Envy is usually seen as a negative thing. Envy is the feeling you shouldn’t have, and when you do, you feel bad about it. But the truth is, envy can actually be a powerful catalyst to make positive changes in your life. And research in the field of psychology explains why envy can actually be a good thing. Here’s why.

Before we dive in, it’s important to remember the difference between envy and jealousy.

Jealousy is when you’re afraid to lose something you already have. Envy is when someone has something that you don’t have, but you want.

In general, envy comes from a scarcity mindset. This is a fear-based mindset that says, “There isn’t enough to go around. And there’s not enough for everyone – including me.”

So, how can you take this usually negative emotion, and turn it into a positive experience?

According to Manhattan-based psychologist, Dr. Lauren Appio, the key is to be curious about your envy. She explains that if you do, “you may learn that there is something important missing in your relationships or career. You can then use that insight to make the changes in your life that help you get or keep what is valuable to you.”

Appio’s insight is confirmed in a study called, Why envy outperforms admiration. Here, researchers found that envy, more than other emotion, pushes individuals to perform better and ultimately, to improve.

Is envy comfortable? Definitely not. As psycology professor Sarah Hill explains, envy is “kind of like experiencing physical pain. When we touch something hot…that sort of thing isn’t pleasant, but ultimately it provides a useful, adaptive function.”

So, to use envy as a motivator and improve your life, consider doing the following things:

  • Believe that there is enough to go around and that you can obtain what you want and need.
  • Pay attention to your envy and try to understand why you feel envious. Ask yourself, “What is it that I want that I don’t have?’ Then, find ways to obtain what you want.
  • Be kind and compassionate to yourself when you feel envy. If you deny your envious feelings or think that they’re “bad”, you’ll never learn from them.

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