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U of C professor’s new book says jealousy isn’t all bad

By Alecia Nachtigal, February 26 2015 —

Jealousy affects everyone, often for the worse. In his new book, Jealousy, University of Calgary classics professor Peter Toohey says that despite its negative connotations, jealousy isn’t such a bad thing.

“Emotions are hardwired into people and are there for evolutionary reasons,” Toohey says. “Disgust stops you from eating poisonous things and anger allows you to protect your family.”

Similarly, jealousy is used to defend against a devastating loss, such as losing your home or your partner. It’s an emotion of self-preservation.

Although jealousy is often confused with envy, Toohey says there’s an important distinction between the two. Jealousy involves a feeling of loss whereas envy is about gain.

He mentions that it’s possible to use jealousy to improve personal and social contexts. In relationships, this emotion brings a sense of connection and attachment to a partner.

“People will use jealous promises to try to test a person and bring them back if they’re starting to stray,” Toohey says. “It’s one means for people to firm up their relationships.”

Toohey describes acting on feelings of jealousy as a way to seek personal justice, giving people the drive to fight for what they deserve.

“We want to say that we’re beyond the need for jealousy but I don’t want to believe that,” Toohey says.

Toohey redeems the emotion by asking, “Who doesn’t feel jealousy, and who hasn’t manipulated jealousy to their own advantage?”

As long as jealousy doesn’t take complete control, it has a place in our lives. Though moderation and balance are key, he says.

“Emotions are there for positive ends,” Toohey says. “Jealousy binds us all together.”

Toohey’s book is available for purchase at the U of C bookstore.

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