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Quarantine Envy Got You Down? You’re Not Alone

That’s been true for Bethany Grace Howe, 52, C.E.O. of the TransHealth Data Collective in Eugene, Ore. Ms. Howe, who describes herself as a “raging extrovert,” is quarantined solo, except when her young daughter visits.

“I’m envious of people who have more than cats to talk to,” Ms. Howe said. “I see my friend and her family on Facebook doing puzzles. And I think, It would be nice to be doing puzzles with a family. People have told me, ‘Turn it off,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, but that’s the only social connection I have.’

Others envy friends who had experiences they’ll miss. Maya London-Southern, 23, a senior at Middlebury College in Vermont, was devastated when her campus shut down last spring.

“I know what I lost in the pandemic is not that bad,” Ms. London-Southern said. “But in school, every year you see the senior class have their moment. Friends would say, ‘Oh that sucks that you missed senior spring, you definitely have it worse than me.’ It was pouring salt on the wound and made it hard to interact.”

Upsetting as it is, one of the best ways to work with envy, during the pandemic or any other time, is not to judge yourself. The emotion, found in studies of both dogs and monkeys, likely has ancient roots.

“We’ve come from highly competitive ape packs where status in the hierarchy shaped your whole life or condemned you to early death,” said Dr. Oswald. “We are creatures of that past and it’s not sensible to think we can shake it off entirely. It’s what we do with envious feelings that matters.”

Some research suggests that envy, managed productively, is a motivator, driving us to achieve. If you’re upset a friend has a job after you were laid off, it might push you to job hunt that much more. But it’s tough to clock new accomplishments in a global pandemic. If you’re stewing in misery and can’t alter your situation in big ways, go for smaller improvements. Organize a socially distanced gathering, watch a funny movie, find volunteer work or adopt a pet.

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