I think Aristotle once said to be jealous is reasonable, but
envy leads only to bad things. But you have to ask yourself why? Aren’t these the same things? Well no, we often confuse the meaning of these words and today we are going to spend some time explaining why they are different. Don't worry we won't get too philosophical in this English fluency practice lesson.
20 years ago, you might only have been jealous and or envious of someone on TV, or maybe one of your neighbours. But today we overwhelmed by so many images and videos from so many devices we can hardly avoid seeing what others have and are doing and let’s be honest it makes us feel something.
not necessarily your fault to have negative feelings, it seems today, especially with social media, your encouraged to feel envy or jealousy, it generates more clicks for advertisers. And let us not forget that jealously can be a positive motivator, it does not always have to negative, so we talk about this.
Being jealous and or envious does not have to be about extreme wealth or social advantage either. With the UK mostly locked down, we are even are even more vulnerable to envy and jealousy as the simple things in life like being able to go to a restaurant are not possible. So seeing someone who isn’t locked down is hard, it generates feelings, and it’s probably a good idea to be aware of these feelings.
Fixate Facet Envious Jealous Motivator
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Anyway, let’s talk today about two words in English, whose meaning English speakers themselves often get mixed up. People aren’t clear always on the difference between these two words. And they’re abstract nouns – that means nouns, which aren’t about something concrete, aren’t about something you can touch. So this podcast will give you practice with abstract nouns and hopefully will be an interesting thing to think about as well.
So the two words I’m going to talk about today are jealousy, J-E-A-L-O-U-S-Y and envy, E-N-V-Y. So these are both abstract nouns and they describe feelings, usually negative feelings that we might have. So there are also adjectives which go with these nouns. If you feel jealousy, then we might say that you are ‘jealous’, J-E-A-L-O-U-S and if you feel envy, then we might say that you are ‘envious’, E-N-V-I-O-U-S. Of the two, jealousy is probably the worse thing to feel, but both can be a problem.
So what do these words mean, what’s their definition? They’re fairly similar in meaning, which is why I say that English speakers themselves sometimes mix these up. So if you feel jealousy or you are jealous, then that’s usually because someone you like, or someone you love is giving their attention and their time to someone else, not you.
They are paying more attention to another person, they’re giving someone else priority. And not just this, but you also feel threatened by it, you’re feeling uncomfortable about it, because it feels as though you are going to get less attention as result, you’re going to be less important to that person as a result.
So it’s not a nice feeling. It’s not pleasant or enjoyable to feel jealous. And we talk about jealousy as a bad thing. In English sometimes, we might even call it ‘the green-eyed monster’! Why do English speakers refer to jealousy as ‘the green-eyed monster’? Well, it’s Shakespearean – it comes from Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello’. “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
So jealousy, the green-eyed monster, can be a problem. But whose problem is it? Is it the problem of the person who feels jealousy, or is it the other person’s problem? Well, I think it depends upon what situation the jealousy is happening in. Most people can feel jealousy over their husband or their wife, their boyfriend or girlfriend, if they feel that too much of this person’s attention is going elsewhere, to another person.
Jealousy is both reasonable and belongs to reasonable men, while envy is base and belongs to the base, for the one makes himself get good things by jealousy, while the other does not allow his neighbour to have them through envy.
⭐ Aristotle, Philosopher
Most people in intimate relationships don’t expect to share! I think that’s normal – so it would be normal to feel jealous if your wife decided to have a relationship with another man, or if your boyfriend was in daily contact, with an ex-, with someone from a prior relationship. Sometimes people’s behaviour causes jealousy which is understandable. Jealousy can happen in families too.
It’s common amongst children within the same family – our word for that is siblings, S-I-B-L-I-N-G-S. That means sisters or brothers. Jealousy is very common and normal here. Imagine the child whose parents bring home a new baby from the hospital and suddenly the child feels as though everything is about the new baby. Jealousy is normal there – and good parents try to work against that.
But sometimes parents have their favourites amongst their children, which can make jealousy happen and can be unfair. If you have pets, say more than one dog in your house, sometimes they can be jealous of each other. It can be quite funny – one dog may be obviously worried that you’re going to give more attention to the other dog – and they do funny things as a result. So it’s important to be fair. But if jealousy is happening with your friends, then sometimes that’s a problem on the part of the person who feels jealous.
