Jealousy Can Be A Good Thing — Here's Why

Experts discuss the benefits.

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Jealousy can be a good thing

Living in the digital age of social media sure has its perks (truly, what is life without funny TikTok videos?), but it also comes with its fair share of downsides. Given that most people share the highlight reel of their proudest and happiest moments on social media, jealousy is definitely one of the pitfalls of this post-happy society. Experiencing a twinge of envy when you see snaps of others having things you want — say it's your best friend from high school getting engaged or that influencer you love to follow buying their dream home — feels, well, awful. But, plot twist: jealousy is not all bad. It is an emotion that provides us with clues to what we truly want and can empower us to achieve our goals.

"Jealousy is an overwhelming feeling or state of insecurity about inequity or potential loss," says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University, to TZR. "It can be resentment of someone enjoying advantage or success or the fear of losing something/someone valuable to someone else. You may feel angry, confused, and anxious while you are jealous. You also may have a very strong feeling of resentment towards the person who has what you want." In other words, jealousy is a complex emotion that often comprises multiple feelings and will feel different for everyone, says Dr. Tiffany N. Brown, a licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct professor, to TZR.

Although it often doesn't feel great in the moment, feeling jealous is a very common and natural emotional experience, says Brown. However, she adds, it can potentially become unhealthy and problematic if you succumb to insecurities and act out instead of trying to understand the jealousy and process it. “Jealousy is unhealthy when it fuels damaging behavior, and someone's feelings cause them to become violent, controlling, manipulative, and/or obsessive,” Hafeez says. Brown adds that acting out behaviors can also look like belittling and criticizing a friend because you feel jealous, stalking, threatening someone, or trying to sabotage someone else's achievements.

That said, a little self-awareness goes a long way here. Keep reading to learn how to harness jealousy for good, according to psychologists.

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Shift How You See Jealousy

Like all emotions, Brown says jealousy is trying to tell you something. "Depending on the context, it may be making us aware of a potential loss, alerting us to unacknowledged desires or unmet wants or needs, or it may be showing up to communicate to us to be less trusting," she explains. So by simply viewing jealousy as a message rather than a negative experience, you're already on your way towards harnessing it for good.

Try To Understand The Jealousy

When jealousy pops up, Brown recommends letting go of any judgement you have towards yourself for feeling that way. Remember, it’s a totally normal emotion. Instead, she says, explore it and try to understand why it's coming up at that moment. According to Brown, exploring, understanding, and processing the feeling is what allows it to become a positive thing.

To help with this exploration, Hafeez advises getting out pen and paper and writing down a list of the people you're jealous of along with the specific things you’re jealous about. Then, going back and analyzing the list will help you understand why you’re feeling that way and what message jealousy has for you. "Is the root of your jealousy mainly steeped in material possessions, or are they emotional needs that are not being met?" Hafeez says. "Are you lacking in people in your life, be it more friends, a spouse, a mother figure, etc.? Are you disgruntled with your job or lack of one? Once you get to the root of what makes you jealous of others, you can try to find a way to achieve those goals for yourself."

If you need support with this process or you notice yourself leaning into unhealthy jealous behavior, Hafeez suggests talking to a therapist. Whether you work on understanding jealousy on your own or with the help of a professional, Hafeez says it will help improve your self-image and cultivate more positive thoughts about yourself which will in turn decrease feelings of jealousy.

Allow It To Motivate You

Someone else’s success or achievements doesn’t lessen your chances of doing the same, Hafeez says. If anything, it’s proof that if they can do something, you can, too. Instead of feeling angry about someone else’s wins, Hafeez recommends using that energy to propel you towards achieving your own goals.

The first step: Revisit your jealousy list and choose one thing that you uncovered you truly want and start taking action towards that goal. Hafeez suggests starting with one that feels the most realistic and achievable at the moment. The key, she adds, is to focus on one goal at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed.

And lastly, Hafeez reminds us that despite what people’s highly curated Instagram feeds may lead you to believe, no one has everything they want in their lives. It’s OK to take your time and move at your own pace.