I was thinking about an emotion that consits of a desire for achieving a goal which appears in a person when they observe others having achieved this same thing.


  • A friend tells me they successfully ran the marathon. I start thinking how much I would enjoy having the skill to do this as well and doing it. I realize that I don't know how to achieve this goal - like I don't know how to train to have that much stamina.

  • I meet somebody who is fluent in a foreign language. I have been trying to learn the same language for a while, but I see the other person is much better than me and I wish I could do that as well.

Can the word envy be used to describe this emotion? Is there a better word? I have always associated envy with desire to be in a better state than others - either by taking away something they have or being better than them at what they do. To say it in a different way, I associate envy with negative emotions toward another person. I'm not a native speaker, so I don't know if this is accurate.

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    There are different definitions/uses of the word. You can find copious examples in dictionaries. Commented May 15, 2017 at 0:24
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    If your "emotion" consists of a feeling of unhappiness over others' good fortune together with a desire to have the same good fortune, you are filled with envy ( you are envious of something). But if you are filled with or showing a strong and energetic desire to get something done or see something succeed, you are zealous. Commented May 15, 2017 at 0:37
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    Clare is correct, there are multiple definitions. I would caution that when there are multiple definitions, all of the definitions can be called to mind, and mildly suggest one when you mean another. I would suggest caution using the word envy because some of the senses of the word cast a bad light on the person feeling it.
    – Tom22
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 0:39
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    Related: "What's a word for a positive kind of “envy” without the sense of resentment?", also "A word that describes a positive form of envy" which is marked as a duplicate of the first
    – herisson
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 0:47
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    Certainly you could call that emotion "envy". The difficulty is that "envy" has many different senses and connotations, and if you are not reasonably familiar with its use in several senses you risk misusing it.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 1:17

6 Answers 6


I would recommend being careful when using the word Envy

From your descriptions, I feel like you are describing someone's disappointment in their-self as much as a desire for them to have what someone else has.

I am hearing more "longing" or wishful even a type of "wistfulness" (which implies more that you regret not doing what they've done rather than wanting what they don't have)

Still it is a hard decision because Wistful would NOT express that you wanted what someone ELSE had, only that you wanted something you didn't have.

There are multiple definitions of wistful - I am including one (some other definitions of the word emphasize nostalgia or the longing for something past)

Wistful definition excerpt from Dictionary.com

British Dictionary definitions for wistful wistful /ˈwɪstfʊl/ adjective

1. sadly pensive, especially about something yearned for

Contrast that to Envy (I bolded resentful)

Envy at Oxford Dictionaries NOUN

1A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck.

The synonyms to envy that Thesaurus.com gives are even more suggestive (atlhough Envy doesn't quite go this far)

hatred illwill malice prejudice resentment rivalry backbiting coveting covetousness enviousness grudge grudging heartburn lusting malevolence maliciousness malignity opposition spite

It is up to you what should be emphasized.

I would suggest that using words like Envy, or Jealousy would describe a person's feelings in a way not only wishful for what they did not have, but also some degree of bad feelings toward the other person (maybe only a small degree, but some)


inspired might be how you feel. You are inspired by the accomplishments of your friends to want to achieve the same thing yourself. To be inspired is very different from being envious of another's accomplishments or possessions.

inspire (MW)

a : to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration

b : to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on was particularly inspired by the Romanticists

c : to spur on : impel, motivate threats don't necessarily inspire people to work

d : affect seeing the old room again inspired him with nostalgia


For a slightly "older" word, you might consider that you covet their skills, or are covetous of their experiences. It still carries some slight negative connotations, but not as much as envy does.


Definition of covet

transitive verb

1 : to wish for earnestly covet an award

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    I think it does have negative connotations because it's used biblically: "Thou shalt not covet".
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 13:23
  • @ChrisW Not only that, but "covet" as used in that Biblical context refers to depriving someone of something they own. This sense doesn't apply to admiring someone for their ability to run marathons or speak another language; if you were to gain that ability you would not take it away from the other person.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 10:14
  • @RosieF There's a Buddhist term mudita, which means admiring+approving someone else's virtue, and possibly learning from or emulating it. That's Pali, however: not an English word.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 10:39

The feeling is quite likely awe which has a positive connotation unlike envy.




1 A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

‘his staff members are in awe of him’

‘Maybe there were times when we were in awe of them for a short while before realising we were in those games with a chance of winning.’

‘For all his confidence, in a strange way he was in awe of some of the senior players and their experiences.’


Admiration come to mind. I admire someone for their abilities, etc. and wish to be able to do the same.


Maybe it could be called conceit -- which is a word that I associate with comparing yourself to someone else, and thinking that you're as good as (or better or, even, worse than) they are.

It's also a conceit because it's a work of fiction, an act of imagination: i.e. imagining yourself running a marathon.

In English, people are told that they shouldn't be conceited -- however, such conceit can be beneficial (e.g. the thought that "he can run a marathon, so I could too if I trained the same way").

Is there a better word?

Another word is mudita -- but that's not an English word. Anglophones sometimes use foreign loan-words when there's no English equivalent, "mudita" is kind of a technical term, which might be known but only to Buddhists.

I think that's like "admiration" -- i.e. being happy because of someone else's success.

If what you mean is literally "I'm unhappy comparing myself to a successful person" then technically I think I'd classify that as "conceit" or "hurt pride", some damaged self-image -- so a "negative emotion" albeit not "toward another person".

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