the laws of human nature summary

Book Summary: The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene

The Book in Three Sentences

In this summary of The Laws of Human Nature, you’ll learn that as social animals, our very existence depends on the quality of the relationships we develop with other people. Like some of Robert Greene’s previous books, The Laws of Human Nature distills ideas from psychology and philosophy and turns them into an essential series of laws. To understand others and ourselves, it’s also important that we examine our own behavior.


Every trait you come across is something you can use to learn about the nature of humanity. Even when some of those traits are annoying or unpleasant, the people behind them are probably using them to toy with our emotions. Those people seem charming, confident, and enthusiastic at first. Soon though, you find out their true intentions: They manipulate everyone to get what they want. These people could be colleagues, bosses, or a love interest and when we’re around them, we feel controlled and pushed around. To prevent this from happening, we must dig deep and get to the roots of human behavior. This allows us to anticipate lies and avoid uncomfortable situations.

All of these forces that come into play when interacting with others are part of what we know as human nature. For thousands of years, human nature allowed us to survive, letting us cooperate, coordinate, and communicate. Human nature is hard to decipher, but there are obvious advantages to doing it. This book attempts to reveal the code behind people’s behavior, focusing on a series of practical laws. Despite looking sophisticated and technologically advanced, humans are still primitive. With the advent of new tools like social media, this makes us more vulnerable to external forces than ever. Ignoring the laws of human nature can lead to serious consequences.

Chapter 1: Master the Emotional Self – The Law of Irrationality

To control your fate, you mustn’t let your emotions take over. Instead of reacting, you need to think. The problem is that humans are fundamentally irrational. In the animal world, being emotional is a form of communication. In the human world though, being emotional is inaccurate. Our emotions happen unconsciously and the only thing we can do is try to interpret them. Most times, we interpret them wrong and we learn nothing from what happened.

Acquiring rationality is a three-step process. First, we need to be aware of low-grade irrationality, these are the moods that affect our thinking. Second, we need to understand high-grade irrationality, this is how everything we interpret goes through a lens of the emotion we’re feeling at the moment. Third, we must use strategies to nourish the thinking part of our brain.

To be more rational, you should practice the following steps:

Step 1: Recognize the biases: The most common emotion is to look for pleasure and avoid pain.

Some biases include:

  • Confirmation bias: Looking for evidence that supports your opinion. 
  • Conviction bias: We don’t believe something to be true, but we go the extra mile to convince everyone that’s the case.
  • Appearance bias: Judging people on their appearance.
  • Group bias: The satisfaction we get when others agree with us.
  • Blame bias: Blaming others instead of learning from an experience.
  • Superiority bias: Seeing yourself as rational, decent, and ethical.

Step 2: Beware the inflaming factors: giving time and energy to your emotions makes them stronger. This can lead to disastrous consequences if you’re not careful.

The author mentions five inflaming factors:

  • Trigger points from early childhood: When we were children, we were our most vulnerable, so early memories have a big impact. Identifying the source of certain behaviors is the key to solving these issues.
  • Sudden gains or losses: Sudden gains make us want to repeat the experience. Sudden losses convince us we’re unlucky. When this happens, step back and think about the situation.
  • Rising pressure: When someone’s under stress, you see their true self. If this happens to you, find the time and space to contemplate what happened.
  • Inflaming individuals: Inflammers are those who trigger extreme emotions in others. Stay away from them.
  • The group effect: This is behaving differently when you’re in a group.

Step 3: Strategies toward bringing out the rational self

  • Know yourself well
  • Examine the roots of your emotions
  • Increase your reaction time by stepping back from the event that requires a response
  • Instead of trying to change people, simply accept them
  • Find the right balance between thinking and emotion
  • Love the rational

Chapter 2: Transform Self-Live into Empathy – The Law of Narcissism

The best tool for connecting with others and getting social power is empathy. The enemy of empathy is narcissism. To survive, we need the attention of others because attention makes us feel recognized and appreciated. Most human actions are driven by this constant need for attention. The problem is that there’s a limited supply of attention to get.

When we can’t get more attention, we have two options. We can try too hard, though this will probably repulse attention rather than attract it. Alternatively, we can create an image of ourselves that gives us value from within. This self is a combination of our tasks, opinions, values, and views of the world. The problem with this self-image is that it accentuates our positive traits and disregards our negative ones. When we crave attention and we can’t get it from others, we can find it within. This self-love works unconsciously, so we don’t even notice it. The best way to see it is by looking at people who don’t have it: Deep narcissists.

