What's the Difference Between Jealousy and Envy?

Emotions are complicated. And if you, like me, would rather spend your time baking a deranged amount of granola or meticulously color-coding your closet instead of actually facing them, I feel you. But part of being an adult is trying to make sense of the things we feel in a given day—and it helps when you can actually define them. So let’s start with the difference with jealousy and envy, shall we? 

To put it bluntly, we feel envy when we want something that someone else has that we don’t. As in: I’m envious of her flowing mane of hair, or her new high-powered job, or her angelic ability to play the trombone. On the other hand, we feel jealous when something we possess is being threatened by another person—or, in other words, when we worry that someone will take away something that we already have. You may feel jealous, for example, when your girlfriend is dancing with another guy; the emotion is a direct result of something you have (a relationship) being threatened by someone else. 

In short: envy is a reaction to lacking something, while jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something.

Although the two emotions are actually quite different, it’s easy to get them confused. First off, many people use them interchangeably; you may hear something like, “I’m jealous of his rock-hard abs,” when the correct term would actually be “envious.” Many times, however, jealousy and envy travel together; you may feel jealous when another guy is chatting up your girlfriend, and you may also be envious of some qualities that he has that you don’t.

But chances are, statistically, that guy doesn’t subscribe to What’s the Difference. So at least you have that going for you!

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