Friendship is usually what we call ‘non-possessive’ – you don’t need your friend to be ‘all yours’, just your friend and no one else’s friend. Usually with a good friend, there is room, there is space for that person to have other friendships as well as yours. And you have other friends as well as that person. So if there’s jealousy there, that’s a problem. So jealousy sometimes has good reasons, it can be justified – and sometimes jealousy is a problem in a person’s character and it appears where it’s not justified.
Envy is different. If we envy someone – so yes, ‘to envy’ is also a verb - if we envy someone, it means that we would like to have what they have. So to some extent, it’s a natural feeling. If you’ve got a clapped-out old car, that breaks down all the time – and you see that your neighbour has a brand new car, just the type that you’d like to have, if you had the money, then to feel some envy – well, that’s normal.
If you live in a flat, an apartment with a leaky roof and no heating – and you see that someone else lives in a beautiful house, in a nice part of town, with a big garden – then envy is normal there too. You wish you lived in a house like theirs.
But where envy can be a problem is where it eats away at you. Where you spend a lot of your time, in envy, feeling envy of other people. And this makes you more unhappy with your own life. You don’t have a way of getting that car or owning that house immediately. So you can let that want, that envy inspire you to work hard. So sometimes it can be a positive force in that way.
But often, you simply cannot get or cannot have the thing that you envy, it’s impossible. So to spend lots of energy wishing that you had that thing, is not only a waste or time, but it can be quite a negative force in your life. It can stop you valuing what you do have.
Social media – and Instagram, Facebook – often they set up envy in people. People post photos of their children, their clothes, their holidays, their houses. For young people, girls especially, it can be envy around personal appearance. “Look at her lovely eyebrows! I wish I had her shiny hair or her enormous blue eyes or her fashion-sense. I wish I was slim, like she is, I wish I had her long legs.”
A photograph of a jealous woman looking at her partner messaging on social media.
It can sometimes be a real focus – and then it seems impossible to be happy with what you have – and it can seem as though only having what the other person has, can make you happy. Even though that’s impossible. People focus too much – they ‘fixate’. ‘To fixate’, F-I-X-A-T-E – that’s a good English verb for it. People can focus too much, they can fixate.
So it can be around personal appearance, or it can be around what people have. Their lifestyle. ‘Lifestyle’ includes things like the person’s job, how senior they are, or how interesting or important their job is, their home, their family, their friends, how much money they have, their car, how often they go on holiday, how fantastic their holiday location is. What we often forget however, when we’re viewing these things online, these parts of other people’s lives, what we forget is that we’re seeing is only the best of it.
The person posting probably paid very close attention to their appearance. They probably took 22 photographs of themselves, before carefully selecting the best-looking one to post online. They took a photograph of their house from a particular angle, missing out details which might not look so good. People represent only the positive, the successful, the most appealing facets of their lives. Few people or fewer people are honest about the negatives.
‘Oh, here’s a photograph of me – I didn’t sleep well last night and I just had a big row with my husband and I just found out I’ve put on some weight and now my son’s refused to do his homework again and I desperately need to get to the hairdresser.’ No one’s going to post that photograph, that description! Few people are posting that sort of thing, even though it may be closer to the truth!
So we’re faced with images that tell stories that aren’t quite true. They’re an edited version of the truth. And we do know that, we do recognise that. But the danger is that these lovely images still make us envious and then more critical of ourselves, our lives and what we have. The danger is we still feel discontented because our life isn’t better, we’re not better.
So I suppose my thinking around envy, especially around social media is two-fold. First of all, if you post on social media, ask yourself – why am I doing this? Why am I posting this? Do I want other people to feel bad, because what I have looks better than what they have? Am I looking for approval, am I looking for admiration? And if so, why? Is there not a better place in my life that I could get this? And secondly, when we’re looking at social media, I think we should be wary of those feelings that tell us we haven’t got what the other person has, therefore our lives are less than theirs.
Why don’t we look instead at what we do have? Look instead at the positives in our lives. And look at our skills and talents. What will be possible in the future with those? Surely that’s a better use of our energy?
So there we have it – jealousy and envy, some thoughts about what the differences are. And some comment on the use of social media – all while you continue to improve your English! Learn English language with Adept English.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.