The Why Factor: Envy

by | 13 Apr 2014

I was recently asked to take part in The Why Factor for the BBC’s World Service. They were doing a programme on ‘envy’ and they invited me and a bunch of other much more interesting and intelligent people to talk about its cause and effect. It’s worth listening to just for the mellifluous voice of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman – that man could say anything and I would listen though what he says is definitely worth hearing.

I, of course, was asked to talk about ‘Baby Envy’. Well what else? All I seem to talk and write about these days is some variation on the theme of having or not having them (babies that is). Please feel free to tell me if you’re getting bored and you’d rather I focused on current affairs. Actually, please don’t, I’d be shit on Syria and I don’t know where that plane is either.

Back to The Why Factor. One of the really interesting points raised in the programme is that there are actually two types of envy: good and bad. Good envy drives you to improve yourself and ultimately to succeed. Bad envy is a covetousness that consumes you from the outside in. No prizes for guessing which of these my baby envy is. It’s green not golden. As Daniel says – and I was listening – it’s the type of envy that is true pain.

So for this week’s question let’s focus on this powerful emotion. Does it drive you forward or hold you back?

And if you’d like to listen to ‘Envy’ on The Why Factor please click here.


  1. kiftsgate

    First of all you can’t even imagine how jealous I am for meeting Daniel Kahneman. I taught his theories at Uni but never met him. Would have loved to!
    I’m not going to be much of a surprise: green envy for me too. All my life envy, if you can call it so, has driven me to improve myself (in learning foreign languages, sports, studies, work… ). But that cannot apply to infertility. Trying harder won’t get me pregnant or more fertile. In fact, most people will tell you the contrary: you’re trying too hard. I even had to abandon my normal propensity to follow the type of envy that drives me forward, to see if relaxing would make me more fertile.. didn’t happen. So, while I try to ignore it, I definitely have the envy type that holds me back..
    Well done on the Why Factor!! xx

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Such a beautifully put response. You are so so right that there are so many things that envy can drive us to achieve which makes it even harder that however hard you work (and relax) at having a baby it may always remain beyond our control. Hope you have a happy week ahead. Jessica x

  2. gsmwc02

    Directly it’s held me back. Though indirectly it’s led me to focus on other things such as losing weight, pursue volunteer work and put more focus on my marriage.

    What you say is so true but it’s really hard for it to motivate a person when we hurt so much. I guess it depends upon the person what their personality is and where they’re at in their journey.

    Great thought provoking piece!

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Thanks so much for your comment Greg. I love the fact that the post and the programme is also making people think about their ‘good envy’. It puts it in a whole new perspective don’t you think? It’s hard but, you’re right, it can also be motivating. Jessica x

      • gsmwc02

        At least for me I got to the point recently where I was tired of waiting for something to happen that was out of my control and wanted to do something that was in my control. It’s probably just part of the process. Greg

  3. Dee Armstrong, Natural Fertility Coaching and IVF Support

    I’ve just listened to the piece, Jessica, and am moved to tears. You are so honest and open about all this and furthermore really eloquent on the sheer physicality of the envious feelings. I’m sure it’s enormously helpful to a multitiude of women. The irony of sharing your post on Facebook was not lost on me.

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Thanks Dee. For listening and for being so lovely. I really appreciate all your support and, do you know what, I didn’t think twice about posting it on twitter and facebook. How far I have come!!!

  4. lynsey18

    Found this really interesting. I think envy is definitely one of the emotions I struggle with the most when it comes to infertility and I spend far too much time torturing myself with it! Good to hear someone put it all into words so eloquently. Thank-you!

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      And thanks so much for saying so! I really appreciate it. Torturing myself is definitely something I know all too well so at least know that you are not alone! Jessica x

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Hi Lynsey, so sorry for taking so long to reply. Your comment has been lying unapproved in my inbox since last week buried under a growing pile of unanswered work emails. I’m glad you liked the piece, although sorry that you’ve experienced baby envy torture too. Jessica x


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