Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Why are Dispositional Enviers not Satisfied With Their Lives? An Investigation of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Pathways Among Adolescents and Young Adults


The literature has revealed that the tendency to feel envy, as captured by dispositional envy, can dampen a young adult’s life satisfaction. As values and resources change with the passing of various developmental stages, what affects life satisfaction may vary across age groups. Nevertheless, limited research has been conducted to investigate the effect of dispositional envy on life satisfaction and the mechanisms accounting for this linkage among adolescents. Hence, built upon the dual-process framework, the present research tested an intrapersonal mechanism of self-esteem and an interpersonal mechanism of social connectedness using two samples. Through a comparative study among both young adults and adolescents (N = 1,033), we show that dispositional envy negatively predicts life satisfaction, and both self-esteem and social connectedness mediate this link in the two age groups. These two distinct pathways both affect life satisfaction among dispositional enviers. Using within- and between-group comparisons, we find that the mediation effect of self-esteem is significantly stronger than that of social connectedness among adolescents, while the two pathways are equally strong among young adults. Finally, an alternative model predictive of life satisfaction was ruled out to strengthen the current conclusion.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Lee and Robbins (1995) developed the Social Connectedness Scale in Western culture, and their items were more likely to measure social disconnectedness than social connectedness. Yoon et al. (2008) modified the wording of items to measure social connectedness, rather than the social disconnectedness of the original scale. Their modified version was also validated among East Asians. Since we targeted East Asians (Hong Kong Chinese) as our participants, we adopted the modified version developed by Yoon et al. (2008) to enhance the applicability in the present research.


  1. Ahuvia, A., Thin, N., Haybron, D. M., Biswas-Diener, R., Ricard, M., & Timsit, J. (2015). Happiness: An interactionist perspective. International Journal of Well-Being,5, 1–18.

  2. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist,55(5), 469–480.

  3. Arnett, J. J., Žukauskienė, R., & Sugimura, K. (2014). The new life stage of emerging adulthood at ages 18–29 years: Implications for mental health. The Lancet Psychiatry,1(7), 569–576.

  4. Arnett, J. J. (Ed.). (2015). The Oxford handbook of emerging adulthood. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  5. Bailey, R. C., & Miller, C. (1998). Life satisfaction and life demands in college students. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal,26(1), 51–56.

  6. Beiswenger, K. L., & Grolnick, W. S. (2010). Interpersonal and intrapersonal factors associated with autonomous motivation in adolescents’ after-school activities. Journal of Early Adolescence,30(3), 369–394.

  7. Berkowitz, L. (1989). Frustration-aggression hypothesis: Examination and reformulation. Psychological Bulletin,106, 59–73.

  8. Boyce, C. J., Brown, G. A., & Moore, S. C. (2010). Money and happiness: Rank of income, not income, affects life satisfaction. Psychological Science,21, 471–475.

  9. Briki, W. (2018). Harmed trait self-control: Why do people with a higher dispositional malicious envy experience lower subjective well-being? A cross-sectional study. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1–18.

  10. Brown, R. (1986). Social psychology (2nd ed.). New York: Free Press.

  11. Campbell, A. (1981). The sense of well-being in America: Recent patterns and trends. New York: McGraw-Hill.

  12. Chang, W. C., Osman, M. M. B., Tong, E. M. W., & Tan, D. (2011). Self-construal and subjective well-being in two ethnic communities in Singapore. Psychology,2, 63–70.

  13. Chen, F. F. (2007). Sensitivity of goodness of fit indexes to lack of measurement invariance. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 14(3), 464–504.

  14. Chen, S. X., Chan, W., Bond, M. H., & Stewart, S. M. (2006). The effects of self-efficacy and relationship harmony on depression across cultures: Applying level-oriented and structure-oriented analyses. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,37, 643–658.

  15. Chen, S. X., Ng, J. C. K., Buchtel, E. E., Guan, Y., Deng, H., & Bond, M. H. (2017). The added value of world views over self-views: Predicting modest behaviour in Eastern and Western cultures. British Journal of Social Psychology,56(4), 723–749.

  16. Cohen-Charash, Y., & Mueller, J. S. (2007). Does perceived unfairness exacerbate or mitigate interpersonal counterproductive work behaviors related to envy? Journal of Applied Psychology,92, 666–680.

  17. Cohen-Charash, Y. (2009). Episodic envy. Journal of Applied Social Psychology,39, 2128–2173.

  18. Cohen-Charash, Y., & Larson, E. C. (2017). An emotion divided: Studying envy is better than studying “benign” and “malicious” envy. Current Directions in Psychological Science,26(2), 174–183.

