Admiration, Benign Envy and Malicious Envy

Envy can be like a tiny devil on your shoulder that whisper words into your ear, gnashes on your soul and makes life into something that is often filled with suffering and much negativity. The envy can just be something that irritates and distracts you from time to time.

In any case, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Psychologists classify envy in two ways: malicious and benign. With benign envy, you are motivated by another person’s success and strive to emulate it. With malicious envy, you want to cut the advantaged person down so you look better by comparison.

We tend to feel malicious envy towards another person if we think their success is undeserved. This is the type that makes us want to strike out at the other person and bring them down a peg or two. However when another’s success feels deserved to us, we tend to feel a benign envy: one that isn’t destructive but instead motivates.

Studies show benign envy can be a great motivator. In a 2011 study in the Netherlands, researchers found that when they triggered feelings of benign envy—as opposed to admiration or malicious envy—in the students, it drove them to want to study more and perform better on a test measuring creativity and intelligence. While admiration may feel better, the researchers found, it doesn’t motivate performance like the pain and frustration of envy.

According to the philosopher Kierkegaard, admiration for someone is like admitting defeat. When you truly admire what someone has created, you implicitly admit that you will never be able to reach that standard yourself. Once we’ve translated envy into admiration, we lose the motivational power of that envy.

Summing-up: Jealousy and envy can often rear their ugly head and impact your own ability to be active, vital and successful. Use the energy to propel yourself into action.

1 Comments

  1. Kenneth

    So, what you are suggesting then is that the envious who are malicious are doubly offensive, on the one hand they have reached a self serving negative judgment against our deservingness and on the other hand they push it further by a desire that we should lose the good that we have acquired. Seems to me that such individuals, and the world is plagued with them, have poor sense of personal boundaries. Oftentimes, we do not even know who these people are, never having spoken with them, never even noticing them until they forcefully intrude into our lives with no other intention but to disrupt our peace and harmony.

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