Aesop’s Short and Simple Guide to Living a Happier Life

by Henrik Edberg



“Adventure is worthwhile.”

About 2500 years ago a slave called Aesop lived on the Greek island of Samos.

He is known for the fables that he wrote down. Many of them were even older that Aesop and had been passed down through the ages through the oral tradition.

So even though these seven useful tips are attributed to Aesop, they may be much older than that.

1. Your wishes may not be all that they are cracked up to be.

“We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified.”

We wish for something. A new car, a new job, a new relationship or perhaps a new pair of shoes. And perhaps you think: “if I only get this thing, then I’m home, then I’ll feel happy and good all around”.

And then you get it. And it’s awesome. But often for just a while. And then you may feel like maybe something went a bit wrong. Like it didn’t fulfil you or complete you like you thought it would.

Why? Well, after while when you get used to something, when it becomes normal, then the ego tends to want more once again.

Or maybe you can’t enjoy something for what it is because even though your environment changes, you are still the same. The same person with the same outlook on life. With the same self-imposed barriers for your own success and happiness and maybe self-sabotaging behaviour. And until you take a look at those things you may find yourself repeating the same patterns over and over. When you are the same, you often tend to get the same results over and over again.

Also, our wishes can often come through accompanied by unexpected and not so pleasant side effects. Things may seem just perfect when you dream about them. In reality, it can become a little more complicated and messy.

Now, new things or people can be great. But if you think this one thing will fix all your problems or focus on the wrong aspects – what is not perfect, how can I get more etc. – instead of the positives and gratitude then you may find yourself always looking for the next thing and create quite a bit of stress and unhappiness within.

2. Learn not only from your own life.

“Better be wise by the misfortunes of others than by your own.”

This is a very useful thing to keep in mind. Not the easiest to implement consistently though. Some things are very hard to learn by just watching others make a mistake.

You have to make it yourself, get the experience of it and learn about the thoughts and feelings associated to it. With that understanding it can be easier to actually learn to avoid doing the same mistake over and over.

However, to keep your eyes and mind open to the mistakes and misfortunes of others around you – or via books or blogs – is still very useful. It can allow you to make quicker and less painful progress, for instance when you are a beginner at something.

3. Beware of complacency.

“Don’t let your special character and values, the secret that you know and no one else does, the truth – don’t let that get swallowed up by the great chewing complacency.”

One of the big, and sneakiest, obstacles to living the life you wish for is complacency. It tells you that it’s easier to just stay where you are, to watch TV and eat snacks instead of for instance working out or trying something new. Or expressing yourself in a genuine way.

Complacency might give a feeling of things being good enough. Or a sense of security. But a sense of security is often a just false sense of security. You never really know what will happen.
If you want to fulfil more of your potential, if you want to find out what you really can do, then complacency isn’t such a good idea. But how do you keep yourself from falling into it?

I don’t have an easy answer. I think you have to keep your focus on the right things to help yourself to grow. And not only check your own thinking and actions continually but also fill much of your life with people and information that will inspire you, challenge you and keep you in a supportive environment. And keep you from falling back into a lazy, comfortable rut.

4. Work on your own goals.

“He that always gives way to others will end in having no principles of his own.”

“If you allow men to use you for your own purposes, they will use you for theirs.”

One good reason to have a direction and goals in life is simply because if you don’t, then someone else does. And that person will get the people without goals to work on his/her goal. Or as the second quote suggests, they might help you but with an ulterior motive.

And so you lose your personal power. You give it away to someone else by not having your own direction, by not keeping your own hands on the wheel. And it may not feel that horrible really. It might feel safe.

But on the other hand, if you start setting goals and get a direction in life you tend to perk up and feel more empowered. That vague, underlying uneasiness that seemed to float through your life start to vanish. You feel more alert. And you can start to work much more on what you really want out of life, instead of what someone else may tell you that you should do or want.

5. Kindness is always good.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Any act of kindness can put a positive spark into the world. Just a genuine compliment can make a person’s day. And even if someone doesn’t appreciate your kindness you can still feel good about handing it out. In the end, their response is their business. And in the long run, you tend to get what you give.

