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Benign envy

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Abstract

Envy has long been held to be a harmful emotion involving the desire to deprive others of the qualities or possessions that they possess and we covet. When the various religious injunctions against such malicious envy were conceived, the consumption landscape was vastly different. There was no branding, advertising, mass media, consumer credit, or Internet; neighbors knew neighbors; social hierarchies were relatively fixed; and discretionary income was largely unknown. This conceptual synthesis suggests that contemporary consumption is driven far more by benign envy involving a desire to “level up” through consumption emulation rather than “level down” by harming others. The concept of benign envy is developed along with an analysis of the forces leading to its displacement of malicious envy and its key role as a motivator of consumption. The paper concludes with a theoretical development of forms of envy and being envied and derives implications for theory and research.

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Belk, R. Benign envy. AMS Rev 1, 117–134 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13162-011-0018-x

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