Envy. The feeling of discontent or covetousness aroused by someone else’s possessions, success, or luck. That’s the dictionary definition, but what is envy? The feeling when your best friend beats you to an award or a prize you have been craving for, when your friend wins the lottery with the ticket you gifted him for his birthday, or when your co-worker gets a promotion as well as a huge pay rise, while you are still stuck in your cramped, tiny cubicle.

The word envy has become so commonplace in our vocabulary that we end up using it, more often than not, at least five to ten times a day. But the word envy actually comes from the Latin word invidere, which means “to look against, to look at in a hostile manner”. Invidia, or envy, is one of the seven deadly sins in Christian belief. But, in reality, my opinion is that envy is just a harmless emotion that is typical of human nature.

Any normal human being is bound to feel disappointed if he just missed out on winning a $100,000 lottery, and his or her close friend won it instead. But we don’t go killing our friend or trying to steal the ticket away from him or her, right?

Well, mostly, yes. But there lies the problem. For most of us, envy is not a very significant emotion. Life just goes on. But in the extreme cases, envy can be quite discerning. Sometimes, the feeling of envy is so overpowering that we can yield to it and make terrible decisions we will regret for a long, long time.

Envy doesn’t even have its own emoticon in our smart phones, because it is just so ambiguous. If I asked you what envy would look like, would you have a definite answer? Well, most probably, no. The way each one of us experience envy is unique to each of us. Unlike fear, or anger, envy is a type of emotion that is, in a way, very difficult to explain.

However, one thing that is closely associated with envy is the colour green. “Green with envy” or “Green eyed jealousy” is commonly used to describe an envious person. Even Shakespeare used the latter phrase to describe envy in the late 1500s and early 1600s. But why the colour green, and not red, or brown, or black? No one knows for sure, but one credible theory is that it is a reference to cats, which are usually green-eyed. Maybe even because dark green is sort of like a very mysterious colour, being associated with the dark world of wizards, witches, and sorcerers.

Yes, envy is a negative feeling, and can often lead to despair and disillusionment with life, but it can also be used in a constructive way. Let’s go back to those previous examples. When my friend beats me to first place in that 100m race I desperately wanted to win, the envy building up inside me is so overpowering that I cannot rest till I win the race the next time around.

Envy spurs us on to achieve that success or award we covet, so much so that once we have our heart set on something, we just can’t stop till we have accomplished our mission. The agony and grief of defeat creates inside us that indomitable fire, which nothing in the world can extinguish. Then, success will inevitably follow. Take a look at this quote from Margaret Thatcher –

“The spirit of envy can destroy; it can never build.”

But let’s modify it a little bit,

“The spirit of envy can destroy weakness, and build strength”.

And that is its silver lining.