6. What they say might not really be about you.

“People often grudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves.”

“The unhappy derive comfort from the misfortunes of others.”

Of course, criticism that may be valid should be taken seriously. But negativity directed towards you is pretty seldom about you. It’s more about someone else having a bad day, week or year and directing their negative energy at anyone passing by in their life.

So much complaining and negativity that people put out into the world is about how they feel about themselves and their lives. The problem is just that we are often so focused on own lives that we take every negative thing said to us personally. But the world doesn’t revolve around me or you.

So remember these two quotes when someone’s directing negativity towards you.

And more importantly, remember those quotes when you feel the need to lash out towards someone. Ask yourself what the real problem in your life is. And what you can do about it. Instead of just lashing out and feeding more negativity into your and someone else’s life.

One thing you can pretty sure of is that the more people try to boost their own value and temporary positive feelings by putting someone else down, the worse they feel about themselves and their lives. And that goes for you and me too of course.

7. Help yourself.

“The gods help them that help themselves.”

The ones that help themselves consistently by making plans and taking action get more opportunities and more of what may be perceived as luck. Things just seem to line up for them. While others may stand on the sidelines and begrudge all that luck and success that those people have.

The more you help yourself, the more help you tend get from the world around you. If you don’t help and empower yourself then there will probably be a whole lot less help of any kind coming your way.

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{ 24 comments }

Katie Brandt August 10, 2010 at 9:55 pm

My favorite is “#2. Learn not only from your own life.” Watching people’s bios and reading them is a great way to shorten your path to your goals. there is someone that has what your are striving for. If you follow what they did, and advoid their mistakes, you will get what they have sooner.

Numair Qureshi August 15, 2010 at 7:10 am

“Experience teaches slowly, Robin. And at a cost of many mistakes.”- Batman

Katie, I agree with you.

Daniel M. Wood August 11, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Some important lessons and all very important to remember.

I think your found a good mix of both “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you” but still remembering that you need to take care of yourself and work towards your own goals.

Because if you don’t get that mix you tend to go to far in one direction loosing you either all the help from others, or not moving forward on your own goals at all.

jonathanfigaro August 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm

It’s never good to be complacent. It’s better to stretch your self. Go further, jump higher and go to the top. The view is better from there. The islands are resorts and the champagne is colder than the shoulder when a broke dude tires to approach her.

Life is about spreading your wings and flying in the opposite direction, then doing that again, and again, and again. DO this. If you do this, you’ll go to your grave happier than a criminal who just got out of prison.

Tasneem R August 12, 2010 at 11:18 am

This article was helpful. What you said about wish, wishes don’t always give happiness when it gets fulfilled. And all the other points you’ve written are very true.

Billy August 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Really great tips, I particularly like number 4, work on your goals. If we don’t have goals we don’t have direction. Thanks for sharing

Debbie @ Happy Maker August 12, 2010 at 10:56 pm

My favor is #7. Some people just sit there waiting for things to happen and if they would just help themselves it is amazing how life can change for the better. Guest that is where the blame game can get into some peoples way. Thanks for the great tips and have a very happy day.
Debbie

Alex August 13, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Some really important lessons which have stood the test of time and are still hugely relevant today.

Roman Soluk August 14, 2010 at 9:34 am

Very interesting and helpful tips. Thanks a lot for sharing, Henrik! As always pleasure to read you.

Francesca August 16, 2010 at 11:48 am

As a kid, I always loved reading Aesop’s fables. I also liked the fact that they were nice stories and that these stories teach readers things about life. I always thought that these stories and their lessons were only meant for kids. Going thru your list now, I somehow realize that the moral of the stories by Aesop are not only meant for kids but for everybody. I like #1 the best. Sometimes we think that getting this or that will make us happy, in the end after getting it, we realize its only the thrill of the process of getting it that stirs our emotions inside. Finally we realize its not true happiness. True Happiness is being contented with what it is you have and making the most out of it. i want to share an article regarding happiness that is related to #1, written by another great mind at
Happiness

Molly@Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce August 16, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Number one has really been an eye-opener for me. Sometimes not getting what I thought I wanted has been the most amazing thing! Garrison Keillor has a great quote “Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.”
I wrote an article about this http://www.postcardsfromapeacefuldivorce.com/186/happiness-is-an-inside-job/

Petey Silveira August 16, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Love #5, Kindness is always good! So true! When we practice the art of kindness with all who cross our path, it always becomes food for our soul. It’s so much easier to be kind to others, takes little energy but provides our aura with a brightness that can be seen for miles!

