Why Feeling Jealous After Seeing Your Friend’s Instagram Post is a Good Thing

Social Commentary

Why Feeling Jealous After Seeing Your Friend’s Instagram Post is a Good Thing

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I

may or may not be joking when I admit this, but the last few weeks of celebrity weddings have generated an unprecedented envy in over a billion Indians. It’s a feat that’s second only to the time Karisma Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit engaged in the passive-aggressive “Dance of Envy” in Dil To Pagal Hai more than 20 years ago.

It’s impossible to witness the weddings of ultra-beautiful brides and grooms – #DeepVeer, #NickYanka – looking as stunning as glistening dew drops while wearing Sabyasachi and Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla and not feel your heartbeat ignite some e-sparks. The romantic in you is happy but also a little envious. Like 3 Idiots taught us, “Dost fail ho jaye toh dukh hota hai… lekin dost first aa jaye toh zyada dukh hota hai.”

The same rule applies to us when we scroll through the Instagram feeds of our celebrity friends. Who doesn’t want a wedding at Lake Como or at Umaid Bhawan Palace with guests arriving in chartered planes and India’s richest man sitting all awkward by your side? Or want to pair a custom Ralph Lauren dress with gold Chopard necklace featuring 184.50 carat diamonds set in ethical white gold? And I bet you won’t be able to show me one woman who doesn’t want to share her lehenga with her hubby. Or want a man who sheds just one perfect tear when he sees you walking down the aisle?  

You find yourself sometimes beaming and sometimes there’s a momentary gush of benign envy that makes its way through every cell of your body whenever you scroll down your Instagram timeline. Or log in to Facebook only to land on the picture of your friend wrapped in the arms of her lover in Peru. This doesn’t make you the evil stepsister from Cinderella; this is not the malicious envy that soon turns into jealousy and makes life miserable. But a harmless variant that wakes up from hibernation during wanderlust season or during celebrity wedding month. The kind that makes you go, “I wish I could have that” immediately after “I wish I could go there” even though you’re well aware of how silly you probably sound. It’s somewhat like having a crush on a gorgeous but married celebrity: There’s a little pain in wanting someone who has no idea you exist, but no harm in fantasising how life could you have turned out if s/he did know you.

Who doesn’t want a wedding at Lake Como or at Umaid Bhawan Palace with guests arriving in chartered planes and India’s richest man sitting all awkward by your side?

After all, we live in an age of gloating on social media. Although pouting selfies, sunsets, and guacamole on toast still take up some space in the bylanes of the internet, they’re now relegated to the background. The new breeding grounds of envy are the experiences that are carefully curated, colour-corrected, and sanitised by at least half a dozen filters – exotic vacations, declarations of engagements, and the reveal of the fanciest designer collections.

At this point, we all want what the other has – a villa in Goa, a wedding with a Sansa Stark dancing at your sangeet, a spot on a panel that’s debating #MeToo, a Louis Vuitton bag. This is an inevitable outcome of being virtually present for other people’s vacations, weddings, accomplishments, and purchases. Imagine this: You scroll down your Twitter and learn that a batchmate got through an Ivy League college you dreamt of. How can you not feel like what Ranbir Kapoor might have felt while watching Deepika Padukone’s wedding pictures? You could have had it but could not afford the course. It hurts for a moment until you realise you hate studying anyway.

That my friend, is benign envy. Why, we even have a viral meme of a goofy Akshay Kumar saying “Jali na? Teri jali na?” It’s a lot like bestowing cheesy nicknames on your SO – everyone indulges in it but doesn’t want the world to know.

We’ve come a long way from a time when my mother would strategically hide our family photo album from visitors because “nazar lag jayegi”. In the age of social media, benign envy is like breathing. Once a despised emotion, it now pushes us to go for our goals. A study on the power of benign envy claims that it “may be particularly useful in getting people motivated to work harder.”

In A New Yorker article titled “Can Envy Be Good for You?” psychologist Niels van de Ven, of Tilburg University, in the Netherlands examined the concept of envy and wrote, “Malicious envy felt much more frustrating, the experience led to a motivation to hurt the other, and one hoped that the other would fail in something. For benign envy, the other was liked more, the situation was more inspiring, and one tried harder to attain more for oneself.” Sure. That’s exactly what I’m telling myself while looking at Priyanka’s perfect ghera in her designer lehenga.

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