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Why It Doesn’t Feel Good When Someone Else Succeeds


Apr. 13, 2018 Psychology Today

Almost everyone knows the feeling. A friend or colleague has been promoted, has had some success, now has a bigger house or is making more money, and rather than feel happy for them you feel depressed and angry. And there is part of you that would really like to see them fail.

You feel embarrassed about these envious feelings, you can’t admit them to your other friends, and you certainly wouldn’t tell the target of envy. We are not supposed to feel this way, you have been told. But then you have this feeling and it is eating away at you.

Your Envious Mind
You find yourself thinking…

  • They don’t deserve this.
  • They think they are superior to me
  • They are superior to me
  • I can’t stand being around them
  • I hope they fail

And then you have these thoughts about yourself…

  • This reflects how inferior I am
  • I keep falling behind
  • People will look at me like I am a loser
  • I could have done that

So now you think “What kind of person am I that I don’t want someone else to succeed?” You are a normal person, because envy is everywhere. Kids playing at a game sometimes feel better if they and a friend both lose than they do if the other kid wins, and adults can feel the same way. We often have a hard time not being the winner. When we are envious we think of the world as a zero-sum game. If she wins, I lose. And it seems that rewards are scarce.

Three Kinds of Envy

  1. Depressive envy (“I feel like a loser compared to her”). When someone you know does better than you, it often feels like you are a loser, a failure, or inferior. You think that their success reflects your failure.
  2. Hostile envy (“I think that she manipulated her way up”). Because the other person’s success has resulted in your feeling that you can’t stand it, you may want them to fail. You enjoy hearing about successful people getting divorced, arrested, or even having accidents. Schadenfreude is tempting, because if the other person fails—after succeeding—we feel better knowing we both have “lost.”
  3. Benign envy (“That’s impressive”). This is a neutral kind of envy; you observe that someone else has succeeded and you admire them and give them credit for what they have done. Benign envy leads us to pay attention to what the other person is doing—because we often think we can learn something.
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