Why Envy Cripples People and How to Combat It

Are envy/jealousy an indication of insecurity?

Yes, but not necessarily in the way you might think.

At the core, a resentful or envious person has the belief, ‘You can have this but I can’t. And that’s not fair.’

Such a view evades relevant factors and questions.

For example:

What’s the evidence or proof that I can’t obtain this myself?

Why is it unfair that this person has what I don’t presently have? Did he earn it?

Of course, sometimes people have advantages they did not consciously earn. Good looks or an emotionally and/or financially supportive family are two examples. Still, you can squander your looks or your money (many do), so the credit goes to anyone who maintains or builds on these advantages.

The question to consider here is, ‘Does this person’s well-being harm me in any way?

Now we get to the crux of envy. When you envy someone else, or resent what they have, you’re operating on a very false but prevalent idea: the zero-sum idea.

All the ‘zero-sum’ idea means is that there’s a limited amount of happiness to go around. This is clearly irrational. Your being happy, wealthy and wise does nothing to harm me. If anything, it helps me. It can offer me inspiration, for one thing. For another, you’re making the world a better place—by being happy, wealthy and/or wise—than if you were miserable and stagnant. I only stand to gain by your well-being.

Yes, it’s possible that your well-being might have little or no effect on me. But your well-off status does not harm me.

Envy and jealousy are very serious, widespread social and personal problems. They’re the cause of war and other forms of injustice, such as punitive taxation, biased regulation and wealth redistribution.

Envy and jealousy are also terrible emotional problems. Most people don’t engage in crime and care little about wealth redistribution or injustice. But they spend time resenting their friends, their neighbors, or perhaps ‘society’ in general for ‘being better off than I am.’

It’s really important—for your own sake, most of all—to discover the origins of any envy or resentment you feel. Don’t simply tell yourself, ‘It’s bad to feel this way.’

The challenge is to find out which ideas, thoughts and beliefs/silent premises are giving rise to the feelings of envy and emotion. Don’t run from those feelings, if you have them. Confront and understand them.

People who seem to have more than you have often don’t. Many times, people who seem richer have a whole lot of debt. Even if they’re not on the verge of bankruptcy, they’re living beyond their means and life becomes a never-ending scramble to stay afloat—not much different from someone living on minimum wage. Also, the person with more money stands to lose all the comforts he has. At least the person with less money doesn’t have to face the risk of going backwards.

People get stuck on the issue of fairness. Envy is a form of anger—that’s the resentment part of envy. ‘It’s not fair.’ Think of a child stamping his or her foot, failing to understand or appreciate all the factors involved when a parent must set down a perfectly reasonable limit. If there’s such a psychological thing as ‘the child within,’ that child within is sometimes rather petulant and ugly, demanding or expecting to gain by entitlement virtues or benefits that others have worked for—or even if they didn’t work for them (as in inheritance or good looks), are not doing anyone any harm by having these benefits.

Two things are absolutely crucial for combating or preventing envy. One is a totally free society. Without that, there’s no credibility that you can be whatever you want to be, impaired only by the laws of physics and nature. America is a freer society than any has ever been; but it’s plainly becoming less free all the time, a very sad development which explains the prevalence and surging of envy and resentment throughout society.

The other absolutely crucial thing for preventing envy is love of life at the core. Many people, sadly, resent the requirements of survival and happiness. They subsequently resent others who make it look easy, even though it’s easy for nobody. If you really love life and want to pursue it freely, on your own terms, and without any unearned guilt or sense of unwarranted shame, then the emotional way is clear for an envy-free life.

People who really embrace life fully—with all the freedom and self-initiative that implies—will rarely if ever suffer from feelings of envy and resentment. They’re in no way threatened by the well-being of others. If anything, they plan to build on and benefit from it. You can extinguish any envy in yourself by doing everything in your power to develop such an attitude.


Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest.