Jealous much? Yes! We all are at one time or another…and that’s a good thing.

Now here’s another question—“Are you envious much?”

Because jealousy and envy are two very different things.

I had never considered the distinction between the two because, honestly, I don’t spend my days feeling bad about or being “jealous” of what I have or do relative to others. I will acknowledge that I do sometimes get people-jealous as in, I wish I could spend more time with you, but you have other demands on your time. But I digress.

Why do I bring this up? Because I recently read a reference to the book Jealousy and Envy by journalist and author Nancy Friday and her distinction between the two. What’s the difference you ask?

Jealousy is rooted in a combination of desire and insecurity or fear of loss, explains Friday. For example, we all have moments when we are jealous that those we love are spending “too much” time with other people rather than being with us. Even if you’re confident of your partner’s fidelity, your own insecurities can create silly chatter about how he/she is choosing to spend time with others rather than being you. How come he gets home from work late every day? Why does she go out with her girlfriends for drinks but never gets a drink with me? 

Or perhaps we are jealous when a friend goes on yet-another fun vacation when we haven’t been able to schedule even a weekend get-away. Or that shiny new car in the neighbor’s driveway sure looks sweet. Or you wish that your grown children called and visited you as much as your sister’s kids connect with her.

At the root of these examples is a desire to possess, be it a person or an object. Jealousy can be motivating. If you want to talk to your kids more, pick up the phone or invite them over. If you want to go on vacation, figure out a way to clear your calendar and budget for it. Or pursue that promotion so that you can afford vacations and shiny new cars. 

Envy, on the other hand, is rooted in resentment and rage. As Nancy Friday described it—“Envy is that malicious feeling that others possess something desirable, an awareness that casts a shadow over our lives, a gnawing in the gut, that won’t ease until we destroy the enemy’s happiness. The feeling behind envy is the rage at the power and control this other person has over us and our happiness.”

I am sad that people who are envious live in a land of powerlessness, blaming others for their own place in life. 

Father Mike Schmitz, a Catholic priest, director of youth and young adult ministries in a diocese in Duluth, Minnesota, and a frequent speaker on Catholicism, has said that envy is the one sin that never gives you joy []. Think about it—lust, gluttony, sloth—they all feel good even though they are bad. But bathing in envy and utter disdain is simply painful.

As we look at the rage and resentment in the news today, we need to remember that the American dream was, in some ways, built on jealousy and a desire to achieve more. Early Americans wanted the freedom to choose their own path and created an economic system that gave everyone the opportunity to earn their way to a better life. But that growth was not driven by destroying others in order to achieve. It was driven by the desire to have more and be freer.

How do you know if you’re envious…even if you’re a very good and loving person? Here’s what to look for…

  1. You think it’s unfair that someone else has something you don’t have.
  2. You blame “them” because you don’t have what you want.
  3. You gossip about your frustrations and disappointment to others.
  4. You are not supportive of the success of others, even close family and friends.
  5. You rationalize the rightness of your point of view.
  6. You feel anger toward the person or people who have what you want.
  7. You are competitive with “them.”

While things are feeling rather scarce now, we still live in a land of plenty—plenty of opportunity and plenty of ambition. It’s tempting to let life’s frustrations overtake us, but be sure to avoid the toxic growth of envy. Jealous, sure—it’s in your control to get what you desire and is all there waiting for you. 


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