You feel envy when a peer's rank rises above yours.
You feel envy, for example, when:
- a sibling gets more attention from a parent
- a teammate gets an award and you do not
- a high school classmate goes to a better college than you
- a college classmate gets a better paying job than you
- a co-worker gets promoted before you
- a neighbor gets a better car than you
Envy is a different emotion than jealousy - see last bold paragraph title below.
Only peers make you feel envy.
You envy, for example, a classmate who does better than you but not a student that was a year ahead or behind you. You envy a sibling that drives a better car than you but not a stranger that drives the same car.
Only peers make you feel envy because peers were on an equal footing with you at some point. If they were on an equal footing, they represent your potential. And envy evolved to punish you for not reaching your potential.
The more similar a peer, the stronger the envy you feel.
Surprisingly, envy is not stronger for bigger increases in a peer's rank. You would think, for example, that a brother with a house twice the size of yours would make you less envy that a brother with a house five times the size of yours. It does not. Their houses make you feel the same envy. This is surprising because pride and humiliation are tied to changes in rank. The bigger your rank increase, the stronger the pride. The bigger your rank decrease, the stronger the humiliation.
Instead of a peer's rank increase, envy is tied to a peer's similarity. The more a peer has in common with you, the stronger the envy you feel. Siblings make you feel more envy than cousins. Brothers make brothers feel more envy than sisters. Sisters make sisters feel more envy than brothers. Twins make each other feel more envy than regular siblings. Classmates make you feel more envy than students from different years. Reunions are envy storms - many similar peers meet to compare how their ranks have changed.
Unlike the other rank emotions, envy is permanent.
The other rank emotions stop without any effort on your part. Pride stops when your higher rank is not higher anymore. Humiliation stops when your lower rank is not lower anymore. Humor stops the second time you learn about another’s mistake. Envy does not stop. You feel it forever - unless your rank increases or the peer's rank falls enough to close the gap.
Envy is a normal adult response.
Envy is not a childish reaction you "should get over". And envy is not some minor emotion that you can suppress like a cough. You should not feel bad, broken, immature or abnormal if you feel it. Envy is as normal as pride, humiliation and humor.
There are three options for dealing with envy: increase your rank, decrease their rank, avoid reminders.
You could increase your rank to match higher rank of your peer. This is what envy evolved to do. It encourages you to reach your full potential as represented by your best performing peer. However, it is usually difficult to match the rank of peers who have excelled.
You could reduce the rank of the former peer - as often happens, unfortunately. Envy of more successful people and peoples has often led to harmful outcomes. This is usually unlawful and more harmful to you. And it does not address the underlying difference that enabled the former peer to excel ahead of you. Whatever propelled them ahead of you will do so again.
If you can't close the difference in rank with your peers, the best solution is often to avoid reminders that make you feel envy. Don't socialize with people you envy. Otherwise, you will have to politely smile as they keep showing you stuff they have. You may think you should "be a bigger person", suppress your envy and attend such events. However, you will feel envy and you will not enjoy socializing. So don't try. Don't socialize with siblings that have done better than you. Don't attend class re-unions. Instead, socialize with people of the same rank.
Envy is the source of substantial unhappiness.
Envy affects many people for many years. While pride affects the one person whose rank has increased, envy affects everybody the higher-ranked person was a peer with - their classmates, their teammates, their neighbors, their co-workers. While the higher-ranked person only feels pride for a year or two, all of those former peers feel envy forever. It gets worse.
The former peers that feel strongest envy also spend the most time with the high-ranked person. The siblings and former classmates of a high-ranked person feel the strongest envy. And siblings and former classmates are the people a high-ranked person is most likely to socialize with for two reasons. First, siblings and former classmates make them feel the strongest affection. Second, they feel more pride when with former peers than strangers. And it gets still worse.
Mature people are not supposed to feel envy. Because envy is inconvenient for parents and bosses, they deal with it by dismissing it as immature. So in addition to feeling envy, envious people also wonder if they have a maturity problem.
Openly acknowledging envy would avoid substantial unhappiness.
Everyone would be better off if we recognized that envy is as real as pride. Envious people would stop wondering if they are immature. They would spend less time socializing with peers they envy. High-ranked people would not wonder why their former peers seem hostile. Their former peers would feel that way towards anyone who does better. Parents and bosses would avoid causing unnecessary envy. As a result, their children and staff will be more cooperative.
The best reason to be top-ranked is not feeling envy.
After a while, the top-ranked no longer feel pride. They cannot even enjoy imaginary pride because they are already top-ranked. Instead, they worry about losing rank and feeling humiliation - like everybody. So the top-ranked are not happier than others - except when it comes to envy. The top-ranked do not feel envy - unlike everybody. They avoid that ongoing stabbing pain.
Where you can, avoid people that envy you.
Envious people tend to be harmful. They can't help it. Even the nicest people want to harm the people they envy.
If you have become higher-ranked, it's best to avoid former peers. It's better to find new friends of any rank than to continue socializing with your old classmates or co-workers. New friends will not feel envy - even those of low rank.
Where you can't avoid envious people, resist the urge to "share your success".
While you may be able to avoid some envy by replacing your friends, you still need to socialize with your family - your siblings in particular. If you become high-ranked, it will be difficult to not to share your success with your siblings. You will think you can share the pride you feel - but you cannot. Attempting to share your pride will only make them feel more envy - regardless of how much they smile and congratulate you.
Around former peers you cannot avoid, like your siblings, you should try to avoid making them see evidence of your higher rank. Don't meet at your home. Don't talk about your accomplishments. Do not talk about your assets. Do not talk about your vacations. If you have to talk about assets or vacations to avoid being rude, avoid providing details that suggest higher-rank. Don't talk, for example, about the class of service or the length of your trip. Consider driving the same car as your siblings. They will be pleasantly surprised and appreciate the sensitivity.
Where you do "share your success", you should share your success.
For those very close relationships where you cannot or do not want to censure yourself, you need to actually share your success. You cannot describe how great your life is with siblings if don't give them money to offset their envy. If you do on great trips, you should take them with you. If you buy great gadgets or toys, buy your siblings the same gadgets. You can then talk freely about the trips or toys with them. They will still feel envy, but be willing to live with it.
Avoid making others envy other people.
In a leadership role it is very easy to make others envy others. Parents, bosses, teachers and coaches can cause envy just by complimenting somebody. People in these positions assume there is no downside to praising somebody. This assumption only considers what the praised person feels. It does not consider the impact on others.
Publicly praising somebody makes one person feel pride and others feel envy. That envy will demotivate others and make them less supportive of the person who received the praise. It's better to praise individuals privately. The individual still feels pride and others do not feel envy.
If you must praise somebody publicly, make sure it clearly tied to behavior or performance you want from others. If it is clearly tied, then others will try to stop their envy by replicating the praised person's behavior. If many others replicate the behavior, then it will be worth causing mass envy.
Envy is a different emotion than jealousy.
Envy and jealousy considered synonyms because both refer to negative emotions caused when somebody has something you want. An envious person wants something another person has. A jealous man wants his woman back with him.
They are not synonyms because they refer to different emotions. While envy can affect anyone, jealousy only affects men in love. While envy is caused when a peer does better than you, jealousy is caused when a woman has sex with another man. While envy cannot be stopped unless you close the rank gap, jealousy can be stopped simply by retaliating for the cheating.
Simply put, envy is about being outranked and jealousy is about women cheating.
For more about emotions, visit: Happiness Dissected