  19. Collins, R. (1996). For better or worse: The impact of upward social comparison on self-evaluations. Psychological Bulletin,119, 51–69.

  20. De Clercq, D., Haq, I. U., & Azeem, M. U. (2018). The roles of informational unfairness and political climate in the relationship between dispositional envy and job performance in Pakistani organizations. Journal of Business Research,82, 117–126.

  21. Denissen, J. J. A., Penke, L., Schmitt, D. P., & Van Aken, M. A. G. (2008). Self-esteem reactions to social interactions: Evidence for sociometer mechanisms across days, people, and nations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,95, 181–196.

  22. Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin,95, 542–575.

  23. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction with Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment,49, 71–75.

  24. Diener, E., & Diener, M. (1995). Cross-cultural correlates of life satisfaction and self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,68, 653–663.

  25. Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin,125, 276–302.

  26. Diener, E., & Lucas, R. E. (1999). Personality and subjective well-being. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

  27. Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Oishi, S. (2018). Advances and Open Questions in the Science of Subjective Well-Being. Collabra: Psychology, 4(1), 15.

  28. Emmons, R., & Diener, E. (1985). Personality correlates of subjective well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,11, 89–97.

  29. Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: Norton.

  30. Gerber, J. P., Wheeler, L., & Suls, J. (2018). A social comparison theory meta-analysis 60+ years on. Psychological Bulletin,144(2), 177–197.

  31. Gilman, R., & Huebner, E. (2006). Characteristics of adolescents who report very high life satisfaction. Journal of Youth and Adolescence,35, 311–319.

  32. Greenberger, E., Chen, C., Tally, S., & Dong, Q. (2000). Family, peer, and individual correlates of depressive symptomatology among US and Chinese adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,68, 209–219.

  33. Heine, S. J., Lehman, D. R., Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1999). Is there a universal need for positive self-regard? Psychological Review,106, 766–794.

  34. Henniger, N. E., & Harris, C. R. (2015). Envy across adulthood: The what and the who. Basic and Applied Social Psychology,37(6), 303–318.

  35. Hill, S. E., DelPriore, D. J., & Vaughan, P. W. (2011). The cognitive consequences of envy: Attention, memory, and self-regulatory depletion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,101(4), 653–666.

  36. Ho, M. Y., Cheung, F. M., & Cheung, S. F. (2008). Personality and life events as predictors of adolescents’ life satisfaction: Do life events mediate the link between personality and life satisfaction? Social Indicators Research,89(3), 457–471.

  37. Hutteman, R., Nestler, S., Wagner, J., Egloff, B., & Back, M. D. (2015). Wherever I may roam: Processes of self-esteem development from adolescence to emerging adulthood in the context of international student exchange. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,108, 767–783.

  38. Joshanloo, M., & Afshari, S. (2011). Big Five personality traits and self-esteem as predictors of life satisfaction in Iranian Muslim university students. Journal of Happiness Studies,12, 105–113.

  39. Kong, F., & You, X. (2013). Loneliness and self-esteem as mediators between social support and life satisfaction in late adolescence. Social Indicators Research,110(1), 271–279.

  40. Krizan, Z., & Johar, O. (2012). Envy divides the two faces of narcissism. Journal of Personality,80, 1415–1451.

  41. Kwan, V. S., Bond, M. H., & Singelis, T. M. (1997). Pancultural explanations for life satisfaction: Adding relationship harmony to self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,73(5), 1038–1051.

  42. Lange, J., & Crusius, J. (2015). Dispositional envy revisited: Unraveling the motivational dynamics of benign and malicious envy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,41, 284–294.

  43. Lange, J., Blatz, L., & Crusius, J. (2016). Dispositional envy: A conceptual review. SAGE Handbook of personality and individual differences. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

  44. Leach, C. W., Spears, R., Branscombe, N. R., & Doosje, B. (2003). Malicious pleasure: Schadenfreude at the suffering of another group. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 932–943.

  45. Leary, M. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). The nature and function of self-esteem: Sociometer theory. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 32, pp. 1–62). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

  46. Lee, R. M., & Robbins, S. B. (1995). Measuring belongingness: The social connectedness and the social assurance scales. Journal of Counseling Psychology,42(2), 232–241.

  47. Lee, C. Y. S., & Goldstein, S. E. (2016). Loneliness, stress, and social support in young adulthood: Does the source of support matter? Journal of Youth and Adolescence,45(3), 568–580.

