See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 5

Envy: The Feeling Can Help Us Even When It Hurts

Wanting what another person has can spur us to better ourselves


Envy. Socrates viewed it as “the ulcer of the soul.” Shakespeare's Iago, in Othello, gave us the term “green-eyed monster,” forever tingeing it an emerald hue. In Dante's Divine Comedy, once resentful individuals trudge through purgatory with their eyes wired shut, never to see the world through jaundiced lenses again.

Most of us are well acquainted with this powerful sentiment, often defined as the pain of occupying an inferior position relative to another and a desire for what that other person has. The yearning could be directed toward a gleaming red Ferrari, a fortuitous business deal or something as simple as a piece of Scharffen Berger chocolate. Among the seven deadlies, it occupies a unique position: it's the only sin that is never fun.

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