Why Envy Is Actually a Good Thing

[2 minute read] (ESL learners – click on the bolded words to see explanations and notes. Try the exercise at the bottom after! 🙂 )

Envy. The ol’ green-eyed monster. It’s been berated, dismissed, and shunned in every possible way, from its aforementioned nickname, to its inclusion as one of the seven deadly sins.

Granted, envy does lead to some terrible consequences. It often spurs people to commit acts of cruelty (big or small), talk behind your back, or do little things to make your life harder (and theirs by comparison better).

Obviously, these things are awful, and with the title of this post, I don’t mean to say we should feel free to run around doing them. Actually, I regard those actions as completely separate from envy — they stem from it, but they are just one way you can decide to deal with envy. There’s a big difference between a feeling and your conscious reaction to it. And this feeling in particular, I believe, is in dire need of some deeper examination. It can teach us some essential things about ourselves and our paths to happiness.

What does envy do, really?

It tells us what we desire. It points out to us that there’s something you don’t have — and that you feel unhappy about this.

This is actually very useful information for you to have. If you want something, you have to first realize that you want it before you can go chase after it! In this way, envy is like a little tour guide with an umbrella, pointing out all the beautiful things around you that you want to have in your life.

Envy arises when you find that others are enjoying these beautiful things and you aren’t. Obviously, the next thing we do shouldn’t be to go and destroy those beautiful things, so that neither you nor anyone else can enjoy them. (The bad reactions to envy mentioned earlier). Though it might eliminate the reason for your envy, it would also ultimately be ruining your chance of ever achieving what you want.

Rather, the best thing you can do with envy is make note of it — thank it, even. “Hello, thank you for pointing out one of the things that would make me happy.” This can help to stay in a positive mindset. And then go do something in order to be able to get said things into your life.

It’s also useful to remember that not every case of envy will be useful. It is possible for humans to envy people for things they don’t even want… it’s arguably a part of nature and our survival instinct to want to be “the best on the block”. So be sure to ask yourself, “do I really want that thing in my life, or was this just a knee-jerk reaction because I’m having a miserable day and I saw someone else on Instagram having too much fun?”

I don’t pretend to know everything, so there might be some gaps or flaws in this perspective. But I think it’s at least a far better mindset than steeping in jealousy and spite. What do you think?

ESL Notes (17 words / expressions)

Definitions written with reference to Cambridge Dictionary

ol’: another way to spell “old”. A user on Quora wrote a great explanation of its use: ““Ol” is an abbreviation of “old,” typically used to convey a tone of voice or inflection. This helps the words come off the page more easily, which gives the reader a better chance of hearing that slant in their mind. The goal here is to give your narrative the dimension and personality it needs to paint a vivid, sticky picture.” (Back to the text)

to berate: if you berate something, you criticize it or speak about it in an angry way. For example, “As the politician left the meaning ,he was berated by angry demonstrators.” (Back to the text)

to shun: to refuse to accept something. It can also be used to mean “refuse to speak to someone because you can’t accept their behavior or beliefs”. For example, “After he got out of jail, he was shunned by his friends and family.” (Back to the text)

aforementioned: mentioned earlier; mentioned before. (Back to the text)

a sin: the act of breaking a moral law (the bible lists 7 deadly sins in Christian teachings: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth). (Back to the text)

granted: an expression used to admit that something is true before you say something else about it. For example, “Granted, many horror films don’t make sense until the ending, but they at least provide a few scares along the way.” (Back to the text)

does: “does” is not normally used in affirmative sentences, but it can be used to add more emphasis (this is the case in my text). Another example: “Does your boyfriend do any sports” “No, he doesn’t, but he does take talks regularly and he also cares about eating healthy.” (Used to emphasize the healthy things he does do, to compensate the idea of not exercising.) (Back to the text)

to spur: to cause or encourage an activity or event. For example, “Rising consumer sales have the effect of spurring the economy to faster growth.” It can also often be used with the preposition “on” to mean “encourage(d) / motivate(d)” — for example, “Spurred on by her early success, the young author went on to write four more novels.” (Back to the text)

awful: terrible, very bad. (Back to the text)

to stem from: to develop as the result of something. For example, “Her problems stem from her difficult childhood.” (Back to the text)

in dire need of: “to be in need of something” is another (more advanced) way to say “to need something”. They need help = They’re in need of help. (The second one is more formal). “Dire” means serious or extreme. Therefore, “They’re in dire need of help” is something like “They really really need help.” (Back to the text)

to chase after something: to hurry after something in order to try to catch it. This is often used when someone (a criminal, or a mouse) is running away, and someone else (the police, a cat) is running after, trying to catch them. In this case, “chase after a dream/goal/something you want” means to try to achieve it, or to try to get it in your life. (Back to the text)

said: the ones mentioned earlier. This helps readers link ideas in a paragraph and reference generic words like “things” to explanations that were given earlier in the text. (Back to the text)

a knee-jerk reaction: a quick reaction, without having time or taking the time to think about it. For example, if someone makes a joke about something you are sensitive about, you might respond in a rude or angry way as a knee-jerk reaction. (Back to the text)

a gap: an empty space, or something missing. (In this case, it means “something missing”. For “empty space”, it’s usually physical — “There is a gap of 2 meters between my garden and my neighbor’s garden.” (Back to the text)

a flaw: a mistake or imperfection. (Back to the text)

to steep in: literally, this means “to stay in a liquid” and often refers to food, such as tea leaves steeping in hot water, in order to give the water tea flavor. I use it metaphorically: envy is like hot water that you sit in and absorb its negative flavor. (Back to the text)


Want to start using these words and make sure you don’t forget them? Try this exercise! Think about these questions (discuss them with someone) or write down your answers, using the word or expression in your discussion or answer.

  • Read this sentence: “Doctors are often berated for being poor communicators, particularly when they have to give patients bad news.” Are people in your field berated for anything?
  • Would you ever shun a close friend or a family member because of something they did?
  • What do you think is the worst sin from the seven deadly sins?
  • What kind of music would spur you to dance in a club?
  • Describe a restaurant, hotel, or movie you experienced that was awful. Why was it awful?
  • Do you think an adult’s psychological problems can stem from their childhood?
  • What kind of behavior would have dire consequences in your school / at your job? (ex: cheating, skipping class, missing a deadline, plagiarism, etc.)
  • If someone grabbed your wallet on the street and started running away, would you try to chase after them?
  • Do you try to chase after all of your dreams?
  • In your country, is there a large gap between rich people and poor people? (=a large difference?)
  • If a favorite item of clothing has a flaw (a small stain, rip, mark, etc.) do you continue to wear it? If not, what do you do with it? (What is the flaw?)
  • Have you ever tried fruit steeped in wine as dessert? If not, what kinds of foods have you tried steeping in something?

Feel free to try writing some more sentences, or a text, of your own to practice some more.

Thank you for reading! These ESL notes, links and exercises each take several hours to make, so if you found this useful, the kindest thing you can do is to like the post, leave a comment, or share with anyone who needs it. Have questions about any other words? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply!

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