The Five Thieves of Happiness - Critical summary review - John Izzo

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The Five Thieves of Happiness - critical summary review

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Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Five Thieves of Happiness

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 1626569320

Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Critical summary review

Feeling unhappy and sad? Perhaps your problem is that you’re constantly being robbed of your happiness? “By whom?” you ask. John Izzo replies – “By the ‘Five Thieves of Happiness.’”

That is hardly a genuine sentence, and you’d need more details on what you are doing wrong to take action, or perhaps digging up a bit to see what is holding you down.

If we are to believe Aristotle that everyone’s goal in life is to be happy, then any book written about happiness should be read by everybody. Even if it makes one person happier than already is, the book has more than done an excellent job.

John Izzo believes to have found the formula for overcoming the mundane pressures of everyday life and the thieves that have robbed you of your happiness. Let’s take a closer look at who these thieves actually are.

The programming of the human mind

“We have been so trained to think that we have to seek, long for and work for happiness that it’s easy to forget that the contentment we seek is always there, waiting for us to access it.” This is the central premise of Izzo’s bestseller, “The Five Thieves of Happiness.” In other words: happiness is not something out there, but something within you. Consequently, you don’t need to go out of your way to find it; in fact, it’s quite the opposite: by going out of your way to finding happiness, you’re losing it.

But, then again, why aren’t you already happy if your happiness is inside you? We hear that so often, it becomes to sound like a cliché, but there’s a reason for that. So far, you have never been told about a thief, let alone five, rummaging through your pockets while giving gifts to keep you from staying focused on the big reward.

If you don’t identify who these thieves are, how are you going to flip the odds in your favor? It’s time to put a stop to them and do something about it as opposed to spending your life complaining about being miserable. And by something we mean following Izzo’s NSR routine, which consists of only three steps:

No. 1. Notice: identify the thieves and start being aware when they are present; catch them red-handed!
No. 2. Stop: once you know who they are and finally happen upon them – show them the door!
No. 3. Replace: substitute their presence with something else, something far more positive.

Sounds like something familiar? Well, that’s because it is! It’s Charles Duhigg’s habit cycle all over again! If it works in the case of habits, why shouldn’t it work in the case of joy and laughter? Especially if Izzo is right and you’ve been robbed of it by the five thieves that he’s talking about.

Speaking of which – of course, you’ll be unable to catch your thieves rapid if you don’t know who they are and how they look like. So, allow us to introduce them: The 5C Brothers.

The first thief: control

The first thief of your happiness – your wish to control everything. News flash: at least ever since the ancient Stoics and Buddha, we know that the key to happiness is quite the opposite. Going with the flow, surrendering yourself to the “what may come” of tomorrow and accepting the “whatever it was, it was” of yesterday.

“The chief task in life is simply this,” wrote Epictetus two millennia ago, “to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” That’s the best lesson you’ll ever hear! Simply, it means that you can control only some of the things that are happening to you, and some others are out of your control no matter how much you try.

Think of it this way: regardless of your wishes, if the weather forecast says that it will rain on the day you are planning a picnic with your partner, it will probably rain. If your happiness depends upon not raining that day, then you’ve just allowed the “powers beyond you” to rob you of your happiness.

Now, why would you do that? Accept the fact beforehand that it might rain, and devise a Plan B. If it doesn’t – great; if it does – once again, great! “Staying in the moment is not what brings happiness,” writes Izzo. “What brings inner peace is acceptance of whatever is happening in the present moment.”

In other words, the only thing you can control is the present moment; and even in that present moment, there are thousands of things you can’t control. Want to make yourself miserable? Start whining about your past mistakes. Want to be happy? Accept them. It’s that easy.

The second thief: conceit

The second thief of your happiness is your self-centeredness. What do you mean you’re not conceited? Let us give you an example: suppose that you’re watching the Superbowl and your favorite team is losing. 

Besides asking - "Why is this always happening to me?" - You're also trying to activate a superstition or two to help your team get back on the right track. Because, of course, in the alternative universe where you are the center of the world, your team will inevitably score if you change your seat.

The problem? About a million people doing the same at the very same moment, and half of them are rooting for the other team. And you know what’s interesting: each and every one of us thinks that they are the only ones affected and the only ones who can help in some way. But that’s not how the world works. Moreover, it’s not how the world should work.

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” wrote smartly Martin Luther King Junior. “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Life is about realizing this truth, known at least as early as the time of Marcus Aurelius (yes, another Stoic). Because once you realize it, you’ll know that happiness never comes from focusing on your desires and needs; it comes from helping others.

