Oh, I am so jealous

Recently, at the start of one of my classes, I found myself wrapped up in a savoring sense of jealously. As the student expressed their intention of travel to Japan, I found myself jealous that it was not me making the trip. I had lived in Japan for over five years and loved each and every second. In my head, I wanted to go back and be the one with the plane ticket; I wanted what he was going to have. I went on a flight reservation site just to see how much it would cost to fly there. I looked up pictures and even found a snap shot of my tiny apartment in Okinawa situated on the seawall where I spent many evenings soaking in the salt-filled air and wondering how life would turn out for me. I even looked up a few old friends on Facebook and commented on their post, to which I was pleasantly surprised that I received responses back.

The emotion of jealousy, like pessimism often rides with a side car of negative connotations. There are two basic definitions of jealousy. The first associated with the negative feelings when one perceives another desires that person’s love interest.  The seconds, related more to what I am discussing here, the dictionary defines jealousy as:  an unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has.  Overall, this tends to still skew towards a negative connotation.  For someone to “accuse” a person of being pessimistic or jealous certainly draws out a barrage of defensive feelings— the projectionist “Why, how dare you”; the deny-er “I AM NOT!,” and of course the justifier “let me explain”.  Could it ever be that jealousy could actually be good for us?

The positive side of jealousy

To that I say yes, I am jealous and I love it!—more to come no that later.  In an interview regarding his consultation on the movie, Dacher Keltner, an expert on emotions and professor at Berkley University, commented on the skepticism producers had over the use of sadness in the movie Inside Out;  “In our culture, we’re tough on sadness, but it’s a powerful trigger for seeking comfort and bonding,” Keltner says. “Meanwhile, anger is often about the sense of being treated unfairly, and can be a motivator for social change.”1

It is not as simple as saying anger equals hostility and sadness equals depression. Nor as simple as to say the jealousy is the vixen of the heart and evil mind. What Keltner highlights in his books is that it is the process of finding associations that are not so obvious. In other words, what are perceived as negative emotions can in fact have positive outcomes. So how to get to the root of understanding? In my case, it was stopping and analyzing what does this emotion truly mean? As we loop back to the definition of jealousy, note one of the operant words was desire; desire may also be experienced as a positive emotion, as it is similar to love.

Happy to be Jealous

I loved it in Japan! It was place that made me feel good. It was fun to search for tickets and think of possibilities, wondering if my favorite curry-house was still there; it was exciting to recall the times I I went scuba diving in the East China Sea (so grateful for that experience), and what a rush to reconnect with my wild-child side and recollect dancing in the rain on the roof-top bars out Gate 2 (don’t tell my kids about that one), and last, the motivation to reconnect with military buddies; my partners in the great exploration of life.  Of course I am jealous! These things make me feel alive and are important parts of my life. While I certainly will be eagerly awaiting to hear the stories on the return of this student, I can’t help but put myself there and recreate those many good memories wishing it was me. Who knows, maybe this “jealousy” will have me dancing on more roof tops, or inspire you to reconnect with a wonderful part of your past.

1 Anwar, Y. (2015). Oh Joy! Berkeley consults on ‘Inside Out’ emotions. Berkeley News. Retrieved from: http://news.berkeley.edu/2015/06/17/inside-out-emotions?

About the author: Dr. Lynn Soots has been teaching psychology at the higher education level for over ten years. She is proud to integrate Positive Psychology applications in each of her courses to support growth and student goal attainment. She specializes in higher education online course-room design, adult learning, and diversity appreciation.


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