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Beyond the Conjunction

Envy/Contentment

 

Happy Podiversary to us! I’m ridiculously happy with this little ‘cast and am always amazed at how much fun I have talking about these ideas with Diane. I feel most comfortable writing about things (the “edit” function is a beautiful thing), so this has been a very stretching, challenging, delightful, and satisfying exercise for me. Here’s to another year of thoughtfulness and laughs!

As for our new episode, perhaps looking at a ubiquitous emotion that contrasts with contentment was a good choice for a podiversary. (Not sure if there is a connection to be made there, but roll with me.) Even though we focused on Dr. Sarah Protasi’s unique concept of Emulative Envy for the bulk of our discussion, there are several other forms she describes worth considering as we evaluate the way envy manifests in our own lives.

You may remember the two distinctions Protasi says defines each varietal of envy: the focus of the envy (either on the good desired or the person envied), and the attainability of the good (whether or not the good is obtainable). How potentially harmful and vicious an instance of envy is depends on how it manifests along those two lines. Helpfully, Protasi provides a graph that locates each of her four varieties of envy — Inert, Emulative, Aggressive, Spiteful — and begins to make clear which kinds of envy are harmful, which can be beneficial, and which may lie somewhere in between.

Figure from Protasi “Varieties of Envy” from  Philosophical Psychology  2016.

Figure from Protasi “Varieties of Envy” from Philosophical Psychology 2016.

Thinking of Martha Nussbaum’s idea that all emotions relate to our beliefs about what contributes our well-being, I can see how each experience of envy, if nurtured without balance, impacts my eudaimonia. Inert Envy could easily lead to hopelessness or depression. Spiteful Envy can easily lead to resentment. Aggressive Envy can easily lead to entitlement or actual aggression. Emulative Envy is the outlier, as it can easily lead to hope or a commitment to work towards new goods, having a positive effect on our lives. (Ultimately, however, because of its negative valence, it seems like even Emulative Envy would be better replaced with something like admiration. But perhaps we need that little painful twinge to motivate us to work towards the good we see in others.)

It is very instructive to think through the situations in which we experience each kind of envy. As I mentioned during our chat, it certainly revealed some uncomfortable realities about my mental life to me. Unfortunately, confronting our envy does not come easily or naturally. Protasi says research has shown that envy is an emotion we avoid talking about. Most of the time it is the Voldemort of vices, the vice that shall not be named.

Envy is difficult to talk about, in part, because it lays bare the very things we find valuable in others and feel like we lack in ourselves. Envy identifies something we think is good, and admits “I don’t have that good. That good is not part of me, not part of my life. That good would make my life and myself better.” Envy sees others with that good as ultimately “better,” or “more valuable” in some way than we see ourselves to be. Confessing envy is thus confessing to being in a vulnerable state of inferiority, and perhaps even more importantly, reveals a deep fear about our worth as individuals in a world of many other diversely good individuals.

I don’t have an easy conclusion or solution to this problem (tackling our fears and insecurities is a lifelong task with many elements), but certainly seeing our envy experiences for what they are is a good starting point. Acknowledging our envy will help us navigate our insecurities better and will help us start to find the more deeply real things in them, about ourselves and about the world around us. Most importantly, acknowledging our envy will help us adjust or refine our values as envy lays bare what we value instinctively — instead of what we say we value — and thus gives us a good starting point to critically examining our values and figuring out what adjustments we might need to make. (Do I really think I would be a better, more valuable person if I were more fit? No. So now I know I need to do some work to uproot that subconscious belief — the belief giving rise to my envy — with better, truer beliefs about the world and myself. Bam. Nussbaum-approved.)

And if after analyzing your envy you find yourself needing a break from that kind of deep character work (and it is work), practice a little self-love and make yourself some delicious lentil soup like Diane does! It appears that this Curried Lentil, Tomato, and Coconut Soup is to-die. (Let’s be honest, anything by Yotam Ottolenghi is amaze.) Make it, tell us how much you love it, and make us have to practice lentil soup contentment in the face of lentil soup envy. (The fifth, most vicious and nefarious form of envy.)

 
 
Image from  Epicurious.com .

Image from Epicurious.com.

 

Until next time!

xo, Jana

Jana LightComment