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I am looking for a word to mean positive envy as I don't want to sound negative and upset the person I am communicating with. In Arabic we say 'yaghbitu - يغبط' which means you want/wish to have the same good that the other has and that you are happy that he/she has it without any insignuation that you wish they didn't have it or do not deserve to have it.
The translation in English gives me 'envy' which is closer to 'yahssudu يحسد' in Arabic which has negative connotation. So is there a better word than 'envy' and if not, is it safe and ok to use 'envy' in this context?

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    Does this answer your question? What's a word for a positive kind of "envy" without the sense of resentment?
    – livresque
    Dec 6, 2020 at 23:51
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    "envy' isn't necessarily a negative feeling. I've heard it several times in sentences such as: "sunny and mild? Oh, I envy you. I wish we had your weather" or "I envy you, right now I have to work very hard and I'll only be able to travel next year".
    – Centaurus
    Dec 7, 2020 at 0:44
  • related: why is envy considered a sin
    – Conrado
    Dec 7, 2020 at 16:50
  • Isn't this admiration? Also, not sure if this is a real word, but check out "compersion". Or maybe aspiration? Aspiring to be like someone is positive.
    – mjjf
    Dec 7, 2020 at 22:21

5 Answers 5

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Technically “Envy” is a feeling of discontent and resentment based on someone else's possessions, abilities, or status. “Covet” is wishing, longing, or craving for something that belongs to someone else. “Jealous” is more commonly used as opposed to “envious” However, misinterpretations can still be made. I recommend adding context

Examples:

“that’s great that happened to you! I’m “jealous” “You got a new job? That’s great, I “envy” you

https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/jealous-vs-envious

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    What do you mean by *technically”? The Merriam Webster link you give is indeed interesting and based on definition, followed by a view of opinion and attributed meaning. It does not support your assertion that envy is - technically or otherwise - what you claim it to be.
    – Anton
    Dec 7, 2020 at 7:43
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    None of these words has the positive connotation that OP asked for. Dec 7, 2020 at 19:07
  • Possibly more naturally: "I'm envious". In context, this would carry the positive connotation sought.
    – mcalex
    Dec 8, 2020 at 5:43
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envy should not be confused with jealousy. envy may be positive. The Cambridge dictionary has meanings similar to

envy = the feeling that you wish you had something that someone else has

Cambridge dictionary

This is not a negative verb. To say “I envy her good fortune” simply says that you wish for good fortune like hers. It is not to say “I am jealous of her good fortune”.

Jealous = unhappy and angry because someone has something that you want:

Cambridge dictionary

I conclude that you may use envy but that you should pay careful attention to context, particularly in circumstances where envy might be confused with jealousy, covetousness, admiration or esteem.

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    Other dictionaries are clear that envy has a negative feeling by using terms like "resentful" or "malice". It certainly may be true that people often use it in a softer sense, but not that it has a positive meaning
    – eques
    Dec 7, 2020 at 15:52
  • @eques: I think you have it backwards. Envy is neutral to positive, but some people misuse it as a synonym for jealousy.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 7, 2020 at 17:36
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    @jamesqf On the contrary, I checked 2 dictionaries before making my comment. Envy is definitely not neutral to positive at least not in all sources. For one, it is defined as one of the seven deadly sins. The distinction between envy and jealousy, when one exists, is not positive vs negative but rather directional. You envy what some else has. You are jealous about what you have (that you might lose it)
    – eques
    Dec 7, 2020 at 17:39
  • For example, Webster (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/…) "painful or resentful awareness..." painful and resentful are not ordinarily positive
    – eques
    Dec 7, 2020 at 17:40
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Aspiration/Aspire is an unoffensive, but uncommon choice.

I aspire to your level of success.

It's uncommon partly because there are briefer (or slangier and richer) ways to say the same thing:

I'm following your example.

I want to do what you're doing! (slangy)

Inspire can also be used to great effect, although the meaning shifts a bit:

He was inspired by Mark Zuckerberg' example to drop out of college to start a company.


When you are directly confronting another person about how you feel about their success, I believe the biggest way to avoid negative meaning is to suitably respect their hard work, or their fortune.

Congratulations on your promotion! Just you wait, I'll have a corner office, too! (mild teasing, so depends on the relationship)

Dude, you're lucky! I wish I could have that. (slangy, and calling someone lucky is risky if they've worked hard for it.)

Even exaggerating the level of your envy in a comical way can (counter-intuitively) come across as positive. If your envy inspires you to become more productive (for example), then the envy itself is a genuine compliment: it shows that not only is their success obvious to you, but it's also meaningful to you.


Importantly, I'm giving examples that only work in certain contexts, and are how I might convey this meaning, but it really depends on your personality how you want to say this. I hope my examples are at least informative, if not directly usable.

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    I think this aspire really meets the criteria because it's clear that one also wants such a state. There is no implication that the state can only be occupied by one and so they must be toppled to achieve it, as can be the case with envy. A position of power, for example, could be taken by one who envious, but one who aspires would receive it when the current holder leaves it through some outside process, age, or giving it up (moving up or out).
    – ti7
    Dec 7, 2020 at 22:23
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    @ti7 Thanks! This was one of the most difficult answers to get right, and it looks like it was worth it.
    – jpaugh
    Dec 10, 2020 at 5:07
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The correct answer to the question is one that is non-negative, that of holding high regard for the others accomplishments with the hope or dream of matching them. The term is Admiration to think highly of another and with the best of motives envy the bejesus out of them.

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  • I considered admire but held back because of its ironic use in statements such as I admire your cheek or “we admire your insolence”. It is not always used positively.
    – Anton
    Dec 7, 2020 at 7:34
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    ... And you can admire a skill say without the least feeling of wanting the same skill. Dec 7, 2020 at 15:41
  • Conversely, I can easily imagine examples — well, fictional ones, anyway (i.e. occurring in works of fiction) — where someone might unironically admire cheek or insolence.
    – Matthew
    Dec 7, 2020 at 17:53
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    @Anton it's meaning is always positive though. For example, a drawn out, sarcastic, "great..." would generally not indicate a positive reaction, but that doesn't change the meaning of the word itself.
    – fectin
    Dec 7, 2020 at 18:09
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To fancy? As an alternative to imagine: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fancy

to form a conception of / to visualize or interpret as :

eg: I fancy your good fortune!

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