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Jealousy vs Envy: A Matter of Definition

January 29, 2012

I’ve had this post hanging around in my draft box for quite a while now, and something someone said recently made me take another look at what jealousy is and how it can differ from envy. And how they affect our lives.

Websters online dictionary defines jealousy as: “1: a jealous disposition, attitude, or feeling.” A definition sadly lacking, so let’s see what they have to say about the word jealous: “1: a. intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness. b. disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness. 2: hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage.”

Websters also goes on to define envy as: “1: painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage… 3: : an object of envious notice or feeling.”

I’ve never considered myself a very jealous person, but let’s be honest here, we’ve all suffered from jealousy and envy at one point in our lives. Sometimes, it’s really superficial, like feeling a pang of jealousy over a pair of earrings one of your friends gave to another of your friends (lame example, I know, but it happened) or being jealous of the attention someone else is getting, etc. Those moment are usually easy to shake off, it’s easy enough to remember to be happy for the other person and get on with it.

I would like to add though that those little pangs of jealousy and envy are usually indicative of something deeper. Like in the case of those earrings I mentioned above, clearly it had nothing to do with an actual possession, but perhaps it was just an indication that I felt that particular friendship slipping away. Not because of the gift, but because of other reasons entirely and that jealousy I felt was just my mind’s way of pointing that out to me.

I remember being envious of one of my friend’s who had gone to art school and of how beautiful her paintings were, but it wasn’t a bitter feeling. I adored her art, and was happy for her, but at the same time I felt like I had missed out on something. Mainly, pursuing a career in art like I had wanted to when I was younger. So that momentarily feeling of envy showed me something about myself. Maybe something that I regretted, or maybe after more thought, that I was in fact happy with the choices I had made.

Either way, it can be a lesson, right? It can show you were problems are or what you might feel is lacking in your life and then you can do something about it, so it’s not all bad, but then there’s the darker kind of jealousy, the kind that seems to overtake you and filters into your life in ways that are self-destructive.

Those feelings are much harder to deal with, because they go to the core of your being. They reveal things that are harder to fix; deep seeded issues like low self-esteem, a lack of self-love, and confidence, etc.

I have felt like that once. I mean really jealous of another person, to a point where I was incredibly bitter and filled with hatred. It’s hard to explain, because I didn’t even know this girl. I had never met her, but she was the ex of a guy I dated once, and for some reason everything that was wrong with that particular relationship I turned against her, even though she wasn’t even in the picture anymore, even though they didn’t even talk to each other, even though there were no feelings there anymore, every time I would feel like shit, every time I want to twist the knife in the wound I would think of her, or read her blog, or look at her Facebook pictures, and I would hate myself for it. Oh god, did I hate myself for it.

It was insane. I would compare myself to her and of course I would always lose out. Even though they weren’t together anymore, I felt like he had given her a part of his heart that I would never get. It was a bad scene let me tell you. To be filled with so much jealousy and bitterness towards someone you’ve never even met, what a crazy feeling!

Of course, jealousy is never about the other person, it’s about you and you’re feelings of insecurity… and whatever else.

Even after that relationship with that dude was long over, I still obsessed over this girl. Neither of them were in my life anymore (well, she never was to begin with), but she was still my ticket to hurting myself. I guess, in part, it was a kind of habit.

This might sound odd to anyone who has never dealt with pain in this way, but sometimes, and I know I’m not the only one, when you wake up one day and you feel shitty for no particular reason – maybe you slept badly or maybe your hormones are out or whack or maybe your blood sugar is low or whatever puts you in a bad mood sometimes – instead of doing something that would cheer you up and shake you out of your funk like grabbing a bagel or reading The Far Side Gallery, you make things worse, you look for something you can concentrate your bad feelings on.

For me, it was this girl, this ghost of a girl that only existed in my head.

Eventually though, and thank god, I was re-reading one of my favorite books, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, when it suddenly dawned on me that were all the same on some basic level. We all want love. We all have insecurities. We’ve all had our hearts broken. We’ve all dealt with these issues. We’ve all been jealous and insecure. We’ve all turned those feelings against ourselves, and if all of that is true, how could I hate someone whose basic life experience and emotions were so like mine? How could I hate myself for that matter?

I suddenly felt compassion for this girl who went out with the same guy I did and most likely had to deal with some of the same things. If he treated me the way he did, he most likely treated everyone the same. I wasn’t lacking in anything. I wasn’t some special case who got the bad end of the stick. I wasn’t more special or less than anyone else. If I could feel compassion for her, I could feel compassion for everyone, the dude I had dated and myself included. There was no reason to hate or be jealous. I could let go. And it felt great!

I read something recently, I’m not sure where, I think it might have been on Gala Darling’s blog… anyhow the gist of it was that when you feel jealous or envious of someone try turning those feelings into admiration or simply put “being happy for that person,” it might seem like simple advice, but it’s actually not that hard and it works. Also, if you’re interested in Buddhism and compassion I strongly recommend you buy this book ASAP: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Seriously, It’s one of my favorite books and I recommend it to everyone.

P.S. If you do decide to buy it (or anything else) from Amazon, please consider using the above link to do so, because as an affiliate I get a small percentage of your purchase, but by no means feel obliged to buy it at Amazon. You’re local bookstore is just as likely to carry it.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2012 2:06 pm

    Can I put my book on your sidebar through Amazon?

  2. January 29, 2012 2:12 pm

    Haha, I was expecting some insightful comment on jealousy and envy… but ya, just email me the amazon link and I’ll put it up there.

  3. January 29, 2012 5:30 pm

    Sorry dear, I’m not a jealous person. I like my life and envy no one else’s.

    Insightful? Talk about pressure. Now I have to write something germane every single time.

  4. January 29, 2012 7:07 pm

    You’ve never been jealous ever? Wow, congratulations, that is a rare quality in anyone.

    Bah, you don’t have to be insightful EVERY time. Just most of the time.

  5. January 29, 2012 8:05 pm

    I don’t see the point of jealously Olga. Not because it is so destructive, but because it solves nothing in life. Love yourself, be happy with your life, be empowered to change and to make changes not based on what others have or are, but on who you wish to become. Don’t be jealous of anyone. Do you know why? Because very few are satisfied, very few are free of self-doubt. I am one of the many my love, not the few. Your struggles are my struggles, are everyone’s struggles. When you eliminate jealously from your struggles, you can begin to see life through your eyes instead of coveting the supposed happiness of others.


  1. An Insightful Comment on Jealousy « Cuntlove

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