Envy is a movement of the soul that is as poisonous as it is unmentionable: it is the grip you feel when you are a loser in a social confrontation. It is experienced when another has something we would like: objects, social position, or qualities such as beauty or success in love. It is the suffering due to a losing confrontation with someone, in a field that is important to the person. It can be an emotion, that is, the "squeeze" felt when we learn that another has overtaken us, or it can become a lasting feeling: a state of malaise and inadequacy, with malevolence towards the envied person.Everyone feels it, for what is important to them. -From the boys, to the companion who gets better grades or is engaged, to the elderly: in a research conducted in retirement homes various guests confessed to envy those who receive more visits from children and grandchildren- explained Valentina D'Urso, former teacher of general psychology at the University of Padua and author of the Psychology of jealousy and envy.If everyone tries it, hardly anyone confesses it. It is permissible to get caught up in anger, wallow in laziness or suffer from jealousy, but being consumed with envy is not. -It is the most rejected negative emotion, because it has two dishonorable elements in it: the admission of being inferior and the attempt to damage the other without competing openly, but in a subtle way, considered petty- wrote D'Urso in the his book.In fact, envy is often characterized by hostility towards the other, by the desire to damage him (perhaps behind his back with derogatory comments) and to deprive him of what makes him ... enviable.There is another characteristic of envy that makes it difficult to admit, even to oneself. It is felt above all for those who are similar, for people who consider themselves comparable as starting conditions. For a woman the comparison with the beautiful and courted acquaintance is burning, more than the abstract and "disproportionate" one with a supermodel; the colleague who has been promoted is envied, not the general manager.Thus, people who are close to us and whom we love, such as classmates, colleagues, but also friends or brothers, often become targets of envy: equality of opportunity makes it painful to be inferior to the successes of a brother or a sister, in an important field for themselves.In addition, envy for the preferences made by parents (as in the biblical story of Joseph, a favorite of his father and then sold by his brothers) can be mixed with jealousy for the affection of parents, which one fears to lose.Those who are envious, therefore, send three messages: I am inferior, I am hostile to your success, and I may even harm you. Just as Cain killed Abel, whose sacrifices were more pleasing to God.Just think of an experiment conducted by Andrew Oswald, of the University of Warwick (Gb), and Daniel Zizzo, of the University of East Anglia (Gb): the participants, with a computer game, obtained different amounts of money randomly. Then they had the chance to burn other people's earnings, visible on the screen, remaining anonymous but sacrificing part of their winnings.And 62% of the players did it, paying up to 25 cents for every euro burned, that is, losing money in order to annihilate the wealth of others. Out of envy and resentment of unjust gains. Not only did the disadvantaged hit the richest and most benefited by bonuses: the rich, knowing they would be burned, hit everyone in retaliation ... The test revealed, say the authors, "the dark side of human nature".This is why envy is banned and condemned by society: it implies hostility and is socially destructive, because the envious person is potentially dangerous.Envy is poisonous even for those who experience it. -It's unpleasant. There is a sense of inadequacy and inferiority. You get the feeling that the other person's advantage is not deserved, and this creates frustration because you think you can't get the same thing. Furthermore, those who tend to be envious run the risk, instead of appreciating their own abilities in an absolute sense, of evaluating them only when compared with those of others who appear better: this decreases self-evaluation, ”says Smith.Painful in itself, potentially dangerous for others. Why then do we feel this emotion? Because envy is like fear, which is unpleasant but prepares us to react to a danger. It is a wake-up call: it quickly warns us that we are losers in social confrontation.In the course of evolution it seems a benefit has been revealed: the envious, who judged their success on the basis of that of their rivals, would have invested more efforts to achieve status and resources; while the less careful would be left behind, disadvantaged in natural selection.In the course of evolution it seems a benefit has been revealed: the envious, who judged their success on the basis of that of their rivals, would have invested more efforts to achieve status and resources; while the less careful would be left behind, disadvantaged in natural selection.Some consequent behaviors also have a specific function. Like not admitting envy: if you do not reveal your inferior position to the group, you are more credible in the hidden strategies of attack aimed at diminishing the rival's status. One of them is to speak ill of it. Who would listen to someone who "speaks only out of envy" after admitting it? Nobody.-This emotion is a call to action. Either you look for ways to "demean" a person (this is the case of "malign" envy) or you work hard to rise to his level (and this is what happens with a second form of envy, the benign one, devoid of hostile feelings ) - says Smith.- Envy can be benign when it leads to emulation: in this case it channels the energies to try to have a good or the recognition that has been given to others. In short, it is a push to get going: so we appeal to our abilities to reach that same goal. The models of "enviable" people (for example those proposed by society, such as sportsmen or celebrities) for whom one feels admiration, wanting to be like them, can push to emulation. And there are also cases in which the competition is legitimate, as in sport: whoever finishes second will be able to envy those who have passed, but will train to overcome it in the next race - says D’Urso. If envy signals a disadvantage, making an effort to recover it is the best strategy to avoid getting burnt.Not only. This drive towards emulation means that envy is one of the foundations ... of the consumer society: it leads to desire for the goods of others and to buy them. Susan Matt, historian of Weber State University (USA), argues that in the early 1900s, in American society, envy for consumption that only the rich could afford was "cleared": first condemned, it was then encouraged as legitimate aspiration of the middle and popular class, to which the goods of mass production were now available.The "consumer envy" does not lead to ill will towards the other, but to the purchase of a designer bag or a smartphone. And marketing fuels envy. Elite consumer goods are based on the fact that they are exclusive and those who own them are envied: and this, contrary to being envious, is a coveted feature. After all, saying "I envy you for ..." is an expression of admiration: admitted, because you don't really feel this emotion.But a pleasure is also connected to envy. Malign, of course: it is called schadenfreude, or satisfaction in the face of the misfortunes of others. If a crisis crushes a brilliant rival, if the charming acquaintance has a problem ... you can try schadenfreude.- The disadvantage of the other is the advantage per se in the terrain of social competition; inferiority and its unpleasantness can thus turn into superiority and satisfaction. The pain of envy is reduced and there is a pleasant sensation. Finally, the sense of injustice that is often part of envy subsides: misfortune seems deserved - explains Smith.It also unleashes schadenfreudes the fact that the other has deserved punishment, for example ending up in trouble because of a behavior that he himself had hypocritically condemned. And also the situations of rivalry between groups, where a loss for others is a gain for oneself: research has highlighted this satisfaction in football fans, for defeats of the rival team.One of Richard Smith's studies highlighted it in politics: -You try schadenfreude for the problems faced by politicians from rival parties, from sex scandals to gaffes. However, especially in electoral campaigns, satisfaction is also experienced for events that may have a bearing on the opponent’s defeat, even though it is negative news for everyone: for example, bad economic results. We found schadenfreude above all in the most involved supporters of a party, albeit mixed with the awareness that the facts were in themselves negative for the entire population.

Giovanna Camardo (Focus, 26 dicembre 2015)