When it comes to feeling jealous, timing could make all the difference. New research has found that we are more envious of someone else's covetable experience before it happens than after it has passed.
"Enviable events lose some power over us once those events are in our past," said study co-author Ed O'Brien, Associate Professor at the University of Chicago in the US.
Envy is an interesting emotion because it can motivate negative outcomes such as self-dislike, and also positive outcomes such as feeling inspired.
For the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers conducted three experiments.
In the first study, 620 participants imagined a close friend getting to have experiences that the participants desired themselves, such as taking a dream vacation, being promoted to a dream job, and buying a dream car.
Some imagined how they would feel about the various scenarios in the days and weeks before they happened. Others imagined how they would feel in the days and weeks after the events occurred.
The results showed that timing, even when thinking about hypothetical scenarios, mattered.
Participants rated the experiences, which were otherwise identical, as less enviable after they happened than before they happened.
To find out whether people show the same pattern of responses in relation to real-world events, the research team assessed people's feelings of envy for a peer's Valentine's Day date every day during the month of February 2017.
In line with the first study, envy grew as February 14 approached, but dropped on February 15 and stayed relatively low the rest of the month.
The researchers replicated these patterns in February 2018 with a new group of participants, tracking envy over the course of three key dates.
Envy rose from February 13 to February 14 but then dropped on February 15, the results showed.
"Previous research uniformly suggests that events in the future will prompt more extreme reactions because it's more relevant to pay attention to things that might still happen to us. But these findings suggest that the passing of time may be particularly linked with reducing the intensity of negative experiences, rather than reducing the intensity of all experiences," said Ed O'Brien.