27 March, 2018
Imagine that you and your best friend dream about the same job or position. You both spend hours discussing how wonderful it will be for you to have such a job. Eventually, there is such a proposal. After going through a lengthy and difficult process of initial application for the position, you both manage to get to the final interview. When the final results are announced, you understand that you are rejected and your friend has received and accepted the job offer.
How will you feel?
If you are honest, you will have to admit that you will experience envy rather than joy in this situation.
In 1988, Professor Abraham Tesser of the University of Jordan, based on his research, created the Self-Evaluation Maintenance (SEM). This theory examines the relationship between two people, confirms and fully reveals an uncharacteristically positive aspect of human nature: envy. Prof. Tesser proves that envy is more intense when someone close to you is doing well in an area where you would want to be good. For example, if you are engaged in dancing, you will experience a stronger envy when your relative - for example, your best friend or sister, not a distant cousin or a stranger - is a better dancer than you. Interestingly, you will not feel the same if your relative succeeds in an area where you are not interested in doing well. In this case you will be proud of their achievements. For example, if your best friend is a famous rock climber, but you are not getting involved in rock climbing, you would feel really happy and even hang on with your friend's glory, boasting his accomplishments.
In summary, envy occurs when someone close to us does better than we do with something in which we think we are or want to be good (professionals).
But why do we feel that? And should we feel that way?
The answer to the first question is fairly straightforward and clear. We have an evolutionary predisposition to envy when someone is doing better than us in something. This is the reason to develop, improve our abilities to outperform others. Research shows that we are much more motivated when envisioning someone and striving to surpass them. Throughout most of the history of human society, we’ve evolved as individuals, living in groups of approximately 150 close people. We share our resources with them, while struggling to take more for ourselves. In this sense, we will get more food and closeness if we are better than others in our work, in building relationships (relative to hunting and battles of people of the past). That is why we are instinctively motivated to be better than our relatives and envy helps us achieve better results.
Should we feel that way? The answer to this question is not so easy.
Our reality, the world in which we live, is completely different from that in which our ancestors have lived. Now we live in big cities where we do not even know most of our neighbours. Moreover, for most of us who live in small families far from the extended family with many relatives, we not only rarely meet the family (once a week, if not less often), but also the meaning of a "circle of close relatives "is questionable because our close contacts are not with our relatives, but with other people in the community in which we live and/or work. Very often, our immediate community is changing due to the growing labour mobility and migration processes for political or economic reasons. Decreasing our circle of loved ones also reduces the possibility of envying the successes of our closest ones because they are becoming less and less likely to be in our area of expertise.
Another reason that weakens the incidence of envy is that, in the time and environment in which we live, most of us have everything we need to survive. Most people who read this article do not struggle for food, clothing or shelter in the context of meeting their basic needs. If we had to fight for our survival, it would make sense to strive to overtake others at all costs. Nowadays, the findings of positive psychology are becoming more and more important, and they teach us that in order for us to be well, we must be happy, balanced and strive for constructive development i.e. to thrive. And for thriving, jealousy, if not something else, is strictly contraindicated.
Why Envy is Contraindicated? Because the critical determinant of success nowadays is the ability to make others trust us. And they will do so only if they have a positive attitude towards us. Let us recall two of the six principles of constructing influence, according to Robert Chaldinis - the manifestation of reciprocity and liking. Just imagine, if you envy your close colleagues and friends, what would happen? Following the principle of reciprocity - they will be repulsed by you, and in addition you will never be able to make them like you the way they have done so far.
Only if we feel proud and happy with the achievements of others, not envious and jealous, we will be able to preserve good relations and mutual feelings, which is crucial for our future prosperity.