The Five Thieves of Happiness – Book Summary

Stop Seeking Happiness; Just Get Out of Its Way! Happiness is our natural state, for each of us and for humanity as a whole, argues John Izzo. But that happiness is being stolen by insidious mental patterns that he depicts as thieves: the thief of control, the thief of conceit, the thief of coveting, the thief of consumption, and the thief of comfort. 

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In this article, we are going to be discussing five thieves of happiness. Our modern society is so focused on achieving happiness by achieving more success, more money, better physical looks. However, those things we are chasing might give us temporary bliss, but they tend to be temporary.

On the other hand, you might be able to buy happiness, if only you spend in the right way. For more details on how to buy happiness, read my previous reading notes and book review on Happy Money.


Chasing happiness seems to be our modern culture

Modern culture seems obsessed with finding the keys to attaining and maintaining happiness. The belief that people must work to acquire happiness makes the problem worse.

Most people assume that events in their lives determine their happiness. But on further observation, we often see that there is a lot of evidence that people seem to be happy despite their hardship while there are those who remain unhappy despite tremendous blessings. Much material success is not the key or the answer to our pursuit of happiness.

Therefore, we could argue that in order to gain true happiness and lasting contentment – we need to separate our sense of happiness from happenings. This reminds me of a great book I’ve read, Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust by Viktor E. Frank.

Happiness can endure regardless of life’s ups and downs. For example, Viktor E. Frank might have the worse of downs I’ve known – but for some reason, he managed to endure. However, society conditions people to believe that being happy is hard. But happiness is readily accessible. Being out in nature calms and soothes you because you don’t need to take any particular action to connect with its serenity. Tranquillity is available to every person.

Meditation and yoga help you unite with the stillness and spiritual calm that is already within you. In my case, prayer or salah calms me since I can’t do yoga – I’m not that flexible, yet. Plus, for Muslim, we have five daily obligatory prayers. which should be more than enough to calm us down

“What is sorely needed are companies and leaders who see that only by focusing on the health of the whole world can business thrive.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

Distorted thought patterns and internal filters

Looking at the world through distorted thought patterns and internal filters enables the five thieves of happiness – control, conceit, coveting, consumption, and “comfort’’ to steal our joy.


This five thieves of happiness render you unable to see reality as it truly exists. By extension, the five thieves of happiness adversely affect society at large. We know humanity managed to gain dominance on Earth, against other species, is through our ability to cooperate with each other. Even we are smarter than any other species on Earth, we definitely not the strongest, fastest, biggest, or best-looking species around. The fact that our dominance comes from cooperating with each other makes it more bizarre than more often than not, humanity ends up in conflict with each other, or even worse, wars.

For centuries before the development of agriculture and the idea of property, human beings likely practised peaceful cooperation. Hence, it is important for us to view our pursuit of happiness in its right context, so, pay attention to these five thieves of happiness.

The Five Thieves of Happiness No.1: Control

In the Buddha’s search many centuries ago for the reason humanity suffers, he came to realize that acceptance is the secret to peace of mind. He found that people’s desire to control uncontrollable things destroys their happiness and internal peace. In short, suffering isn’t the result of life events but of humankind’s reluctance to embrace the inevitability of such events.

We can control our actions and how we respond to incidents. However, we are powerless over events themselves or the outcome of our actions. We need to remember that our goals and desires aren’t obstacles to our happiness. But when we anticipate a result that doesn’t materialize we tend to be frustrated and unhappy. Sometimes, the result that we seek turns out to be less fulfilling than the journey to reach it. Just like Gary Vee always said, enjoy the grind while it last.

”Staying in the moment is not what brings happiness. What brings inner peace is the acceptance of whatever is happening in the present moment.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

Being in the moment

We can’t control the past and the future. Hence, regretting the past and worrying about the future prevent you from living in the present and it is not logical. It’s all about being in the moment. This means accepting things as they are even though the quest for control pushes you to believe you can manage life’s outcomes.

This doesn’t mean lapsing into a state of passivity and not trying to influence the course of your life. It just means that the result may not be what you expect or plan but you just need to accept it as it is and work with what you’ve been given.

Critical in relationships

Control is often a critical factor in relationships. For example, if you apologize for making someone angry, you expect that person to offer a response that will make you feel better. But you have no control over another person’s reactions; all you can control is the sincerity of your apology.

