How to Think Yourself Out of Jealousy
Although jealousy is generally regarded as a ‘negative emotion’, several rehabilitations have recently been attempted. Some see it as biologically functional; others have even argued that it is morally virtuous. This paper rejects these defenses. Instead, it suggests that the standard jealousy-eliciting sexual or romantic situation can, and sometimes should, be re-gestalted as an occasion for ‘compersion’, or joy taken in the loved one’s pleasure. The possibility of such a transmutation is suggested by three observations. First, undifferentiated arousal can sometimes elicit contrary emotional responses, depending on the scenario in terms of which it is construed. Second, the idea draws support from an analogy with pain: jealousy’s aversive character might be dissociated from its cognitive content, just as the aversiveness of pain can sometimes be dissociated from its aversive character. Third, the self-attribution of emotional states is strongly influenced by what we regard as conventional entitlements. That suggests that a shift in attitude might help to turn aversive jealousy into compersion. Such a mutation would be highly desirable.