Skip to main content

Envy is the Death of Happiness

By December 21, 2017December 30th, 2018Personal

I have yet to find a serious economist who argues that my neighbor next door is poor because Taylor Swift is a millionaire. I do not argue that the wealth of the rich is virtuous, or that they deserve it. Indeed, the obscene pay of some executives is base gluttony. But that is a different topic. Anger at something that doesn’t effect you is not a virtue, and it doesn’t make sense.

Imagine this:

You are alone in a room, not for very long. Sat on a comfortable chair. After some time, a man brings you a three-course meal, consisting of whatever happens to be your preferred food. You finish happy, and content.

After you finish, the wall to your left disappears into the floor, and you see on the other side another person relaxed in a luxurious armchair; he is just finishing the enormous desert that crowns the seven-course meal he had just finished.

I could continue describing how his silverware, or his meal were far superior to yours into excess.

How would you feel? Would you be jealous? Would you complain?


Is the food you ate somehow less delicious? Is the meal which you were given somehow less valuable?

If so, please describe the quantum meta-physical processes which made it so. I know someone who would pay for this technology.

The truth is, nothing changed except your perception of the world around you.

I admit the story is a little broken, and doesn’t really apply in every situation, because most of the time we are not simply given the good things in life. Indeed, the best things in life require a lot of work. But even so, the things I cherish in my life are not made less valuable to me simply because someone else has more of it.

This is true of the tax overhaul currently under review.

Let’s ignore for now that the top 10 percent pay 70 percent of all income tax, and the bottom 47 percent pay next to nothing.

I want to focus on why a lot oppose the reform. It is because instead of looking at the plate in front of them, everyone is instead leaning over the table to see what everyone else was given, then complaining that their portion is smaller.

I have read through the plan, and found nothing that low-income earners could complain about. Instead, it benefits them immensely.

But because someone else gets a bigger slice of the pie, somehow their slice is now rotten.

Margaret Thatcher summarized this point in parliament:

“ … He would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich. … So long as the gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer. One does not create wealth and opportunity that way. One does not create a property-owning democracy that way.”

Do I think the rich could use their money for a greater good? Yes. Are some guilty of gluttony and greed? Definitely.

But in a system where we can all claim a win by keeping more of our own income, why should you be upset that someone else gets to keep more of theirs? Envy occurs when you lack a possession and “either desire it or wish that the other lacked it.”

If your happiness depends on what someone else has or has not, you need to take a long look in the mirror.

(Originally posted on

Aaron J. Webber

Author Aaron J. Webber

More posts by Aaron J. Webber

Leave a Reply