Graeme, Relationship Blogger August 16, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Wow, I had no idea that the quote “The gods help them that help themselves.” was from Aesop! (pretty lame for a philosophy major, haha.) Thanks for sharing and reconnecting me with the pearls of wisdom that are Aesop quotes ;) The first one is my favorite.

Samantha August 17, 2010 at 4:10 am

I couldn’t agree more with #1. I think we often equate happiness with setting and getting a goal… but that version of happiness can sure get exhausting as we always have to keep striving in order to be happy. An alternative is to learn how to cultivate a happy mental state regardless of what is going on around you. I saw a good TED talk by Dan Gilbert about this:
http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html

And I wrote a blog about it:
http://frameshiftcoaching.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/do-we-really-need-to-achieve-our-dreams-in-order-to-be-happy/

cheska August 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm

#1 is very releveant to all of us. come to think of it, it is really true. human being will never be contented of something because everytime we get what we want, we always wish for something better than what we already have. It’s human nature but something that can be avoided if we just give it a try.

Tommy Liano August 17, 2010 at 8:37 pm

I really like “Work on your own goals”. It’s very important to have a goal (to know exactly what you want) and be purposeful!

Andre August 18, 2010 at 9:58 am

The interesting part about Aesop is that he was a slave. Imagine the circumstances of his life and his lot as a slave and yet he was able to set himself free from his past. He did not remain a slave but went onto great things in life and was recognized by Socrates and Aristotle.
I think the lesson to be learnt here is no matter what our lives are we have wisdom and knowledge to share. Circumstances can make or break you but it depends on your attitude towards them.

Mathieu August 18, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Thank you so much for this post. I’ve known about Aesops fables but never knew exactly the Ben Franklinian ring they had!

A little quote just for you that I found IMMENSELY good:

“Everything works out more perfectly that I plan it” – R.A. Wilson

There is good old fashioned reframing done right!

personal development, mind potential, self help

Aimee August 18, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Enjoyed the post and agree that “adventure is worthwhile” and is defined differently for each of us. Life is a journey and if we are focused on goals, flexible and learning everyday from those around us and we will avoid the complacency in not pursuing the next goal that will bring more joy into life. I also have good memories of my parents reading these fables to me as a child :-) Thanks for the reminder we can still learn from these timeless tales!

Retirementlover August 19, 2010 at 6:11 am

#2 resonates with me. I like biographies of well-known and not so well-known people. If properly researched and well written, there is a lot to learn and contemplate about someone else’s life. I just finished an excellent biography about Georgia O”Keeffe.

As an aside, I tend to find most autobiographies a little to self-serving. The rough edges of that person’s life tend to be shaved off.

Eric Woolsey August 19, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I am very interested in the way you wrote this article. It is kind of akin to this book I just finished: “The Richest Man in Babylon.” Anyway, the point I’m getting at is it is very well written and you chose to elaborate on a lot of philosophies I believe in. I liked elements you mentioned of each point. I think my favorite was the first, referring to how we’d be sorrowful if all our desires were granted is-that our view of life is what needs to change.

organic green August 20, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Number 1, your wishes may not be all that they are cracked up to be, reminds me of some passages from a book I’m reading and love (Silent Master Awakening The Power Within). A great part of self discovery is discovering your true desire; letting go of the ideas that don’t really resonate with you and thereby becoming more aware of what you really want out of life.

Venus Cow August 26, 2010 at 10:06 am

What a good piece. Refraining from blaming and complaining really workds when starting any selftherapy and gives results immediately.

Avant September 9, 2010 at 6:18 am

#5 is excellent advice, as are the others. If in doubt, be kind!

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