  48. Lin, N., Simeone, R. S., Ensel, W. M., & Kuo, W. (1979). Social support, stressful life events, and illness: A model and an empirical test. Journal of Health and Social Behavior,20, 108–119.

  49. Little, T. D., Cunningham, W. A., Shahar, G., & Widaman, K. F. (2002). To parcel or not to parcel: Exploring the question and weighing the merits. Structural Equation Modeling,9, 151–173.

  50. Lucas, R. E., & Diener, E. (2000). Personality and subjective well-being across the life span. In V. J. Molfese & D. L. Molfese (Eds.), Temperament and personality development across the life span (pp. 211–234). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  51. Lucas, R. E. (2008). Personality and subjective well-being. In M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (pp. 171–194). New York: The Guilford Press.

  52. Lucas, R. E., & Diener, E. (2009). Personality and subjective well-being. In E. Diener (Ed.), The science of well-being (pp. 75–102). New York, NY, US: Springer.

  53. Marroquín, B. (2011). Interpersonal emotion regulation as a mechanism of social support in depression. Clinical Psychology Review,31(8), 1276–1290.

  54. Masselink, M., Van Roekel, E., & Oldehinkel, A. J. (2018). Self-esteem in early adolescence as predictor of depressive symptoms in late adolescence and early adulthood: The mediating role of motivational and social factors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence,47(5), 932–946.

  55. Maxwell, S. E., Cole, D. A., & Mitchell, M. A. (2011). Bias in cross-sectional analyses of longitudinal mediation: Partial and complete mediation under an autoregressive model. Multivariate Behavioral Research,46(5), 816–841.

  56. Moksnes, U. K., & Espnes, G. A. (2013). Self-esteem and life satisfaction in adolescents–Gender and age as potential moderators. Quality of Life Research,22(10), 2921–2928.

  57. Morse, S., & Gergen, K. J. (1970). Social comparison, self-consistency, and the concept of the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,40, 524–634.

  58. Mussweiler, T., Rüter, K., & Epstude, K. (2004). The man who wasn’t there: Subliminal social comparison standards influence self-evaluation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,40, 689–696.

  59. Myers, D. G., & Diener, E. (1995). Who is happy? Psychological Science,6, 10–19.

  60. Myers, D. G. (1999). Close relationships and quality of life. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 376–393). New York: Russell Sage Foundations.

  61. Neufeld, D. C., & Johnson, E. A. (2016). Burning with envy? Dispositional and situational influences on envy in grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Journal of Personality,84(5), 685–696.

  62. Okada, R. (2010). A meta-analytic review of the relation between self-esteem level and self-esteem instability. Personality and Individual Differences,48(2), 243–246.

  63. Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Roberts, B. W. (2008). Low self-esteem prospectively predicts depression in adolescence and young adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,95(3), 695–708.

  64. Orth, U., Robins, R. W., Trzesniewski, K. H., Maes, J., & Schmitt, M. (2009). Low self-esteem is a risk factor for depressive symptoms from young adulthood to old age. Journal of Abnormal Psychology,118, 472–478.

  65. Parks, C. D., Rumble, A. C., & Posey, D. C. (2002). The effects of envy on reciprocation in a social dilemma. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,28, 509–520.

  66. Parrott, W. G., & Smith, R. H. (1993). Distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,64, 906–920.

  67. Proctor, C. L., Linley, P. A., & Maltby, J. (2009). Youth life satisfaction: A review of the literature. Journal of Happiness Studies,10, 583–630.

  68. Qualter, P., Vanhalst, J., Harris, R., van Roekel, E., Lodder, G., Bangee, M., et al. (2015). Loneliness across the life span. Perspectives on Psychological Science,10, 250–264.

  69. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  70. Schimmack, U., & Oishi, S. (2005). The influence of chronically and temporally accessible information on life satisfaction judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,89, 395–406.

  71. Schmuck, P., & Sheldon, K. M. (2001). Life goals and well- being: Towards a positive psychology of human striving. Kirkland, WA: Hogrefe & Huber.

  72. Schoemann, A. M., Boulton, A. J., & Short, S. D. (2017). Determining power and sample size for simple and complex mediation models. Social Psychological and Personality Science,8, 379–386.

  73. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist,55, 5–14.

  74. Skodol, A. E. (1998). Personality and coping as stress-attenuating or –amplifying factors. In B. P. Dohrenwend (Ed.), Adversity, Stress, and Psychopathology (pp. 377–389). New York: Oxford University Press.

