Chapter

Envy and the Challenges to Good Health

Richard H. Smith, David J. Y. Combs and Stephen M. Thielke

in Envy

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780195327953
Published online April 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199301485 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327953.003.0016
Envy and the Challenges to Good Health

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Many scholars over the centuries and across cultures have claimed that envy has a special capacity to create ill effects on mental and even physical wellbeing. Envy is claimed to have an enveloping, corrosive character that sours one's view of life, a kind of poison spreading throughout the body. But these claims are untested. This chapter examines these claims in light of scholarly work on envy and research linking psychological factors to mental and physical well-being. Evidence suggests that there is qualified evidence to support these claims. Envy is a painful reaction to an unflattering social comparison, revealing the lack of something desired but possessed by another person. Because what is desired is essentially beyond the envying person's power to obtain, the emotion involves feelings of inferiority, frustration, and resentment in some form. Envy is also a hostile emotion. This hostility, together with the inferiority implied by the unflattering social comparison, renders it socially repugnant, which, in turn, can imbue it with unpleasant feelings of shame. Remarkably, envy may lead to the devaluation of the other attributes possessed by the envying person and, over time, to the devaluation of the envy-causing attributes themselves. This combination of features undermines relationships with others, and counteracts positive emotions and health-promoting approaches to living. The ingredients of envy are thus implicated in much of the evidence linking social status and poor mental and physical health, especially as mediated by hostility.

Keywords: envy; physical well-being; mental health; cognitive-emotional factors; social status

Chapter.  12737 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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