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Why We Hate When Our Friends Gain

Research suggests we envy those who we have the most in common with and sometimes even find satisfaction in their misfortune.

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As teenagers, it was that feeling when a friend got a brand new car on their 16th birthday. As adults, it's when a friend lands that dream job. But why do we let envy take over when it comes to relationships with friends? Research suggests we envy those who we have the most in common with and sometimes even find satisfaction in their misfortune [1].

Green with Envy — The Need-to-Know

Research suggests we tend to compare ourselves with those we consider socially relevant, usually individuals of the same age, gender, or interests, often our friends. Jealousy rears its ugly head when we perceive those individuals as being superior to us in some way [1]. Envy can foster feelings of social exclusion, which researchers suggest can even produce a tangible, painful feeling for the envier [1]. Some researchers suggest the fear of social disapproval may be just what it takes to keep us in line and get a grip on those feelings of jealousy [2].

If we feel a friend has a particular advantage, we sometimes come to desire it for ourselves, and we may also wish for that person to lose said advantage. This gloating feeling— formally called schadenfreude— occurs when those we envy experience misfortune [3]. Not only are we more envious of those that are similar to us, but our brains’ pleasure mechanisms are more active when we are informed of their misfortune as compared to someone we don’t identify with [1].

Slaying the Green Eyed Monster — Your Action Plan

Besides the fear of social disapproval, there are a few steps we can take to keep that green monster at bay. Envying someone? Try complimenting the person on their achievement or using their success as motivation to reach personal goals, even if it means hitting the books, weights, or track harder than ever. Handling envy and schadenfreude with a positive attitude may help keep those pangs of jealousy from growing into a full-blown rivalry.

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Works Cited +

  1. When your gain is my pain and your pain is my gain: neural correlates of envy and schadenfreude. Takahashi H, Kato M, et. al. Department of Molecular Neuroimaging, National Institute of Radiological Sciences, 9-1, 4-chome, Anagawa, Inage-ku, Chiba, 263-8555, Japan. Science. 2009 Feb 13;323(5916):937-9.
  2. When people want what others have: The impulsive side of envious desire. Crusius J,Mussweiler T. Emotion. 2011 May 23. [Epub ahead of print].
  3. Intranasal administration of oxytocin increases envy and schadenfreude (gloating). Shamay-Tsoory SG, Fischer M, et. al. Department of Psychology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel. Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Nov 1;66(9):864-70. Epub 2009 Jul 29.