They say that the grass is always greener on the other side. Most of us are quite familiar with this sentiment, and maybe even with the feeling. Some of us want our neighbor’s fancier car; some of us yearn for our co-worker’s higher salary; some of us may even look on with great desire at the burger the guy at the other table is eating. This is envy.
Envy is a resentment which “occurs when someone lacks another’s quality, achievement or possession and wishes that the other lacked it.”
(Wikipedia: Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy; Jean Louis Théodore Géricault (1791–1824))
The British philosopher, Bertrand Russell is known to have said that envy was one of the primary causes of unhappiness. Not only that, but he also reasoned that the envious person also wishes to inflict misfortune on others. While envy is generally seen as a negative trait, Russell also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy.
Indeed, psychologists have recently suggested that there may be two types of envy: malicious envy and benign envy; benign envy being proposed as a type of positive motivational force.
Evolutionary psychologists at Texas Christian University at Austin have suggested that the frustration and feelings of inferiority that come along with envy could act as a warning signal, alerting us to disadvantage and motivating us to outperform those who feel indifferent. To wit: a 2009 study in the Netherlands revealed that participants who experienced this so-called “benign envy” were more persistent and successful than their peers.
Back in October, I blogged about a new study conducted by the Pew Research Center suggesting that divorce may be contagious. I concluded that actual divorce cannot spread from person to person like the plague; rather, it must be something else driving people to act in accord with their peers. I suggested that perhaps it was the courage to divorce that was contagious.
Now I come to you with another theory to ponder. Perhaps it is the envy that is the driving force behind the uptick in divorce among certain peer groups.
To test this proposition, I scoured the blogs. Google wasted no time in pointing me in the right direction.
On Mommyish.com, I came across a blog post entitled – Divorce Envy: Mothers Who Are Jealous of Their Divorced Friends’ Free Time. The blogger suggested:
…for divorced mothers who have the luxury of a co-parenting ex, their weekends away from their children can read like spa vacations to some of their overworked, married counterparts. The passing of a divorced woman on her way to meet friends for coffee or enjoy a yoga class child-free can incite only one sentiment: divorce envy.
The blogger solicited anecdotes from readers, and highlighted one in particular, Jana, a full time working married mother of a 1 year old girl, who confirmed that divorce envy is common among her friends:
They are envious of the ‘me time’ that married mothers so often forgo for the health and happiness of their spouse and children,” she observes. “I get it, because I see so many women having to juggle the needs of both their kids and their husbands. Where are their needs being met?
The feeling is not limited to stressed-out mothers and wives, however. About one in four men who have divorced or split up with their wives admitted their decision was influenced by friends who had recently done the same. Further, one in ten confessed they just wanted the same happiness as their single friends.
Envy. It can be “the ulcer of the soul” as Shakespeare has put it. But it can also be the driving force behind many a triumph. But one thing is for sure – it is certainly contagious.
Next up: Greed.
Eliana T. Baer is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or email@example.com.