Just yesterday my son asked me the difference between the words ‘envy’ and ‘jealous’. Usually, I would tell him to refer to the dictionary but since we were inside the car and no dictionary was within our reach, I hazard a guess.
I said both describe feelings of wanting something that somebody else has but while envy is a positive feeling, jealousy is negative.
Then I rechecked in the internet, and these are the explanations:
- Although these are often treated as synonyms, there is a difference. You are envious of what others have that you lack. Jealousy, on the other hand, involves wanting to hold on to what you do have. You can be jealous of your boyfriend’s attraction to other women, but you’re envious of your boyfriend’s CD collection.
- The main difference between envy and jealousy is that envy is an emotion related to coveting what someone else has, while jealousy is the emotion related to fear that something you have will be taken away by someone else.
‘Envy’ is further explained as : “to bear a grudge toward someone due to coveting what that person has or enjoys.” In a milder sense, it means “the longing for something someone else has without any ill will intended toward that person.”
‘Jealous’ as : “apprehensive or vengeful out of fear of being replaced by someone else.” It can also mean “watchful, ” “anxiously suspicious, ” “zealous, ” or “expecting complete devotion.” The last is normally applied to God.”
- Oxford dictionary : Envy is a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck and Jealous is ‘feeling or showing an envious resentment of someone or their achievements, possessions, or perceived advantages’.
- Cambridge dictionary : Envy is ‘to wish that you had something that another person has’ and Jealous is ‘unhappy and angry because someone has something or someone you want, or because you think they might take something or someone that you love away from you’.
I also checked a few printed dictionaries, and find that most either states something similar to no. 3 or no. 4. In the end, I have to make a choice, which is not an easy task, since it depends on context of the sentence.
But if I am to choose, I prefer the meaning given by my old 1992 Longman Active Study Dictionary of English, which was a gift from my school, which states among others, that ‘jealousy is a stronger and more unpleasant feeling than envy’ and that envy is ‘a feeling one has towards someone when one wishes that one had his/her qualities or possessions’.
Therefore, it is okay to be envious of the success of others, it could even be a motivating factor, but jealousy should not be cultivated.