Envy vs. Jealousy: Is There a Difference?

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There is a difference between envy and jealousy. Specifically, envy is a desire for something another person has, while jealousy is a feeling tied to fear of losing something that you have. Understanding the difference in their meanings may help you better identify and understand your emotions and communicate them to your loved ones if needed.

Envy vs. Jealousy

Most people use the words envy and jealousy interchangeably. For instance, someone may say they are jealous of their friend’s financial situation; another person may talk about being envious that their spouse’s new trainer is a fitness model.

However, envy involves wanting what someone else has and jealousy involves feeling threatened that someone will take away something you have. Therefore, in these situations, their use is actually incorrect and technically should be switched around.

Psychologists have long since agreed that envy and jealousy are distinct emotions.


An article published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy. It reported on the results of two experiments that empirically investigated the difference.

The first experiment had subjects recall personal experiences where they felt envious or jealous. The second experiment had subjects read stories that invoked these feelings. The results showed qualitative differences between envy and jealousy. Specifically, envy was characterized by feelings of disapproval of the emotion, inferiority, longing and resentment.

A characteristic of envy is wanting what someone else has. It’s not having something that we want but observing someone else with it and desiring it; hence, it typically only involves two parties, you and another person. The thing you are envious of can be a quality of theirs, an object they own, their status or anything you don’t have but want.

It is different from jealousy as it doesn’t commonly involve feelings of betrayal, anger or rage.

Some examples of feelings of envy include the following:

  • You are envious of your friend who has a more attractive body than you.
  • You are envious of your co-worker’s raise as they now earn more money than you.
  • You are envious of your brother’s charm and charisma compared to your shyness and self-consciousness.
  • You are envious of your neighbor’s new car as you start up your old beater.


The results of the study showed that jealousy was characterized by feelings of anger, anxiety, fear of loss and distrust.

Unlike envy, jealousy typically involves three parties. Jealousy is when you feel threatened that someone will take away something you already have. That something is typically a person, such as a romantic partner.

Another difference between jealousy and envy is that jealousy does not always involve a sense of inferiority. Specifically, the person you are jealous of may not have something you lack and desire. In other words, you can be jealous of someone you are not envious of.

Most people have heard of the terms “jealous boyfriend” or “jealous girlfriend”. This is when a person feels that someone outside of the relationship is threatening to break them up as they sense that this external person is interested in their partner.

Jealousy can also occur in non-romantic relationships. One study documented jealousy in infants by exposing them to their mothers giving attention to a baby doll and a book. The results showed that the infants behaved negatively when they observed this. The study concluded that we may experience jealousy as early as 6 months of age.

Another example is when a parent feels jealous of their nanny as they spend more time with their child. The parent may fear their child will develop a closer relationship with their nanny than them and worry they will lose out on being a part of their child’s life.

Is Jealousy Worse Than Envy?

Humans are emotional creatures. It is completely normal and healthy to feel jealous and envious every now and then. Both are unpleasant feelings that are difficult to experience and manage.

It is possible to feel jealousy and envy simultaneously. One feeling does not have to come before the other. For instance, you feel jealous that your partner is having a lot of late-night meetings with their co-worker. However, you are also envious of the co-worker’s good looks and success. The feelings of envy can worsen the feelings of jealousy.

Pathological jealousy is a psychological disorder where the person experiences delusions of their partner cheating even though they do not have any factual evidence. A person with pathological jealousy is very possessive, and obsessive of their partner and shows signs of extreme emotional imbalances.

They can become aggressive and verbally abusive. Treatment involves medication, therapy and interventions that focus on improving the self-esteem of both partners.

A review of the evolutionary psychology of the two feelings found that envy may not be as negative of an emotion as jealousy. It explained that envy can motivate a person to improve their life since envy occurs along the same spectrum of admiration. For instance, a person can be envious of someone’s success but use their envy to motivate them to work harder, copy their efforts and achieve similar success.

However, constantly feeling envious can also be detrimental to your emotional and mental well-being. If you always focus on wanting what someone else has, it can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and confidence. It can make you feel inadequate and believe you’re not good enough. In addition, you may start to have a negative outlook on life and treat those you are envious of poorly.

Tips to Manage Envy and Jealousy

Envy and jealousy are challenging emotions. Here are some tips to help you manage them:

  • Have an open and honest conversation with your partner: Talk to your partner about how you have been feeling. They won’t know what goes on inside of you unless you tell them. This gives them an opportunity to understand your situation and assess how their behavior is affecting you. Work together and discuss ways that can help you feel more secure in the relationship.
  • Get to know yourself and understand why you’re feeling this way: Everyone has insecurities and often these show up in the way we behave in our relationships. Speaking with a therapist, writing in your journal, meditating or doing self-reflection exercises can help you gain a better understanding of yourself, identify where those jealous or envious feelings are coming from and help you manage them.
  • Connect with loved ones: Talking to a friend or family member can help normalize these feelings and make you feel less alone. Everyone has felt jealous or envious before and talking about it can allow others to share ways they have dealt with those feelings. Loved ones can help remind you of all the amazing things you have in your life, your wonderful attributes and achievements.

Ultimately, there is a difference between jealousy and envy. It is possible to experience them at the same time. Although it is normal to feel these emotions every so often, they can become unhealthy if our minds are preoccupied with them.

If you’re regularly experiencing extreme feelings of envy and/or jealousy, it’s important to speak with a mental health professional. They can help you understand your emotions and provide you with healthy ways to cope.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Hart S, Carrington H. Jealousy in 6-month-old infants. Infancy. 2002;3(3):395–402.

  3. Kingham M, Gordon H. Aspects of morbid jealousy. Adv psychiatr treat. 2004;10(3):207–215.

  4. Seeman MV. Pathological jealousy: an interactive condition. Psychiatry. 2016;79(4):379–388.

  5. Ramachandran VS, Jalal B. The evolutionary psychology of envy and jealousy. Front Psychol. 2017;8. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01619

  6. Attridge M. Jealousy and relationship closeness: exploring the good (Reactive) and bad (Suspicious) sides of romantic jealousy. SAGE Open. 2013;3(1):215824401347605. doi:10.1177/2158244013476054

By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system.