Numerous studies have shown this, and the Dalai Lama endorses it: helping others makes us happier. Your whole being extends when you sacrifice some of your wishes and desires for others. It’s a strange paradox, but it’s, nevertheless, true. Conceit robs you of the possibility to become something more. Show this thief the door the next time you notice it working behind your back. You’ll be happier!

The third thief: coveting

Let’s start by pointing out the obvious: there’s a big difference between wants and desires on one side and jealousy and envy on the other. Coveting is a thief who uses the latter two as tools.

Paradoxically, life would be much better if we were to take a few steps back to make room for the happiness of others. Having said that, a life without desires and wishes would be, undoubtedly, unbearable! Ever since you were a child, you had dreams that usually included wanting to own something you didn’t have at the moment.

However, as you grew old, this wish transformed into something much darker: envy for the people who owned the things you didn’t. And there’s the catch: what the others own is not something you can control; even less if they own something which you never will, no matter how badly you want it (say, a yacht or a movie studio).

So, what’s the point in envying them? Also: do you know that you’re also the subject of envy of other people? Why aren’t you comparing with them and, instead of being unhappy about what you don’t have, learn to be happy with what you have?

Of course, society can help. Comparisons between people stem from a private property because that’s what causes inequality. Case in point, numerous studies have shown that people are, by definition, happier in more equal societies – regardless of whether the societies are rich or poor.

In other words, strangely enough, you’ll be happy with your Nissan if nobody is driving a Ferrari or a Rolls Royce. Even stranger, primitive societies or the people of the world in 1800 were probably just as happy as the wealthiest individuals of today. Makes you wonder, ha?

The fourth thief: consumption

OK, so let’s sum up what we’ve learned so far:

No. 1. Your wish to control everything robs you from happiness because you can’t control many things; you need to surrender.
No. 2. Your conceit makes you unhappy because the world doesn’t revolve around you; you need to learn to live with the others.
No. 3. Your coveting hinders your joy because you fail to see what you own; and, it will always do that, because, well, “there will always be a dog bigger than you or who has qualities you wish you had;” and because “our worth as a human being is not about how we compare with others but about truly living to our own best potential. We cannot control how we compare with others.”

Well, this last thing uncovers the face of Thief No. 4: Consumption. The consumption thief insists that happiness is not inside you but that it only comes from external acquisitions. It constantly whispers to your ear: “You’ll be happy when you have this or that.” And, at the moment that you acquire those things, it comes up with another great idea: “It’s better now, but you need to acquire this as well, then we will be done…”

But we’re never done. Because we’ve chosen to think of happiness as something that is not inside us and that we can only attain through external things. If that’s the case, then it means that you are not enough for yourself. And that’s preposterous! “We don’t need to seek happiness,” writes Izzo, “so much as we need to get out of its way.” Do you want to be happy? Just choose to be happy: “The idea that happiness is a choice, one that we can make at any moment, is so simple and radical that we often resist it.”

The fifth thief: comfort

If you’re like 90% of the people, you are living your life in your “comfort zone.” True, there are some nice things about your comfort zone: you’re familiar with the environment, and you have just enough access to everything that will grant your survival.

But beware: comfort is the fifth and perhaps the most sinister thief of your happiness! Still not convinced? Let us remind you of two little men called Hem and Haw. Remember how they were going about their days, following the same basic routine day in day out, pleased by the fact that they always had enough cheese to eat? And then, one day, there was no more cheese, and the only way to get some was leaving the comfort zone as soon as possible.

The problem with the comfort zone is that it dulls our emotions and our rational capabilities. To our bodies and our minds, routines are basically the same as idleness is to us. They feel relaxed since they know that it’s autopilot time.

But, is that a way to live your life? Is that what happiness really is? Many people make the mistake of settling well in their comfort zones, contended with the fact that even if they are not too happy, at least they are not sad. So, they never quit even though their jobs are not as fulfilling as they had once been; some of them even marry because of the therapeutic effects of routine.

Don’t do that! Comfort is great at first, but, over time, it becomes toxic to your happiness and spiritual health. Counter it by accepting that change is usually good and that the world is moved forward through a process of creative destruction. Why should you, as an individual, be any different? Disrupt yourself!

Final Notes

John Izzo discovered the “Five Thieves of Happiness” during an eight-month sabbatical spent in Spain and at the Peruvian Andes. 

And some pages of the book really feel as if written by someone who has managed to isolate himself from the whirlwind of stress and the barriers and conventions of society. If he can do it, why shouldn’t you be able to do the same?

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Who wrote the book?

John Izzo is a bestselling author, speaker, corporate advisor, and advocate for sustainable living. Izzo began his career as a Presbyterian minister, serving in churches from 1981 to 1987. After working as a consult... (Read more)

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