Helen Jane Hearn has a lot going for her. The 37-year-old wife, mother, and blogger (helenjane.com) is director of content at Federated Media Publishing in San Francisco and a part-time home-entertainment consultant. Nonetheless, she admits to envying other women often and letting their success percolate in her as “toxic hate.” Then she read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and learned to make a “jealousy map.” Now, instead of stewing about what others have that she wants, Hearn draws three columns on a blank page and headlines them: Who? Why? and Now What? Then she writes down the person she envies, why she envies her, and what she’s going to do about it. “I now take [envy] as a call for action,” Hearn explains. “It’s a tool to motivate myself.”
What Hearn has done, say those who study the emotion, is convert malicious envy (the classic sin) into benign envy (a potential win). Dutch researchers recently determined that benign envy, which lacks the venom of its poisonous big sister, motivates us to improve. And a series of studies at Texas Christian University showed that when individuals are experiencing envy, they actually have superior mental focus and recall about the envied person.