Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Envy

I was driving to my little 3-hour-per-week job at the library this morning, listening to the radio.  The DJ was talking about a study out of Germany that was looking at jealousy as elicited by using Facebook.  The DJ said something like 32% of all people experience jealousy when using Facebook.

Really, the study is looking at envy, not jealousy (and the study itself uses the term envy).  For fun, let's look at the difference:

Envy is defined (on Wikipedia) as:  Envy is best defined as a resentful emotion that "occurs when a person lacks another's (perceived) superior quality, achievement or possession and wishes that the other lacked it."[1]

Jealousy, on the other hand, although usually used as a synonym of envy, is defined differently:  Jealousy is an emotion and typically refers to the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the person values, particularly in reference to a human connection. Jealousy often consists of a combination of presenting emotions such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness and disgust.

I wonder if the facts that the median age of the study participants was 24 and that most (almost 90%) were students, had something to do with the outcome.  I wonder if the statistics would be different if the median age were, say 40.  Strike that, I'm all but certain that the outcome would be different if you were dealing with middle-aged people who had their lives in a fairly stable place.

You could take a look at the study yourself.  After actually skimming through it, I think it is rather bogus and not very scientific at all. 

But this statement on the radio made me think.  I am very happy to report (and realize) that I don't remember the last time I felt envy towards anyone for anything they owned or had. Occasionally I feel a desire to go on a trip when someone is talking about their travels, but I'm not jealous of them doing it, it's just a desire to go somewhere myself. I also sometimes wish I had certain skills that other people have. But again, this isn't a negative emotion, it is simply a wish. 

I should hope that maturity takes away the tendency to jealousy.  There is probably an evolutionary explanation for this - that as you grow older, the utility of envy (that emotion that drives you to want to collect more stuff) is lower - you already have the things you need to live your life and looking at what others own is less useful.  Or maybe it doesn't wane naturally with age, but in my experience it certainly has.  And, really, that's all I have to base my opinions on.

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