Envy is a 4 Letter Word

A few weeks ago I was eating cheesecake from Mike’s Pastries, and I had this thought.  Boy if people knew about this chocolate chip cheesecake, they would be really envious.  After eating  this delicious cheesecake it occurred to me how envy is really an interesting feeling.  It’s filled with other feelings, but often confused with jealousy, its cousin.

What is envy?  Dictionary.com defines envy  as  “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.”  So my cheesecake would give someone discontent?  No way!!!!  They’d be salivating, they’d be upset, they’d be “jealous”.   We need a better definition.  Parrott, W. G., & Smith, R. H. (1993) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology define envy as: “  an emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.”  Now we’re cookin’!!  So my cheesecake is probably not a superior quality or achievement, but it would be a possession that someone else would desire. Absolutely!

People always confuse envy and jealousy.  Here is a great and simple distinction from Bryan A. Garner in the Dictionary of American Usage.  He writes: “jealousy is properly restricted to contexts involving affairs of the heart, envy is used more broadly of  resentful contemplation of a more fortunate person” (emphasis added).  A resentful contemplation of a more fortunate person?  Ooh that’s so ugly and so prevalent!  Think about how many times we see someone’s new car, new job, new whatever and have that thought.  Think about how we might gossip to others about it–Did you see John’s new car?  That must have cost at least $100,000.  Where did he get that kind of money?  Must have been those drug deals?!!!!   And we go on and on and on about this character assassinations, the whole time we are dripping with envy!!!  Envy gets uglier when we go back to the other definition–the one about perceived superior achievement.   We get that less than feeling, and then probably project the negativity and cut down that person’s “perceived superiority”.  Yuck  —we probably do this more than we want to admit!!!!  The other thing that envy brings out is victimization and self pity.  John is so lucky to get that new car, while I ride around in my old clunker that breaks down every mile or so.  These things always happen to me….other people get all the breaks etc.

So now that we understand the true meaning of the phrase “green with envy”, what can we do about it?  Clearly since envy is about others, the first place to focus in on is self.  What can I do to make myself a better person?  What are some traits, attributes, behaviors in me that I do like?  I can work my self-affirmations of those.  The other solution is to examine what I’m grateful for.  This is the typical  glass half full vs. half empty thinking.  If I’m envious, my glass is half empty.  If I’m grateful, it’s half full.  I’m going to embrace, enjoy, appreciate, the things that I have that I’m grateful for.  I might even make my circle of noticing bigger and pay attention to the things around me–nature, the sky, others who are less fortunate etc. as mechanisms to enlarge my gratitude.

When I change my lens, I can see the beauty and importance of life.  If I’m envious, my ugliness is showing.  Envy truly is a 4 letter word, but gratitude and appreciation of life, are much bigger, and ultimately make us much bigger.  Let me know how you’ve begun to be a bigger person.  Thanks for reading.

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