“To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves.” — Will Durant

What is the difference between envy and jealousy?

If we’re talking about you, then jealousy pertains to things you own (usually a relationship). Envy, on the other hand, pertains to things someone else owns.

It is all about who owns the object being desired. Typically, jealousy is a three-person situation, but envy is a two-person situation. For example: I am filled with jealousy when you speak to my girlfriend.  (Here, there are three people involved.) I am filled with envy over your new house.  (Here, there are two people involved.)


In common circumstances, “Envy” and “Jealousy” are used with the same meaning as “the feeling that you wish you have something that someone else has” (Merriam-Webster dictionary).


Their envy/jealousy of his achievement is easy to see.

Her youth and looks aroused extreme envy/jealousy in her rivals.


However, in some circumstances, “Envy” and “Jealousy” cannot replace the other’s meaning:

“Envy” is a desire to have what someone else has. “Jealousy” is the fear that what you have will be taken from you. Especially when it comes to love, “jealousy” is the upset and angry emotion because someone you love seems interested in another person. Although most people think of them as synonymous, jealousy and envy are actually very different.

Understanding jealousy and envy on a neurological level.

Jealousy and envy can be difficult emotions to unravel. As for what inspires feelings of envy and jealousy, it comes down to how our brains are wired. It all depends on how the amygdala connects with areas of our brain that establish our values and our motivations. We understand more of where sadness, anger, and fear originate in the brain, but both jealousy and envy are complex behaviours  in that the interplay between biochemistry, anatomy, and our environment within which we develop can dictate to what extent we feel either jealously or envy.

How negative emotions play a role in a happy life.

Playing close attention to feelings of envy can be a helpful way to truly understand what you want out of life. Negative emotions play a very important role in a happy life because they warn us that something needs to change.

When we envy someone, it’s a sign that that person has something that we wish we had for ourselves. And that’s useful to know. The best thing you can do with feelings of jealousy and envy is using them as motivation. It’s normal for people to feel both envy and jealousy from time to time. But use them as motivation. Seeing your friend land their dream job might be the push you need to start your own job search. Feeling threatened by a rock-star new co-worker might motivate you to look for more opportunities to stand out at work.

What to do when you can’t channel your emotions in a positive way.

If you can’t find a way to turn feelings of jealousy and envy into motivation, it can be detrimental to emotional and physical health. Both envy and jealousy can lead to feelings of depression if we continuously compare ourselves to others without pushing ourselves to achieve our own goals. If you find yourself in this camp, it might be worth investing in a beautiful gratitude journal or simply meditating on things you’re grateful for. While striving for more is a key to personal growth, being thankful for what you have is just as important.

“Jealousy is no more than feeling alone against smiling enemies.” — Elizabeth Bowen

A Helpful Guide to Overcoming Emotions like Jealousy and Envy

Here are a few powerful ways to combat and overcome these emotions:

1. Self-Awareness Is Key

Self-awareness requires observing and accepting yourself for who you are – not for who you should or should not be. Self-reflection is important without judging yourself. Learn to be gentle, compassionate, and forgiving with yourself. This is how you will stop needing things or people to feel more significant.

2. Stop Comparing

Learn to appreciate yourself for who you are, not for what you have achieved or what you possess. Success and happiness are extremely personal. The key to happiness lies in defining success on your own terms.

3. Turn Envy Into Inspiration

Looking up to others for inspiration is not bad. The problem lies in trying too hard to be like them. Reacting with emulation rather than envy is to be open to learning from others. It is better to be original than a copy.

4. Be Mindful And Develop Control Over Your Attention

Make conscious decisions so you can have control over your emotions. If you do this, you will be able to consciously choose what you think about and what emotions you feel.

Like so many emotions, jealousy and envy can be good teachers. They are universal feelings, and we all feel them at some point. And it’s okay to feel them. Getting beyond these emotions will take practice, communication, and a shift of beliefs.

Attachment motivates envy and jealousy. You cling to things or relationships you don’t have — you want to be in control to feel more important. The antidote for envy and jealousy: Non-attachment doesn’t mean not caring — it means recognizing there was never something to cling to in the first place. You stop looking at what others have. You free yourself from owning or being owned.

 “Don’t envy what people have, emulate what they did to have it.” — Tim Fargo

Causes of jealousy and envy include:

  • Dissatisfaction. Focusing on what one doesn’t have rather than what one does have.
  • Comparison to others.  Some individuals were conditioned at an early age to evaluate themselves only through comparison to others.
  • Pride. The false idea that one deserves a life filled with personal gain and satisfaction.
  • Seeking significance/Low self-esteem. An individual who do not feel good about their self often seeks significance in their circumstances rather than their true self.
  • Desire for worldly gain. Seeking money, appearance, status, achievements, or talents that are of only temporary value.

Expressions of jealousy and envy include:

  • Resentment toward others. Being highly judgmental and critical of others.
  • Competition in relationships. An individual’s desire to be better than those around them.  Exhibition of a tendency toward overachievement or a superior attitude to others.
  • Depression. Being highly self-critical for not achieving what one wants to or others have achieved.
  • Lack of contentment. A constant desire for greater material gain and the belief that it will bring greater happiness.
  • Gossip about others. Constant verbal criticism of others.
  • Idolizing others. Beginning thoughts with the expression “If only…”

Action steps

Be honest. While you may not feel as though you are experiencing jealousy or envy, your feelings may be disguised as contempt, criticism, self-pity, gossip, manipulation, etc. Do not deceive yourself; reveal your true feelings, attitudes, and motivations.

Develop a lifestyle of gratitude.  Think about what you do have and be grateful.

Avoid activities that encourage comparison.  Only go shopping if you have a specific purchase to make.  Read books that encourage reflection on the beauty that is in your life.  Limit your exposure to media or magazines that focus on material gain.

Ask yourself why.  When feeling envious, ask yourself what it is about someone else that you are envious of.  If you find yourself envying another’s positive qualities such as their compassion or their social skills, think about forming those qualities in yourself- doing so will lead from envy to admiration.

Take a step back.  When feeling jealous, stop and realize it.  Avoid making manipulative or controlling statements to others.  Spend time with yourself and transform your feelings into positive ones.  Doing something to show your love for another (i.e., sending an e-mail or making a call) can be helpful.

Grow.  Make a plan to develop your own positive qualities and unique gifts.

Don’t give up.  Jealousy and envy can be a constant struggle for some individuals and can be indicative of an unresolved past pain.  You may be an individual who highly benefits from working with a professional therapist.

“Envy is the religion of the mediocre. It comforts them, it soothes their worries, and finally, it rots their souls, allowing them to justify their meanness and their greed until they believe these to be virtues.” — Carlos Ruiz Zafón