  75. Smith, R. H., Parrott, W. G., Ozer, D., & Moniz, A. (1994). Subjective injustice and inferiority as predictors of hostile and depressive feelings in envy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,20, 705–711.

  76. Smith, R. H., Turner, T. J., Garonzik, R., Leach, C. W., Urch-Druskat, V., & Weston, C. M. (1996). Envy and schadenfreude. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,22, 158–168.

  77. Smith, R. H., Parrott, W. G., Diener, E. F., Hoyle, R. H., & Kim, S. H. (1999). Dispositional envy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,25, 1007–1020.

  78. Smith, R. H., & Kim, S. H. (2007). Comprehending envy. Psychological Bulletin,133, 46–64.

  79. Sommer, G. (1990). Social support as a tool to promote mental health. Community Mental Health in New Zealand,5, 41–48.

  80. Stapel, D. A., & Koomen, W. (2001). I, we, and the effects of others on me: How self-construal level moderates social comparison effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,80, 766–781.

  81. Steel, P., Schmidt, J., & Shultz, J. (2008). Refining the relationship between personality and subjective wellbeing. Psychological Bulletin,134, 138–161.

  82. Strack, F., Schwarz, N., & Gschneidinger, E. (1985). Happiness and reminiscing: The role of time perspective, affect, and mode of thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,49, 1460–1469.

  83. Suldo, S. M., Frank, M. J., Chappel, A. M., Albers, M. M., & Bateman, L. P. (2014). American high school students’ perceptions of determinants of life satisfaction. Social Indicators Research,118(2), 485–514.

  84. Suldo, S. M., Minch, D. R., & Hearon, B. V. (2015). Adolescent life satisfaction and personality characteristics: Investigating relationships using a five factor model. Journal of Happiness Studies,16(4), 965–983.

  85. Takahashi, H., Kato, M., Matsuura, M., Mobbs, D., Suhara, T., & Okubo, Y. (2009). When your gain is my pain and your pain is my gain: Neural correlates of envy and schadenfreude. Science,323, 937–939.

  86. Umberson, D., Crosnoe, R., & Reczek, C. (2010). Social relationships and health behavior across the life course. Annual Review of Sociology,36, 139–157.

  87. van de Ven, N. (2016). Envy and its consequences: Why it is useful to distinguish between benign and malicious envy. Social and Personality Psychology Compass,10, 337–349.

  88. Vrabel, J. K., Zeigler-Hill, V., & Southard, A. C. (2018). Self-esteem and envy: Is state self-esteem instability associated with the benign and malicious forms of envy? Personality and Individual Differences,123, 100–104.

  89. Wagner, J., Lüdtke, O., Robitzsch, A., Göllner, R., & Trautwein, U. (2017). Self-esteem development in the school context: The roles of intrapersonal and interpersonal social predictors. Journal of Personality,86(3), 481–497.

  90. Yang, X. (2016). Self-compassion, relationship harmony, versus self-enhancement: Different ways of relating to well-being in Hong Kong Chinese. Personality and Individual Differences,89, 24–27.

  91. Yarnell, L. M., & Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-compassion, interpersonal conflict resolutions, and well-being. Self and Identity,12, 146–159.

  92. Yoon, E., Lee, R. M., & Goh, M. (2008). Acculturation, social connectedness, and subjective well-being. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology,14(3), 246–255.

  93. Yu, Z., Hao, J., & Shi, B. (2018). Dispositional envy inhibits prosocial behavior in adolescents with high self-esteem. Personality and Individual Differences,122, 127–133.

  94. Zeigler-Hill, V., Holden, C. J., Enjaian, B., Southard, A. C., Besser, A., Li, H., et al. (2015). Self-esteem instability and personality: The connections between feelings of self-worth and the big five dimensions of personality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,41(2), 183–198.

  95. Zimprich, D., & Mascherek, A. (2012). Measurement invariance and age-related differences of trait anger across the adult lifespan. Personality and Individual Differences,52(3), 334–339.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Jacky C. K. Ng.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ng, J.C.K., Lau, V.C.Y. & Chen, S.X. Why are Dispositional Enviers not Satisfied With Their Lives? An Investigation of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Pathways Among Adolescents and Young Adults. J Happiness Stud 21, 525–545 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00094-x

Download citation


  • Dispositional envy
  • Life satisfaction
  • Self-esteem
  • Social connectedness
  • Young adults
  • Adolescents