Heraclitus’ Top 3 Tips for Living a Richer and Happier Life

by Henrik Edberg

“There is nothing permanent except change.”

“Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.”

About 2500 years ago there lived a man named Heraclitus in the city of Ephesus in Greece.

He lived a lonely life, created his own cryptic philosophy and wasn’t that fond of humanity. Still, he became a big influence on famous stoics like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca.

And he had a few really good words of wisdom that I would like to share today.

1. Envy is a really good way to hurt yourself.

“Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those we envy.”

Happiness often seems to be fleeting. But people can hold onto envy and make it even stronger over the course of many years.

But how can you become less envious? Three of my favorite tips are:

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Comparing what you have to what others have is a good way to make yourself miserable. It feeds your ego when you buy a nicer car or get a better job than someone else. You feel great for a while. But this mindset and the focus on comparing always winds up in you noticing someone that has more than you. That someone has an even better job or car than you. And so you don’t feel so good anymore.

A more useful way to compare is to just compare yourself to yourself. Look at how you have grown and what you have achieved. Appreciate what you have done and what you have, how far you have come and what you are planning to do.

Think about what’s in it for you.

I have found this to be helpful in many cases when I have negative thoughts or when I’m behaving in a less than useful way. Basically, I ask myself: “What’s in it for me?” And each time I fall back into that negative headspace and behaviour I remind myself of this question and the answer.

This reinforces to me the pointlessness of what I’m thinking. And often I just think to myself: “Oh, I’m being stupid again. Time to focus on something useful/fun/positive instead.”

Asking yourself what is in it for you is a good way to find distance from your thoughts and behaviour and to motivate yourself to just drop the less useful thoughts whenever you can.

Think about what your envy is telling you.

What you think and feel about the world can often tell you quite a bit about yourself.

So thinking about what your envy tells you about yourself can help you to learn more about yourself, what you fear and how you may be fooling yourself. Think about what is reflected when you feel envious of someone else.

Is it a fear of rejection? Of not being good enough?

Or a fear that you will lose something/someone/some part of yourself you feel very attached to? If so, why are you feeling so attached?

Try to find a solution or help – from books, people, the internet etc. – for whatever fear or belief within you that you think is making you feel the envy. Ask yourself: “What can the envy reveal about me?”

2. Understanding can not be found in books.

“Much learning does not teach understanding.”

When you read a lot you may think that you understand things. But you never really understand anything until your experience it. Yes, knowledge can help you to avoid pitfalls and improve quicker. But it can’t relate how it feels to experience something. And it can’t relate how you experience something since we are all a bit different from each other.

So you have to take action and do things. And when you start doing things you might also discover that things are often a bit more messy in real life than in books where it may seem like you only have to follow a clean ten step method to get the results you want. But that’s part of the fun of living life rather than just thinking and reading about it.

3. Be like the child again.

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”

When you were a kid and were playing you were totally focused on what you were doing. You were curious rather than filled with fear. There were no worries about tomorrow or yesterday. You weren’t lost in endless looping thoughts. You were just in the moment.

You tried to learn to ride your first bike. You fell, scraped your knee, got up again. And again. And again. Until you could do it. Failure was just a temporary annoyance, not a reason to give up.

It is a bit funny and at the same time a bit sad how much of what one may strive for through personal development that is about being like a child again.

Because it’s about living in the moment. About not being bogged down by constant, often kinda pointless thoughts that just produce negative emotions within and outside of you. It’s about being open and curious and not getting trapped in your comfort zone or fear.

So I guess that personal growth may not be so much about adding new layers to yourself but to shed some those that you have gained over the last few decades.

All that positive stuff was there in the beginning. You may still reconnect with it from time to time. And you can learn to spend even more time in that wonderful headspace where you are present, positive, open, kind and curious. While still being a responsible adult.

And if you are looking for a good place to start with this, I would recommend to learn to spend more time in the present moment again.

