Envy: Asset or Misery?

“Jealousy is a dog’s bark which attracts thieves.” – Karl Kraus

Envy: Good or bad? When considering the full extent of emotions people feel on a daily basis, few have a more negative stigma then envy. Envy is explicitly banned in the Ten Commandments and there are very few parents who teach their children to be envious of the siblings and classmates. It doesn’t take a great amount of introspection to conclude that envy is a torment that negatively affects quality of life. So where does the good come in?

Envy drives progress. World leaders, business magnates, and world-class athletes achieve tremendous success for one simple reason: the desire to be the best. At their core they are envious of those they perceive as being better than them. Even two of the wealthiest individuals the world has ever seen, John D Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, had a constant feud each with the desire to best the other. For them, all of the money in the world wasn’t enough to make them happy. They were more concerned about the game. Industrial Revolution entrepreneurs, fueled by envy, drove America to become the world’s super power. Despite the positive effect of envy on the US’s world standing, is this really a productive model for the average citizen to follow?

In theory, envy sounds great. It’s hard to turn on the TV without seeing someone being lauded for having the drive to ‘be the best’. This competitive spirit pushes technology, culture, and society to its limits. The axiom, ‘if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards,’ comes to mind. After all, as previously mentioned, society would not be where it is today if it weren’t for progress driven individuals. But does progress have to come at the expense of others? Can a seemingly innate drive to beat others be quelled? I think it should.

Progress should not come from a desire to best others. Progress should come from an individual’s desire to become the best person they can be. This sounds like a cliché, but I believe it. A desire to become the best will never be assuaged. No one can be the best forever. The best is completely subjective and will always be up for debate. For example people constantly debate as to who is the best writer of all time. A consensus will never be made. Therefore if your goal is to be the best, you are relying on other’s opinions to validate yourself and your accomplishments. Your accomplishments are your own. By comparing yourself to others, you do a disservice to yourself as a person. Aside from your close family and friends, most people could care less about your accomplishments. They care only as long as it affects them. Why root your purpose in life on the opinions of those that don’t really care about you?

Envy cannot lead to happiness. Once you make it your goal to best everyone else, it is hard to stop. You may become the owner of a very successful business but there will be someone who owns a larger, more profitable, and more successful business then you. Your wants begin to drift from basic internal desires to complex external ones. There will always be someone who is smarter, richer, more successful. Let the desire to better yourself, not the success of others, be the driving factor in your search for success.