Envy is more than a feeling, it is an emotional process which serves us. Even though envy has the tendency to ruin relationships and damage self-esteem, we continue to engage in coveting what others have. We perceive that we are less than because we are without. Doing this not only affects our mood, but it affects our brains. Let’s examine how envy works.
Envy drives us to do survive
At least, envy did motivate us to survive when life was threatened by predators everyday. Envy could inspire someone who lost their mate to find another one and work harder to protect them. They witness another coupling’s survival and deeply desire that longevity and connection for themselves. Perhaps survival looked like food. One human was able to find food and satisfy hunger, while the other suffered. Wanting just as much if not more food than the other, the second human worked tirelessly to improve their hunting skills. Today, we experience survival differently. Dinosaurs and deadly animals aren’t knocking down our doors- socioeconomic demands are. Envy is our way of comparing ourselves to others and inspiring ourselves to strive for more. Material possessions do not determine one’s survivability, though.
Envy is a way of protecting ourselves
“Comparison is the thief of joy”, Theodore Roosevelt famously said. Comparing ourselves to another with covetousness robs us of the joy and gratitude for what we have in our own lives. Usually, this makes us feel quite terribly about ourselves. Convinced we are without, not a part of, or deficient, our brain’s internalize this experience and store it in memory. If we experience envy early on in life, the brain decides it would much rather not feel that way again. Thus, we protect ourselves by making sure that never happens.
When we experience envy, our brains react in regions which interpret physical pain. The more envious we are, the more pain we suffer. Anger and resentment, it is often said, are poisons we drink when trying to hurt someone else. Especially with malicious envy, this is true. Envy can be split into two categories: malicious and benign. Malicious envy seeks to destroy that which makes us envious whereas benign envy is more accepting of circumstance.