Is it Wrong to be Envious of Others?
To admit that you have never felt envious about things that other people possess or of accomplishments that other people have achieved means that you’re either lying or that you’re experiencing sociopathy. Envy is a natural emotion to feel and it is not inherently abysmal, regardless of what most people think.
The vast scope of emotions with which all of us perceive are but a byproduct of the human experience; a consequence of consciousness and emotional intellect or lack thereof.
Just as there is nothing inherently nefarious about the emotions of anger, shame, and jealousy, there is also nothing wrong with feeling the emotion of envy either. It makes absolutely no sense to chastise someone for experiencing an emotion that is not only natural to feel, but that is also likely due to deep insecurities and self-hatred.
When we dig deeper to unveil why it is that an envious person thinks and behaves the way they do, we suddenly see them less as a cynically malevolent character and more of just someone expressing their own insecurities in a way that makes them feel better about their shortcomings, even if the influx of negative self-talk associated with their envy is fallacious.
For example, Alex sees that his neighbor Jim just bought a $100,000 car. Part of Alex is happy for him, but he also can’t help but wonder why Jim is so fortunate to be in a position to afford such an expensive vehicle while Alex is having to take a loan out just to pay his electric bill. Alex’s psyche will then likely spiral out of control with a slew of insults and character attacks aimed at Jim all because Alex cannot bear the fact that his financial position is largely a result of his own doing.
When we feel as though we cannot bear extremely painful emotions, such as self-pity and feelings of worthlessness, we often repress that pain by using one or more of the many different defense mechanisms available to us. Such defense mechanisms may be projection or reaction formation, among others.
The emotion of envy is oftentimes a sufficient catalyst for allowing such defense mechanisms to arise out of the ether. The person who is experiencing envy also has a much higher risk of engaging in precipitous behaviors aimed at the person they are envious of. It is the constant engagement with the influx of unwarranted discursive anger-thoughts that will lead one to act out nefariously or vindictively toward the person they envy.
Such behaviors are overtly immoral as they cause unjustified harm to the person envied. However, merely feeling the emotion of envy itself is not wrong by any stretch of the imagination. It is not the feeling itself that is immoral, but the harmful behaviors that envy is known to evoke that is.
Thoughts, just like emotions, are not immoral. It doesn’t matter how taboo the thought is or how pernicious the emotion is, these things are not immoral. Thoughts and emotions are but transient experiences which are largely out of our control. Thoughts pop in and out of consciousness constantly without our say-so.
We have absolutely no authorship to those thoughts as they arose without our consent, such as the case with daydreaming (i.e. being lost in thought). The same can be said about the emotion of envy, which often arises instantly without any sort of deep consideration or consent beforehand.
This is not to say that as sentient beings we are nothing more than mere automatons, victims to the arbitrary whims of our emotions. In fact, the antithesis is true insofar as we are adept at remaining in the present moment by means of mindfulness meditation, as well as by using other forms of meditation.
By using techniques such as mindfulness, unwanted emotions can indeed be carefully tamed to the point to where they inflict virtually no psychological suffering at all within ourselves. Be that as it may, mindfulness won’t directly prevent emotions from arising. Instead, it will aid in increasing one’s equanimity to how it was before the unwanted emotion manifested.
Recognizing that emotions such as envy, rage, and jealousy all have their fair share of perceived virtuous inclinations such as feelings of justification, righteousness, and indignation, these emotions are oftentimes insidious and harmful to not only the envious, but to the envied as well.
The modus operandi for most people is to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. Envy is an attempt to do just that. The emotional pain of personal failure or unfortunate circumstance is masked by feelings of envy, which is a much more tolerable emotion to feel. It is much less emotionally demanding to feel envy than it is to honestly explore one’s personal failures or shortcomings. For most people, such an exercise would be agonizingly torturous.
Once we admit that the self-loathing musings of an envious mind are nothing more than the byproduct of deep insecurities and painful self-hatred, it makes it much easier for us to empathize with such people.
Envy, like guilt, fear, and happiness is just one of many emotions felt and expressed in the human experience. To chastise someone for being envious makes no more sense than it does to chastise someone for being happy. Both are transient emotions experienced by intellectually advanced sentient beings which dissipate as quickly as they arise, regardless of how bleak or joyous the circumstance is.