Is There Such a Thing as "Good Envy"? This is What Psychologists Say

For many psychologists, good envy should be replaced by expressions such as "desire to excel" or "admiration". Does this emotion exist?
Is There Such a Thing as "Good Envy"? This is What Psychologists Say

Last update: 13 August, 2022

“Congratulations! I’m so envious – but in a good way!” is perhaps one of the most common responses to fortunate episodes of friends and family. But is there really such a thing as good or healthy envy?

When we refer to envy, we’re talking about an emotion in which both frustration and a comparison are found. We feel frustrated and annoyed in relation to someone. For example, it may occur because a co-worker was assigned a very important project or because others got a better grade in school.

What do we mean when we talk about envy?

Envy also has to do with how we feel about ourselves. It influences self-esteem, the fact of feeling recognized, valuable, or valued.

When we don’t have healthy self-esteem, it’s possible that envy becomes negative. Faced with a precarious self-concept, we feel threatened and can’t tolerate that others are doing well.

Unhealthy envy leads us to become obsessed with the performance of others, with their results, and what they do and do not do. This is also how bonds and interpersonal relationships begin to erode. This emotion prevents us from being self-critical.

An envious person is characterized by being self-centered. They can’t accept that others shine more than they do.

Now, this would be the case of bad envy – the type that we associate almost by inertia with our darker side. However, on more than one occasion, we hear about good, positive, and healthy envy. Is this a contradiction?

Is there such a thing as "good envy"? This is what psychologists say
Self-esteem is closely linked to envy. Our self-concept determines how we look at ourselves and others.

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So, is there such a thing as “good envy”?

We can’t affirm that there’s a consensus on how to refer to good envy within the field of psychology. In this sense, there are those who prefer to identify it with another name, especially because of the bad press that the emotion has.

Some replacement terms are admiration and self-improvement.

If we accept that it exists, however, positive envy would correspond to that which produces joy and enthusiasm for what is happening to the other person we’re comparing ourselves to or speaking with. At the same time, it serves to encourage us to ask ourselves certain questions. That is, it works as a call to action by stimulating motivation to get down to work and achieve our goals.

On the other hand, negative envy operates in the opposite direction. Instead of connecting with the other from empathy and enthusiasm, we take those events and personalize them.

“Why this person and not me? What does he/she have that I don’t have?” In this sense, we’re left ruminating on feelings and emotions that operate from hatred, injustice, and anger.

We may even wish that person wouldn’t do so well or imagine that he/she doesn’t really deserve what he/she has achieved. In more extreme cases, there are those who defame and invent stories in order not to recognize the other person. This is how we accumulate anger.  Guilt can also appear for expecting and hoping for the misfortune of others.

Resentment for anxiety
The person who envies another can go through episodes of anger and guilt for their emotions.

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Envy: An emotion with both light and shadows

Emotions function as beacons that guide us as to how we feel in certain situations. Therefore, they are very nuanced. Envy, in both versions, has something to tell us and to help us learn to manage what happens to us.

Positive or healthy envy can help us act with humility and follow the example of others. For example, asking for advice from a colleague who got a job is a great way to use envy in our favor.

It can also help us to do a self-analysis and ask ourselves about our strengths and those things we could improve. It would even contribute to making us more proactive.

When it comes to bad envy, we have to learn to be more attentive to the prejudices and biases we have. We can’t focus only on what we lack, but also learn to value what we have.

We must also recognize others, validate their effort, and avoid minimizing their achievements. It’s also important not to personalize and avoid believing that people want to humiliate us with their joys.

Everyone is striving to do their best and has their own battles and desires. The more we look at the desire and triumph of others, the more we remain inactive and disconnected from our own desires.

Envy should be the kick to get back in touch with our inner self and take flight. Managing our emotions in a healthy way is the starting point to improving our quality of life and giving our best.

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