I’m not stupid, but: what’s the difference between envy and jealousy?

I thought since I’m known the world over as a pedantic git and someone who has an unrelenting desire to share crateloads of useless knowledge with everyone he meets, I’d start this series on my blog that I call I’m not stupid, but…

In this series I try to explain those things that I’ve encountered that are very simple to understand but for some reason it took me some years to grasp, perhaps because no one bothered to teach me about them, in school or otherwise.

I’ll start with one of my favourites, because once you know this, you’ll see the mistake everywhere and (if you’re like me) constantly have to fight the urge to correct people. I’ve noticed, also, that many novels contain passages that highlight this difference in such a blatant way that it is almost as if the author is saying “Shit! I never knew that! I must prove to people that I know it now!”

What is the difference between envy and jealousy? It’s pretty straightforward:

  • Envy is the desire to have that which your neighbour possesses.
  • Jealousy is the fear of your neighbour taking that which you possess.

If you see your friend playing with her iPad, and you find yourself thinking “I wish I had a 10-inch Angry Birds machine!” then you are green with envy. You are coveting your neighbour’s possession.

If you get scared or panicky when someone in your workplace excels at something you are paid to do, you are jealous of that person. You fear your neighbour will take your job. In modern contexts, jealousy almost always refers to a fear of losing a romantic partner or a job to someone else, because of a perceived “betterness”.

Join me next time for another exciting installment!

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