to save the lost, as the shepherd seeking the lost sheep. Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, was among the lost ones and he succeeded in bringing salvation to him and to his house.

Sometimes arisen out of sophistry envy cannot coexist with true and spiritual wisdom, but with false, earthly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom.

Throwing away envy is a crucial condition in our path to salvation. Envy was seen by the Apostle Paul as a real danger even within the first Christian communities. Envy should remain a sin of the past, defeated by God’s teaching, which, as in the tenth commandment, forbids us from coveting our neighbour’s things, woman, and servants, and urges us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, as Apostle Paul said, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Because brotherly, Christian love banishes definitively envy from our hearts.

In Hinduism

“One who does not envy but is a compassionate friend to all … such a devotee is very dear to Me.” – Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 15.

In Hinduism, envy is considered a disastrous emotion. Hinduism maintains that anything which causes the mind to lose balance with itself leads to misery. This concept is put forth in the epic Mahabharata, wherein Duryodhana launches the Kurukshetra war out of envy of the perceived prosperity of his cousins. He is known to have remarked:

“Father! The prosperity of the Pandavas (cousins) is burning me deeply! I cannot eat, sleep or live in the knowledge that they are better off than me!”

Thus, Hinduism teaches that envy can be overcome simply by recognizing that the man or woman who is the object of one’s envy is merely enjoying the fruits of their past karmic actions and that one should not allow such devious emotions to take control of their mind, lest they suffer the same fate as the antagonists of the Mahabharata.

In Islam

In Islam, envy (Hassad حسد in Arabic) is an impurity of the heart and can destroy one’s good deeds. One must be content with what God has willed and believe in the justice of the creator. A Muslim should not allow his envy to inflict harm upon the envied person.

Muhammad said,

“Do not envy each other, do not hate each other, do not oppose each other, and do not cut relations, rather be servants of Allah as brothers. It is not permissible for a Muslim to disassociate from his brother for more than three days such that they meet and one ignores the other, and the best of them is the one who initiates the salaam.” Sahih al-Bukhari [Eng. Trans. 8/58 no. 91], Sahih Muslim [Eng. Trans. 4/1360 no. 6205, 6210]

A Muslim may wish for himself a blessing like that which someone else has, without wanting it to be taken away from the other person. This is permissible and is not called hasad. Rather, it is called ghibtah.

“There is to be no envy except in two cases: (towards) a person to whom Allah has granted wisdom, and who rules by this and teaches it to the people, and (towards) a person to whom Allah has granted wealth and property along with the power to spend it in the cause of the Truth.” [Al-Bukhaari & Muslim]

In Judaism

In Judaism (in the Hebrew Bible ‘jealousy‘, is a key feature of God’s personality – He is furious in jealousy (for His own people’s undivided worship). YeHoVaH is jealous for His own. The God of Israel is, “slow to anger and great in compassion” (Exodus 34:6) but when His jealousy and anger had accumulated there was an outburst of punishment. (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:8; Ps 86:15; Ps 145:8; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3; Nehemiah 9:17; Joel 2:13 etc.) While jealousy is branded as a negative and unwanted emotion generally in society today and also in Christianity, which had developed out of Judaism, in the Biblical (so-called Old Testament) context it is a strong aspect of God’s character and therefor not a flawed characteristic – unlike envy, which God does denounce. (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:9 and verse18)

We envy people when we want what they have. We are jealous when we want to keep for ourselves what belongs exclusively to us. Therefore we see the frightening permission God gave husbands who became jealous of their wives, to make them take a curse upon themselves, in case they had slept with another man while they belonged to their husband. (Numbers 5:11 – 31)

This points to the intimacy and exclusivity He is interested in, from His own people. Ephraim ‘committed harlotry’ against YHVH and thereby defiled the nation of Israel. Therefore He withdrew Himself from them, to their detriment: “Woe to those when I depart from them!” (Hosea 9:12), He warns. “They will cry to YHVH, but he will hide His face from them”. (Micah 3:4) A wounded Lover speaking. “You paid, but were not paid; for your harlotry. Therefore, oh harlot, hear the Word of YHVH: I shall set My jealousy against you and they will deal furiously with you.” (Ezekiel 23:25) YHVH showed Ezekiel how the people in Jerusalem set up ‘an image that provokes jealousy’. (Ezekiel 8:11, 12, 1 Kings 14:22, 2 Chronicles 14:2)

God also loves like a jealous lover: He told Moses to make a breastplate for Aaron the priest, to wear when he goes into the Most Holy Place. On the breastplate he had to display the names of all the tribes of Israel, so He could see it whenever Aaron went in to work where YHVH’s Presence was (Exodus 28:29). Somewhere else He says, I have your name engraved in the palm of My hand. (Isaiah 49:16) The God of Israel wants with His people a marriage of faithfulness, fairness, kindness and compassion – and that they should know Him. (Hosea 2:21,22)

He is even jealous for the land itself, the land of Israel. (Joel 2:18) “I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.. YHVH will yet comfort Zion and will yet choose Jerusalem.. For I will be to her a wall of fire all around; and the glory in her midst.” (Zechariah 1:14, 17, Zechariah 2:9)

The Hebrew Bible says Judah provoked YHVH to jealousy with all their sins and their false gods. (1 Kings 14:22) There is a notable difference in meaning between jealousy (of something that is one’s own) and envy (which is covetousness of another one’s possessions). (Exodus 20: 14; Proverbs 27:4)

Cultural references

In English-speaking cultures, envy is often associated with the color green, as in “green with envy”, and yellow. Yellow is the color of ambivalence and contradiction; a color associated with optimism and amusement; but also with betrayal, duplicity, and jealousy. The phrase “green-eyed monster” refers to an individual whose current actions appear motivated by jealousy, not envy. This is based on a line from Shakespeare’s Othello. Shakespeare mentions it also in The Merchant of Venice when Portia states: “How all the other passions fleet to air, as doubtful thoughts and rash embraced despair and shuddering fear and green-eyed jealousy!”

The character Envy from Fullmetal Alchemist series is one of the seven homunculi named after the Seven Deadly Sins.

The character of Zelena on ABC’s Once Upon a Time takes on the title “The Wicked Witch of the West” after envy itself dyes her skin in the episode “It’s Not Easy Being Green”.

In the parable “Garden of Statues”, a character goes mad with envy because of all the attention his sculptor neighbor is getting.

In Nelson W. Aldrich Jr.’s Old Money, he states that people who suffer from a case of malicious envy are blind to what good things they already have, thinking they have nothing, causing them to feel emptiness and despair.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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