Although most people think of them as synonymous, jealousy and envy are actually very different. "Envy has to do with wanting what somebody else has," says psychotherapist Nathalie C. Theodore, LCSW. "For example, you may feel envious of a friend who just landed their dream job. Jealousy, on the other hand, is the fear of losing what you already have. You might feel jealous when your boss starts giving better assignments to your new co-worker, and you worry that your own job is in jeopardy."
Understanding jealousy and envy on a neurological level.
Jealousy and envy can be difficult emotions to unravel. We can feel unpleasant feelings toward an acquaintance who lands our dream job, for example, and claim at the time it's because that person is boastful and only realize they're feelings of envy later.
"It all depends on how the amygdala connects with areas of our brain that establish our values and our motivations," she explains. "We understand more of where sadness, anger, and fear originate in the brain2, but jealousy and envy are complex in that the interplay between biochemistry, anatomy, and our environment within which we develop can dictate to what extent we feel either jealousy or envy."
How to deal with jealousy and envy.
According to happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, paying 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," she writes at Business Insider. "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. When I was considering switching from law to writing, I noticed that when I read in my college magazine about people who had great law careers, I felt a mild interest; when I read about people who had great writing careers, I felt sick with envy. That was an important clue."
Theodore adds that the best thing you can do with feelings of jealousy and envy is use them as motivation.
"It's normal for people to feel both envy and jealousy from time to time," she says. "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."
Why it matters.
It's important to learn how to deal with jealousy in a relationship and in life in general. 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 depression3 if we continuously compare ourselves to others without pushing ourselves to achieve our own goals," says Theodore.
It might be worth investing in a beautiful gratitude journal or simply meditating on things you're grateful for. In addition to helping quell feelings of jealousy and envy, the benefits of gratitude on your health are plentiful. While striving for more is key to personal growth, being thankful for what you have is just as important.
Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist and former Senior Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen where she analyzed new research on human behavior, looked at the intersection of wellness and women's empowerment, and took deep dives into the latest sex and relationship trends. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis. She has written for HuffPost, Glamour, and NBC News, among others, and is a certified yoga instructor.