February 09, 2013
Envy Depletes Our Willpower

When you find yourself in a situation where you feel envy you will have to exercise self control, i.e. willpower. The problem: You have a limited supply of self control.

We propose that social comparisons with better-off others trigger an impulsive envious response that entails a behavioral tendency to strive for their superior good. However, given that the experience of envy is painful, self-threatening, and met with social disapproval, people typically attempt to control their envious reactions. Doing so requires self-control capacities, so that envious reactions may only become apparent if self-control is taxed. In line with these predictions, four experiments show that only when self-control resources are taxed, upward comparisons elicit envy paired with an increased willingness to pay for, to spontaneously purchase and to impulsively approach the superior good.

As John Tierney and Roy Baumeister explain in their book Willpower, your ability to control yourself is a limited and very valuable resource. One way to avoid draining your willpower: stay off Facebook. Avoid the envy that depletes your self control.

Witnessing friends' vacations, love lives and work successes on Facebook can cause envy and trigger feelings of misery and loneliness, according to German researchers.

Plus, if you are active on Facebook you run the risk of brutal unfriending. This causes people to avoid each other in real life.

Facebook makes millions of people miserable. Why do that to yourself?

The feeling of envy causes many people to favor wealth redistribution. I think the depletion of willpower that envy causes and the redistributionist impulse it encourages in politics is an argument for making rich people hide their wealth.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 February 09 12:20 PM 

James Bowery said at February 9, 2013 7:33 PM:

The redistributionist impulse in politics is contaminated by rationality:

For example, Bill Gates became the world's richest man primarily because of the network effect -- not because of any uniquely valuable skills he brought to civilization.

Moreover, since governments protect unnaturally large concentrations of wealth it only makes sense that their revenue should derive from said concentrations.

These are perfectly rational responses to the idiocy of allowing enormous concentrations of wealth based on the network effect to be paid for by taxing economic activity rather than the concentrations benefiting from the protection.

As long as this insane political economic philosophy holds sway, envy will not only be depleting the willpower of hundreds of millions if not billions, but it will be diverting capital into the hands of people who we can ill afford to be directing its investment.

Dave Gore said at February 10, 2013 10:43 AM:

"I think the depletion of willpower that envy causes and the redistributionist impulse it encourages in politics is an argument for making rich people hide their wealth."

It is also an argument for making beautiful women hide their beauty, and smart people hide their intelligence. It leads to the kind of society China was before capitalism made its inroads. Inequality makes for a colorful society where people strive to be rich, beautiful, and smart. Such a society is also healthy and robust, even though it creates losers. Life isn't about everyone being happy; it's about survival.

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