The Neuroscience of Envy

Envy has long been condemned–by the Bible, for instance–but neuroscience is revealing the myopia of this viewpoint.  The truth is, envy is a two-sided coin.  On one side, there is malicious envy–the type the Bible condemned–from which flows greed and the resulting crimes against our neighbors.  On the other side, there is the benign envy that begets perfectionism–the inner-flame to improve/excel that is fanned by the admiration of our neighbors.  Neuroscientific studies are revealing what we might expect: good envy is good, and bad envy is bad.  Specifically, those with the good type of envy experience greater focus, sharpened memories and heightened perseverance. Those with the bad type of envy delight in the failures of others (instead of admiring their accomplishments), and as this author would venture to say, probably do not exert a positive net impact on their lives or the lives around them.  In sum envy can be a virtue or a vice depending on the mind’s eye of its beholder.

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