Why are We Jealous of a Friend’s Success?

If you tend to be more jealous and resentful than happy for someone, your feelings aren’t as rare as you think. Struggling with this internal dilemma is difficult, but what really drives us to be jealous?


Wild Goats Fighting

Wild goats butting heads.

Sarah Hill and David Buss, in The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy, find we are envious due to the competition of resources. Comparing ourselves socially determines where we stand in society, and how to adjust. Natural selection has shaped envy to signal competitive disadvantage and combines with the desire to possess the same advantage. Unlike common conception, celebrities and millionaires are not the targets of men and women’s envy, even though they have greater access to resources. Primary sources of envy are friends, siblings and co-workers because our inner circle is who we are in direct resource competition. This explains how personal income can make a person happy or sad, but they are far more likely to be satisfied when their colleagues earn less than them.[1]

Jealousy Response

Submission, ambition and destruction are human responses to envy. Ambition refers to competition, submission means avoiding the situation that causes envy, and destruction means denigrating, criticising or gossiping.



Exploring common consensus, findings show we cannot control a lot of jealousy. Jealousy is deemed a ‘natural, instinctive emotion that everyone experiences at one point or another’.  Lisa Firestone, a clinical psychologist, identifies that jealousy is problematic when it masks other feelings and attitudes that are detrimental, such as insecurity and shame. She writes, on Psychology Today, we have an internal coach, consisting of critical inner voices formed as children. If we felt insignificant as children, it is likely that we carried this into adulthood.  Due to feelings of self-criticism, that are so internalised, we are often unaware of the basic shame we carry around with us.  Determining if jealousy is a reasonable reaction or an inner projection, it means we have to become self-aware of the inner voice driving fears, uncertainties and self-doubt.

Is Social Media Making Us More Jealous?


In September 2016, the number of active accounts on Facebook were 1.7bn; Instagram, 500m; and Twitter, 313m. Associations between social media and depression are so great, that even the NHS discusses it on their website. If you leave social media with negative feelings of your own life, you are not alone. Strongly epitomising the phrase the grass is always greener on the other side, associations between social media, envy and depression are widely studied. Defined as a genuine psychological effect, ‘Facebook envy’ causes feelings of inadequacy and competition after use.

Computers in Human Behaviour

The Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Bradley University and the University of Missouri in the United States, took part in a peer-review journal, Computers in Human Behaviour.  Influenced by the evolutionary concept ‘social rank theory’, the report examines how depression results from humans competion for resources.  736 college students in the United States answered a series of questions concerning Facebook, and researchers evaluated them against the Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale (CES-D), one of the most common measures of depression.[2]


Findings showed that the link between Facebook and depression is not a direct cause and effect relationship.  Nonetheless, heavier use of Facebook resulted in stronger, exacerbated feelings of envy. Facebook encourages envy and the envy can lead to depression.  Incredibly easy to rate our lives against others, social media perpetuates comparison. When used for surveillance and ‘spying’ on others, Facebook leads to further envy.   Actively engaging on social media, posting pictures, commenting and making statuses lessens envy. Effects are not synonymous with all people, as personal characteristics, lifestyle, and physical and mental health can all be a factor.  Reports concluded that Facebook use is not depressing unless it triggers feelings of envy.  When envy is mediated and controlled for, Facebook can actually lessen depression.

Self-Promotion Envy Cycles


Example from the photo series by Chompoo Baritone, a photographer in Bangkok, Thailand

Studies from Darmstadt Technical University and Humboldt University, in Berlin, argue that the result of Facebook is a self-promotional, envy cycle.  We believe other people are richer, have more friends, more free time, better looking and happier than us. Mostly jealous of holiday photos, research displays people are also influenced by likes, comments and social lives.  Inherently, these images and posts are unrealistic, only depicting a literal picture perfect lifestyle. However, these beliefs are in addition to our fundamental tendency to believe other people are happier than us generally.

Hiding our Negative Feelings

A 2010 Stanford study, indicates 40% of the time we deliberately hide negative feelings, but don’t realise others are doing and feeling the same.  Social media ‘confirms’ what we already think. Our consumption of these images, and dissatisfaction with them, leads us to compete and attempt to prove that we are happy too, depicting only the best of our lives. Fabricating our lives leads others to do the same and thus we have the self-promotional envy cycle.

How to Deal with Jealousy

As discussed, feelings of jealousy can indicate feelings of inadequacy.  Seeking fulfilment from comparison with others will mean you are never enough.  Solutions to evolutionary envy are not to compete, and as shown with Facebook, as it does not lead anywhere but a cycle of competition. You have to identify with yourself, why you have trouble witnessing success, wealth and beauty of another person.

Combating Jealous Feelings

Tara Sophia Mohr

Tara Sophia Mohr

Focusing on personal attitude and a ‘what can I do’ approach, assists with dealing with these feelings.   Tara Sophia Mohr, a writer, coach, and personal growth teacher, states ‘our ability to celebrate and affirm another’s brilliance, creativity, ambition is exactly correlated to how much we are honouring and standing with our own’.  You must shine a light on your own life, identifying where dissatisfaction truly lies and what you are willing to do to change your situation.  Spend energy on promoting your achievements and improving yourself.  Preventing gossiping and criticism can prevent damaging relationships.  As Lisa Firestone stated, you have to acknowledge the inner critic and explore the fears, uncertainties and self-doubt.





[1] Sarah E. Hill and David M. Buss. Envy and Positional Bias in the Evolutionary Psychology of Management, University of Texas, Austin.  USA MANAGERIAL AND DECISION ECONOMICS, 27: 131–143 (2006) Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/mde.1288

[2] Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Patrick Ferrucci, Margaret Duffy. (2015). Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebooking depressing? Computers in Human Behavior, 4, 139-146.

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