Jealousy vs. Envy: Differences between Envy vs. Jealousy

Last Updated on December 9, 2023

Jealousy vs. envy are two emotional states that are often confused due to their similar feelings of discontentment, yet they diverge significantly in terms of context and relationships. Different people might even give you a million different definitions of these two emotions. However, according to psychologists, everything is rather straightforward.

Jealousy vs. Envy: The Main Differences

Key Takeaways

  • Jealousy involves a fear of loss and is associated with possessiveness.
  • Envy is characterized by a longing for what others have, without necessarily bearing ill will towards them.

Jealousy vs. EnvyPin

Jealousy vs. Envy: Overview

Understanding Jealousy

What Is Jealousy? Jealousy typically emerges when we’re afraid of losing something precious to us to someone else. This could be a relationship, an achievement, or even esteem. It often involves a trio of parties: us, someone we’re attached to, and a third entity perceived as a rival.

Key Characteristics of Jealousy:

  • Protectiveness: We may become vigilant or protective over our relationship or position.
  • Fear: At its core, jealousy is rooted in fear—fear of loss or replacement.
  • Insecurity: It tends to highlight our insecurities or uncertainties regarding our relationship or status.

Why We Feel Jealous:

  • Threat: We perceive a real or imagined threat to a valued relationship or position.
  • Comparison: Sometimes we compare our situation to others and fear that we’ll come up short.

Understanding Envy

Envy is an emotion we might feel when we want what someone else has. Unlike jealousy, which pertains to something we already possess, envy arises simply from the desire for others’ possessions or attributes. Here’s how we can break it down:

  • Desire: At the heart of envy is a strong desire for something we don’t have but wish to obtain.
  • Comparison: We typically experience envy after comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves lacking in some respect.

When dealing with envy, it’s helpful for us to acknowledge our feelings and understand that it’s a common emotional response. Here are some steps we can take to manage these feelings constructively:

  1. Self-assessment: Understanding our own goals and values can help us focus on what truly matters to us, rather than what we perceive to be missing.
  2. Empathy: Trying to empathize with others and recognizing their own challenges can reduce feelings of envy.
  3. Personal Growth: Use the feeling of envy as a motivator for our personal improvement, rather than as a source of resentment.

Envy vs. Jealousy: the Difference

Seeing how different these two words are, you might start wondering. why are they causing so much confusion? The reason is that the word envy is used a lot less often than the word jealousy. For instance, if your friend Sarah didn’t do that well on the French quiz, she might say that she’s jealous of your results. She would also say that she’s jealous if she saw her boyfriend dancing with a different girl in a club. However, she’d actually feel jealousy only in the second situation; in the first one, her feeling would be envy.

One more problem is that sometimes these two emotions go together. Let’s return to the same examples with Sarah. Why is she jealous when she sees her boyfriend with a different girl? Probably because she’s envious of some attributes that she doesn’t have while that different girl does.

Still, jealousy and envy are two different feelings and you shouldn’t call everything that you feel jealousy, even though many people around you might do that. If you’re afraid of losing something or someone because of someone else, then indeed, it’s jealousy. But if you wish you had something that is owned by a different person, this is called envy.

Tip to Remember the Differences

For Jealousy:

  • We fear losing something we have.
  • It’s about a triangle: us, the person we’re afraid of losing, and the perceived threat.

For Envy:

  • We want something we don’t have.
  • It’s a two-way street: us and the person who has what we desire.
Emotion Root Cause Example Scenario
Envy Desire Admiring a friend’s new phone and wishing to own one.
Jealousy Fear of loss Worrying a sibling’s achievements outshine ours.

Jealousy vs. Envy Examples

Examples of “Jealousy”

  • His jealousy became apparent when she talked about her new colleagues.
  • The jealousy between the siblings caused tension at family gatherings.
  • She tried to hide her jealousy when her best friend won the award.
  • Jealousy often stems from insecurity or fear of losing someone’s affection.
  • The novel explores the destructive power of jealousy in relationships.
  • He felt a twinge of jealousy seeing his ex-partner with someone else.
  • The character’s actions in the play were driven by jealousy and revenge.

