The older I get, the more two things impress me. One is the suggestibility of human beings, their tendency to imbibe and repeat ideas and attitudes from their social environment with nary an attempt at critical examination. The other is the major role envy plays in human affairs. Suggestibility is best left for another occasion as part of an analysis of political correctness.
People commonly confuse envy with jealousy. To feel envy is to feel diminished in one’s sense of self-worth by another’s success or well-being. Thus if A feels bad because B won an award, then A envies B his winning of the award. It is a misuse of language to say that A is jealous of B in a situation like this. Jealousy requires three people, whereas envy requires only two. Suppose A and B are married, and C shows an amatory interest in B. A may well come to feel jealous of C. To use ‘envy’ and ‘jealousy’ interchangeably is to ride roughshod over a simple distinction, and that is something that clear-headed people will want to avoid.
You say that language is always changing? No doubt, but not all change is progress. Progress is change for the good. Confusing envy with jealousy, inference with implication, lying with making false statements, a dilemma with any old problem, chauvinism with male chauvinism, and so on ad nauseam, is not progress, but regress.
If to feel envy is to feel bad when another does well, what should we call the emotion of feeling good when another suffers misfortune? There is no word in English for this as far as I know, but in German it is called Schadenfreude. This word is used in English from time to time, and is one every educated person should know. It means joy (Freude) at another injuries (Schaden). The great Schopenhauer, somewhere in Aphorismen zur Lebensweisheit, remarks that while envy (Neid) is human, Schadenfreude is diabolical. Exactly right. There is something fiendish in feeling positive glee at another’s misery. This is not to imply that envy is not a hateful emotion to be avoided as far as possible. Invidia, after all, is one of the seven deadly sins. From the Latin invidia comes ‘invidious comparison’ which just means an envious comparison.
There can be comparison without envy, but every case of envy involves comparison. So one way to avoid envy is to avoid comparing yourself with others. Just be your self and do your best, and don’t worry too much about what others are doing. Try to live your own incomparable life from out of your own inner resources.
If the Islamic world did that, they wouldn’t waste so much time and energy hating the USA. Surely part of the explanation of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks is sheer envy. It is also part of the explanation of the Arab hatred of Israel. Arabs, and Muslims generally, need to learn that envy is totally unproductive, besides being evil. One cannot improve one’s lot in life by tearing other people down.
My publishing more articles than you does not reduce the number of your publications, or prevent you from publishing. My increase in net worth is not at your expense. If I become wealthier than you, that is a real change in me, but only a relational change in you, one consistent with your not losing a cent. One of my trees is now taller than my house. The tree grew; the house did not shrink. The house became shorter than the tree, but without suffering any real change in respect of height.
One of the things that has made the USA a successful society is that Americans are a positive, forward-looking people not as a rule given to envy. We generally do not compare ourselves with others, but do our own thing, thereby setting the standard.