Surrender is the opposite of control. If you’re planning to play golf, but the weather forecast is shaky, be prepared for a rainout. If your happiness depends on playing golf that day, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

“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.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

We are 100% responsible for our life

We are the one responsible to kick the control thief from our own life. Just like motivation, we can expect others to come and motivate us. Because if we do, we’ll be in trouble if they don’t show up. Decide who is welcome and who isn’t. Prevent errant thoughts from negatively impacting our lives by steering them into a different direction.

Meditation and mindfulness practice can help us to brush aside negative or distracting thoughts. The goal is to recognize them as such and then sweep them away. Recognize and react.

The Five Thieves of Happiness No. 2: Conceit

This thief likes to pump up your ego and make you feel like the world’s most important person – you most probably not the most important person in the world. Conceit wants you to forget your fellow human beings and focus only on your needs, wants and desires. Conceit says to ignore being part of something greater than yourself and forget that everyone is connected to an all-encompassing life-force.

Life is eternal, life is ongoing

Happiness lies not in individual pursuits but in acknowledging that life, death and everything in between is eternal and ongoing. Combat conceit with giving and being. Acts of kindness are far more significant sources of happiness than self-centred behaviours. Like the other thieves, conceit wears a convincing disguise. Conceit tries to convince you that your happiness is all that matters.


This thief is trying to isolate you!

You may recognize that this thief is trying to isolate you from everyone and everything around you. Acknowledge its presence, but don’t be fooled.

Understand the truth: You are on a journey to discover your connections to this world.

“Many people spend hours of misery wishing they could relive decisions from their past when what is required is simple acceptance.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

Conceit impact on society

Conceit has a detrimental effect on society. People often believe that the world exists solely for their benefit. Humans play a unique role in nature, yet they still require the same food, air and water that millions of other creatures also need. Every living entity has a history and a purpose. To banish conceit, serve others and celebrate your connection to the world around you.

The Five Thieves of Happiness No. 3: Coveting 

Nothing is inherently wrong or destructive about wanting things in life you don’t already have. But coveting means you are envious of other people and harbour resentment because you may not be as wealthy, handsome or socially prominent as they are.

Envy fosters discontent and inner turmoil; in its grip, you determine your self-worth by comparing yourself with others. Instead of being happy for their good fortune, you are disappointed, jealous and bitter.

“The journey to happiness is ultimately a daily walk to encounter all things as they come to you, including the thieves.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

The Spirit Level

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, found that people are happier and more trusting in societies that have greater equality – regardless of whether the country is rich or poor. An utterly equal society is impossible. Since jealousy over one issue or another is inevitable. But working on your inner self will allow you to be happy for others instead of constantly comparing yourself to them.

“One of the most important conversations a society can have is how we define ‘the good life’.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

Practice gratitude

People who practice gratitude – the opposite of coveting – are happier, healthier, kinder, more friendly, more compassionate and less angry. They may even have stronger immune systems. But simply articulating gratitude isn’t enough to get rid of this thief. You must look inward and chart your own course instead of measuring yourself against others.

“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.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

Take a break from social media

The Happiness Institute in Denmark found that people grew happier when they took a two-week break from Facebook. Reading about others’ exploits or how many friends or likes they have can make your life seem inferior by comparison.

Yet involvement with social media has a positive effect, too. To explain the dichotomy, analyze how people behave on social media. Active interaction – posting and messaging, for instance – increases social connection and decreases loneliness. Passively consuming content, however, adversely affects your sense of connection and heightens your loneliness.

Merely witnessing other people’s lives fosters jealously. Participating in life alongside other people creates happiness.

“There will always be a dog bigger than you or who has qualities you wish you had.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

Being aware of a thief’s presence is crucial to banishing it. You may not always be able to prevent a thief from entering your mind, but you can prevent it from influencing you. If you find yourself making comparisons,- just stop it.

Get in touch with gratitude. Express thanks for who you are and what you have. Be happy when others succeed. Practice this mind-set before the thief tries to influence you. Work on banishing envy.

The Five Thieves of Happiness No. 4: Consumption

This thief continually tells you that you’ll be happy only “if and when you have X.” But the underlying and more sinister message is that you can attain happiness only through getting or buying something, only through external means.