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{ 14 comments }

abdellah October 16, 2009 at 7:25 pm

hi . Henrik i would like to thank you for giving me and us some useful tips especially the one saying stop comparing yourself to other people i’m really weak at this point as i’m always comparing myself with other people but reading ur tips and some others made me feel much more a character of myself i’m very thankful thx .

Lauren October 16, 2009 at 8:48 pm

This is a great article. The thing is, envy is so absurdly natural and therefore, hard to eliminate. I think it’s important to realize the triggers that set off your envy and insecurity. Try to remove yourself from those triggers- whether it’s negative people, situations, etc.
I especially like Henrik’s suggestion to only compare yourself to yourself and not other people.

David Turnbull October 17, 2009 at 12:55 am

“Comparing yourself to others” is something I really have to work on. I don’t compare myself with anyone who has more money or fancier gadgets that I do, but people who are traveling the world, or are running a successful business. And what I fail to realise most of the time is that these people are sometimes 5+ years older than I am and a lot can change in 5 years.

Anyways, I should probably get out of my book collection and get some more life experience. :)

Gordie Rogers October 17, 2009 at 3:37 am

I love that last one. We do need to be like children from time to time. That’s when you can let go and be yourself.

Erika Awakening October 17, 2009 at 4:26 am

Yeah, not comparing ourselves to others is one of the keys to happiness. I like to shift the frame to being inspired by others instead, as I am inspired by your blog. cheers, – Erika

Tristan Lee October 17, 2009 at 7:40 am

Hey Henrik. Thanks for these words of wisdom. I agree that trying to cure envy is only going to make our ego’s bigger, and can result in an endless trap of comparing ourselves to others. The greatest opponent we must compare ourselves to is ourselves.

Ralph October 17, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Heraclitus is my favorite philosopher. I live by “You can’t step in the same river twice”. Great post!

Jason of Kim & Jason October 18, 2009 at 4:30 am

Henrik, since you mentioned the idea of being more like a child, I had to jump in. It’s my mission in life to help people see the wisdom of that idea.

And speaking of envy, a speaker friend of mine once said, “A life of compare leads to a life of despair.” That wise quote often comes to mind whenever I find myself sizing myself up with others.

Rebecca @ Time For Clarity October 18, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Nice points, and well taken. Even so, I felt something missing. The 3 items seemed randomly selected, without an internal consistency.

I prefer the comprehensive and holistic approach of Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology for advice on creating a sense of purposefulness and usefulness, which are core conditions necessary to a rich and satisfying life.

Alex Lim October 18, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Hi HENRIK,
I saw a link somewhere, clicked it and redirected me to this interesting blog. Thanks for a very meaningful post about how you can attain happiness. I’m a supporter of how simple and free things could get you genuine happiness. I definitely agree that freedom from envious feelings and insecurities could really make a good difference with your life. It gives you better perspective and outlook that will direct you to good decisions.

Nea | Self Improvement Saga October 20, 2009 at 5:25 am

I love these tips. Life is quite grand when we recognize our self worth, seek deep understanding and have child-like enthusiasm.

Martin Wildam October 20, 2009 at 9:04 am

I disagree on “Stop comparing yourself to others”. The problem that creates envy is not the comparison per se. The problem is that people usually only see partial properties of persons and envy at those. For example showing envy because of another person being famos omits all the drawbacks that come with that. This is also a reason why many people are not happy after they reached a long term goal. A second concern is: Comparing with others by seeing “different colors” is another thing than just seeing “black and white” and justifying another person being better or worse.

twenty three October 21, 2009 at 11:04 am

@Martin:
But if you don’t compare yourself to others, then you won’t see partial properties you envy at all. If you compare yourself to yourself, you have a more empowering focus. By doing the latter you’re focusing on yourself and not others.

† MAƒia Heaven † November 24, 2009 at 3:43 am

Stop comparing yourself to others. So meaningful. I really appreciated that Henrik. I like this article. But to compare yourself to others is good also and it helps you too.

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