Examples of “Envy”

  • She felt a surge of envy when she saw her friend’s new car.
  • His success in business was the subject of much envy among his peers.
  • Envy can sometimes motivate people to work harder and achieve more.
  • The artist’s talent and creativity were met with admiration and a hint of envy.
  • The promotion caused a rift among the team members, with envy playing a significant role.
  • She looked at the couple with envy, longing for a relationship like theirs.
  • The lavish lifestyle of the celebrities on television sparked envy in many viewers.

Jealousy vs. Envy: Practice and Exercise

Jealousy vs. Envy Worksheet

Instructions: Read each scenario and decide whether the emotion being described is jealousy or envy. Place a tick (✓) in the appropriate column next to each scenario. Answers and explanations are provided at the end of the worksheet.

Scenario Jealousy Envy
1. Sarah sees her friend playing with someone else and feels upset that she isn’t the one playing with her friend. [ ] [ ]
2. Mark wishes he had the new phone that his classmate just got for his birthday. [ ] [ ]
3. Emma is afraid her sister is becoming closer to their cousin than to her. [ ] [ ]
4. Tom feels resentful because his coworker received the promotion he was hoping for. [ ] [ ]
5. Lisa is unhappy because her partner is spending a lot of time talking to an attractive coworker. [ ] [ ]
6. Jason sees his neighbor’s new sports car and desires one for himself. [ ] [ ]
7. Olivia is worried her best friend will replace her with the new student they’ve both started hanging out with. [ ] [ ]
8. Derek is upset because his friend won the lottery and he wishes he had that kind of luck. [ ] [ ]

Answers and Explanations:

  1. Jealousy – Sarah is concerned about losing a special connection with her friend to someone else.
  2. Envy – Mark desires an object (phone) that someone else possesses.
  3. Jealousy – Emma fears losing a unique relationship or closeness with her sister.
  4. Envy – Tom wants the achievement (promotion) that his coworker has attained.
  5. Jealousy – Lisa is worried about her partner’s attention being diverted to someone else, which could threaten her relationship.
  6. Envy – Jason has a strong desire for an object (sports car) that someone else owns.
  7. Jealousy – Olivia is concerned about being replaced in her friendship, indicating a fear of loss.
  8. Envy – Derek wishes he had the good fortune (winning the lottery) that his friend experienced.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are jealousy and envy treated differently in religious texts such as the Bible?

Within religious texts like the Bible, envy is often depicted as a sinful desire to covet what others have, leading to discontent and ill will. Jealousy is sometimes portrayed in a complex light, with God Himself described as a ‘jealous God’ protecting His bond with His people, indicating a protective aspect alongside the negative connotations of interpersonal jealousy.

Can jealousy ever be considered a positive emotion, and is there a term for this?

Jealousy can be seen in a positive light when it reflects a deep care and commitment to a relationship, acting as a catalyst to foster closeness and ensure mutual respect. This positive aspect doesn’t have a separate term but is often contextually discerned from the fear of losing someone or something valuable to us.

What are some famous quotes that help distinguish between jealousy and envy?

A well-known quote by Maya Angelou distinguishes the two by saying, “Jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening.” This contrasts with the quote “Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own” by Harold Coffin, highlighting envy’s outward focus.

In terms of emotional impact, is one generally considered more harmful than the other?

While both emotions can be damaging, envy is typically considered more pervasive and destructive to personal well-being, as it stems from comparison and discontent, potentially leading to resentment and a sense of inadequacy. Jealousy’s harm often arises in the context of relationships, where it can erode trust and lead to conflict.

2 thoughts on “Jealousy vs. Envy: Differences between Envy vs. Jealousy”

  1. Interesting. English is the only language I’ve ever spoken (44, raised in English-only household), and I apparently didn’t understand this correctly. It was always my understanding that the difference between the two was resentment, IE envy was “wow, that’s really cool, Frank. Congrats. I envy you.” You don’t resent your friend for having something, but you sure wish you did as well. And jealousy was “why does Frank get something like that and I don’t? God, I can’t stand him.”

  2. I am a native English speaker who taught for many years, and I believe myself reasonably erudite, however I was not consciously aware of the difference between envy and jealousy and therefore I am grateful for this clarification. Some might say that it is pedantic to insist on the proper meaning of words, but without clear definitions communication itself is impoverished. A little more pedantry might lead to less conflict.


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