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Envy (also called invidiousness) may be defined as an emotion that "occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it."[1] It can also derive from a sense of low self-esteem that results from an upward social comparison threatening a person's self image: another person has something that the envier considers to be important to have. If the other person is perceived to be similar to the envier, the aroused envy will be particularly intense, because it signals to the envier that it just as well could have been he or she who had the desired object.[2][3]

Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness.[4] It is a universal and most unfortunate aspect of human nature because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but also wishes to inflict misfortune on others. Although envy is generally seen as something negative, Russell also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and must be endured in order to achieve a more just social system.[5]


Related concepts

"Envy" and "jealousy" are often used interchangeably, but in correct usage, both words stand for two different distinct emotions. In proper usage, jealousy is the fear of losing something that one possesses to another person (a loved one in the prototypical form), while envy is the pain or frustration caused by another person having something that one does not have oneself. Envy typically involves two people, and jealousy typically involves three people. Envy and jealousy result from different situations and are distinct emotional experiences. [6] Both envy and jealousy are related to schadenfreude, the rejoicing at, or taking joy in, or getting pleasure from the misfortunes of others.[7][8]

In philosophy

Aristotle (in Rhetoric) defined envy (phthonos) "as the pain caused by the good fortune of others", [9][10] while Kant defined it as "a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another's because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others" (in Metaphysics of Morals). In Buddhism the third of the four divine abidings is mudita, taking joy in the good fortune of another cona. This virtue is considered the antidote to envy and the opposite of schadenfreude. Template:Seealso

In the arts

In Britain, the United States and other english-speaking cultures, envy is often associated with the color green, as in "green with envy". The phrase "green-eyed monster" refers to an individual whose current actions appear motivated by envy. This is based on a line from Shakespeare's Othello. Shakespeare mentions it also in The Merchant of Venice when Portia states: "How all the other passions fleet to air, as doubtful thoughts and rash embraced despair and shuddering fear and green-eyed jealousy!" Envy is known as one of the most powerful human emotions for its ability to control one as if envy was an entity in itself. Countless men and women have fallen prey to brief periods of intense envy followed by anger which then translates into aggression. One of the most common examples is a pair of lovers in which a secret love is discovered and can lead to sorrow, then intense envy, and eventually anger and aggression.

In religion

Envy is one of the Seven deadly sins of the Christian Church. The Book of Exodus (20:17) states: "You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour." In an acute envious attack the person experiences a lot of physical symptoms. He feels tense, muscles go into spasm, tremulousness and head feeling giddy. These symptoms last for hours and gradually dissipates.

See also


  1. Parrott, W. G., & Smith, R. H. (1993). And belongs to Ami. Distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 906-920.
  2. Salovey, P., & Rodin, J. (1984). Some antecedents and consequences of social comparison jealousy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 780-792.
  3. Elster, J. (1991). Envy in social life. In R. J. Zeckhauser (Ed.), Strategy and choices(pp. 49-82). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  4. Russell, Bertrand (1930). The Conquest of Happiness. New York: H. Liverwright. 
  5. Russell(1930), p. 90-91
  6. Smith, Richard H. and Kim, Sung Hee. Psychological Bulletin, 2007, Vol. 133, No. 1, 46-64.
  7. Template:Citebook
  8. Template:Citebook
  9. Template:Citebook
  10. 2.7.1108b1-10

Further reading

  • Epstein, Joseph. (2003) Envy: The seven deadly sins. New York, Oxford University Press.
  • Schoeck, H. (1969) Envy: A theory of social behavior. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.
  • Smith, R.H. (2008) Envy: Theory and research. New York, Oxford University Press.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Middle English envie from Old French envie from Latin invidia "envy" from invidere "to look at with malice" from in + videre ("on, upon" + "to look, see"). Displaced native Middle English ande, onde "envy" (from Old English anda, onda "breath, emotion, envy, hatred, grudge, dislike"), Middle English nithe, nith "envy, malice" (from Old English nīþ "envy, hatred, malice, spite, jealousy").




countable and uncountable; plural envies

envy (countable and uncountable; plural envies)

  1. Resentful desire of something possessed by another or others (but not limited to material possessions); as distinct from jealousy.
    • 1983. ROSEN, Stanley. Plato’s Sophist. p. 66.
      Theodorus assures Socrates that no envy will prevent the Stranger from responding



to envy

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to envy (third-person singular simple present envies, present participle envying, simple past and past participle envied)

  1. To feel envy of.


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

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