Can we develop a particular mind set for being totally envy free; to stop envying others?


Smith and Kim's (2007) review article in the prestigious Psychological Bulletin titled "Comprehending Envy" might be a good starting point. They define envy as

an unpleasant, often painful emotion characterized by feelings of inferiority, hostility, and resentment caused by an awareness of a desired attribute enjoyed by another person or group of persons.

They are also clear to distinguish proper envy from several other emotions including benign envy, longing, jealousy, and resentment.

Individual differences in experiencing envy: As a starting point, from a trait personality perspective, people differ in their tendency to experience various emotions. In particular neuroticism is associated with a tendency to experience negative emotions. Smith and Kim (2007) mention several self-report scales:

  • "Dispositional envy scale (DES; R. H. Smith, Parrott,Diener, Hoyle, & Kim, 1999) consists of eight items, four of which ask respondents to indicate the degree and frequency of their experiences of envy"; copy of items
  • "measure of enviousness developed by Gold (1996) uses a number of items containing familiar idioms that were argued to encourage truthful responses."

Table 2 from Smith et al (1999) report the means and SDs for the items of the DES. The means and sds are generally less than 2.5 on a 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree scale (e.g., I feel envy everyday M=2.3). This suggests that a bit over half the participants are either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the test items. The scale showed moderately strong positive correlations with neuroticism and negative correlations with self-esteem. Thus, you might conclude that some people rarely consciously experience envy. That said, some researchers consider that this might be due to social desirability in responding or even at a deeper level, people may not even realise that they are experiencing envy.

Thus, while social desirability might explain some of the individual differences, I think that some people just rarely experience envy. That said, this still leaves open the question of how people who do experience negative effects from envy, might reduce such effects.

Coping with envy: Smith and Kim (2007) review research on coping with envy:

Types of strategies for coping with envy. Salovey and Rodin (1988) followed up their survey by examining what strategies people use to cope with envy and jealousy and to assess which seemed most effective in doing so. Participants completed a questionnaire assessing their emotional reactions to envy-provoking situations in a number of domains and the frequency with which they used three distinctive coping strategies (self-reliance, selfbolstering, and selective ignoring). A number of important, suggestive findings emerged. Self-reliance, which included items tapping emotional control (e.g., “refrain from feeling angry”), perseverance (“don’t give up”), and goal commitment (e.g., “become committed to the goal”), and to a lesser extent, selective ignoring (“decide it isn’t so important”) were associated with reduced envy. Self-bolstering (e.g., “think about my good qualities”) was unrelated to reduced envy; however, for those participants already experiencing envy, it was associated with less depression and, along with self-reliance, with less anger, both affects associated with the experience of envy. Salovey and Rodin (1988) interpreted these findings to mean that the more effective strategies for reducing initial envy appear to be stimulus focused rather than self-focused.


  • Smith, R. H., Parrott, W. G., Diener, E. F., Hoyle, R. H., & Kim, S. H. (1999). Dispositional envy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(8), 1007-1020.
  • Salovey, P., & Rodin, J. (1988). Coping with envy and jealousy. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 7, 15–33.
  • Smith, R. H., & Kim, S. H. (2007). Comprehending envy. Psychological bulletin, 133(1), 46. PDF
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for comprehensive answer full of valuable sources and information! $\endgroup$ – tsykora Jun 30 '13 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ This read was really interesting. Thanks, Jeromy. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Langan Jun 30 '13 at 19:49

More recent research suggests that when people talk about envy, they may actually refer to two different kinds of emotions. One is the classic "evil" form of envy and the other is a benign kind of envy, which is also painful but not hostile.

Quoting the abstract from Van de Ven et al. (2009):

Envy is the painful emotion caused by the good fortune of others. This research empirically supports the distinction between two qualitatively different types of envy, namely benign and malicious envy. It reveals that the experience of benign envy leads to a moving-up motivation aimed at improving one's own position, whereas the experience of malicious envy leads to a pulling-down motivation aimed at damaging the position of the superior other.

The same thing can also be found with regard to trait envy. Because of their personality, some people lean more towards the benign kind of envy whereas others react more with malicious envy when they encounter other people who are better than them in something. The two forms of envy can be distinguished with a more recent dispositional envy scale (BeMaS) by Lange and Crusius (2015).

A common denominator of this research seems to be that envy as an emotion has its functional sides (at least for the person experiencing envy). Because, either way, it pushes people to level differences to others who outperform them (there may be collateral damage though). Interestingly, benign envy seems to motivate people to push harder to reach ones goal more strongly than other related emotions, such as admiration (Van de Ven et al., 2011), which feels good but doesn't motivate. No pain, no gain. In other words, what I am trying to say is that, maybe, it is not so desirable to be completely envy free, even if that would be possible. Maybe the more important question is how can we stop feeling the evil kind of envy, but instead use the motivating qualities of benign envy to push us a little further.


Lange, J., & Crusius, J. (2015). Dispositional envy revisited: Unraveling the motivational dynamics of benign and malicious envy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 284-294.

Van de Ven, N., Zeelenberg, M., & Pieters, R. (2009). Leveling up and down: The experience of benign and malicious envy. Emotion, 3, 419–429.

Van de Ven, N., Zeelenberg, M., & Pieters, R. (2011). Why envy outperforms admiration. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(6), 784–795.


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