In truth, you don’t need to acquire anything to be happy; it’s a choice. You can always choose to be content when happiness isn’t within reach. Contentment means living in the moment and accepting your circumstances or situation. Contentment means finding peace and not being unhappy.

“The final and most critical aspect of mindfulness is the capacity to gently brush aside something once we become aware of it.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

Buying happiness

You can, if only you buy experience not materials goods. But most of the time, consumers believe they can buy happiness through material goods, which never ends well– whether it’s an iPhone or a new car. The consumption thief insists you’ll be happy when others love you. Even though you have the innate ability to love yourself. Being a loving person and treating others with love doesn’t require outside assistance.

We choose to be happy – or miserable

Beautiful weather makes your vacation more enjoyable, but deciding to be miserable if it rains is a choice. Being in a good relationship can be joyful, but you don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy. Natural human emotions, such as sadness and grief, present valuable opportunities to acknowledge their presence while choosing contentment instead.

“The act of being aware of a thought pattern and then replacing it with a new one can have an efficient impact on your daily life.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

Society reinforces this perception

Society continually reinforces the notion that personal possessions and varied experiences are measuring sticks for defining happiness. Instead of acquiring things, some people like to travel, even though travel can create environmental issues. While enjoying beautiful things is, of course, not necessarily heinous, the consumption thief insists that the “good life” comes from external acquisitions.

Instead, understand and absorb the elevating truth that happiness and contentment come from within. The next time you face an outside temptation, ask yourself if submitting to it will really make you happy and if it’s absolutely necessary. This will help you find workable answers to essential questions about whether society can create a system in which consumption isn’t the sole driver of happiness.

The Five Thieves of Happiness No. 5: Comfort

If you find yourself following the same basic routine every day, especially when it’s not particularly stimulating or fulfilling, then you understand how this bandit works. Comfort wants you to be at ease with going through the motions of your day and finding satisfaction with your current situation in life, no matter its limitations.

We know that change stimulates and challenges the brain. However, at the same time, we find great comfort in routine. It lets you function on autopilot without challenging the limiting assumptions that govern our day-to-day existence.

Unfortunately, deep-seated behavioural patterns can keep you in a rut and prevent you from discovering pure joy and happiness.


The groove feels familiar and comforting, but it’s toxic to our spiritual health.

“Know that you can change old habits. Challenge every habit that no longer serves you.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

We tend to cling to our old behaviours

In many instances, people cling to old behaviours that once helped them cope with emotional and physical challenges. Comfort tries to convince you that change is unsafe and will bring negative consequences, even though the opposite is true. Hence. it points out to our well-known tendencies to resist change.

For example, conflict resolution may frighten you because you were raised in a family that avoided arguments and confrontation.

You may find yourself shutting down in a conflict when striving for a positive resolution would benefit you. The comfort thief wants to keep you stuck in destructive thinking and actions.

“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.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

You may hesitate to try something new because you are afraid to fail. That may be the safest and most comfortable path, but without risk, progress is almost impossible. Battle this thief by doing things differently. I would read about an unfamiliar topic to makes things more interesting – It’s not only increased my knowledge but also widen my perspective on the world.

Remember that change is good.


Three steps to banish the thieves: Notice, Stop and Replace

Use three steps to banish the five thieves of happiness:

  1. Notice – Be aware of a thief’s presence. Catch it in the act.
  2. Stop – Don’t let the thief dominate your thoughts. Show it the door.
  3. Replace – Substitute a positive thought. Focus only on the present moment.

“We don’t need to seek happiness so much as we need to get out of its way.”

quote from The Five Thieves of Happiness

Using these steps effectively takes work. Practice being mindful of every moment when you believe that your happiness depends on a particular outcome or you’re fighting the reality of the moment.

For example, instead of blaming a traffic jam for ruining your commute, realize that the situation is totally out of your control and practise acceptance. I mean, I could listen to audiobooks during my commute – just need to make sure that the audiobook is not boring.

Make the best of the circumstances you encounter.     


Stop Seeking Happiness; Just Get Out of Its Way! Happiness is our natural state, for each of us and for humanity as a whole, argues John Izzo. But that happiness is being stolen by insidious mental patterns that he depicts as thieves: the thief of control, the thief of conceit, the thief of coveting, the thief of consumption, and the thief of comfort. 

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Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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