Deep narcissists are deeply insecure, angry, and with a need for vengeance. Narcissists are easily offended and want to only talk about themselves. The next category involves functional narcissists. They are self-absorbed, but have a sense of self that helps them feel loved. While certain challenges in life can drag functional narcissists down, they can eventually elevate themselves.

Deep narcissists are the minority, but when you come across one, they can hurt you. You must identify them before they can manipulate you. Also, it’s important to be honest about your own nature. To a certain extent, we are all self-absorbed, so there’s no shame in admitting you’ve created a self you can love. To transform yourself though, you must admit your self-absorbed nature. The goal is to become a healthy narcissist. This involves having a strong sense of self. Healthy narcissists recover easily from insults, don’t need much validation from other people, and admit their flaws. They direct their attention outward, either toward their work or people. This makes them empathic.

Empathy has four parts:

  • The empathic attitude: This is trying to understand people instead of judging them.
  • Visceral empathy: This involves paying attention to people’s emotions. You can read people’s moods by noticing their body language and tone of voice.
  • Analytic empathy: The more you know someone (their tastes, values, and backgrounds), the more you understand them.
  • The empathic skill: To become empathic, you need feedback. Feedback can come in direct form (asking people what they think or how they feel) and indirect form (you have a sense of what they think or how they feel).

The author recognizes three examples of narcissistic types:

  • The Complete Control Narcissist: They are ambitious and energetic, but deeply insecure. To satisfy their insecurities, they need attention and validation from others. They’re hyper-sensitive, and they’re great listeners. Complete Control Narcissists want to connect with people so that they can discover their weaknesses and manipulate them.
  • The Theatrical Narcissists: Narcissists go unnoticed until their behavior is impossible to ignore. For this purpose, they perform. They can play many roles, such as moral, altruistic, victims, and neglected. To become immune to their performance, get to know their tricks.
  • The Healthy Narcissist: This is being confident and optimistic and it shows in your body language and tone of voice. Healthy narcissists are attentive, gentle, and motivational. 

Chapter 3: See Through People’s Masks – The Law of Role-Playing

People wear masks. This lets them appear confident, attentive, and interested. This is a way to hide their insecurities and envy. These masks aren’t perfect though, so you’ll see people’s true feelings from time to time. Emotions like resistance, hostility, and manipulation reveal themselves in the form of facial expressions, as well as changes in their voice, posture, or gestures.

Hiding our thoughts and feelings is something we learn at a young age. We do this to protect ourselves when we’re most vulnerable. Although we learn to hide our feelings in social contexts, we want to express them nonetheless. Often, our true intentions and feelings reveal themselves through non-verbal cues. With this in mind, accept that social interaction has a theatrical quality to it. Additionally, never confuse people’s appearances for their real selves.

This law has three parts: observing people, understanding non-verbal communication, and grasping impression management.

Observational skill: This skill requires patience. When talking with someone look for facial expressions that go against what they’re saying. Once you do this, move on to people’s voices. Finally, move on to body language, like posture or hand gestures. The more you get people to talk, the more nonverbal cues you’ll notice. Try not to hold prejudices toward the people you examine since this can lead to mistakes.

Decoding keys: people want to show their best version to the world. As a consequence, they hide their thoughts, feelings, and desires. You must identify the signs that make it past that filter. There are three categories of cues: dislike/like, dominance, submission, and deception.

  • Dislike/like cues: Dislike/like cues indicate when people feel hostile toward something or show joy or attraction to something. When they dislike something, they squint, glare, stiffen, turn away, fold their arms, or tense their bodies. Before that even happens, you’ll see microexpressions that last less than a second. When they like something, they relax their faces, expose their lips, smile genuinely, or raise the pitch of their voices.
  • Dominance/submission cues: These are all the actions people do to show superiority. Dominance is showing up late, talking and interrupting often, or ignoring others.
  • Deception cues: These are the actions people take to hide something. It often comes in the form of exaggerated facial and bodily expressions and there are also contradictory signs. The more they talk and reveal about themselves, the more anxiety you’ll notice.

Impression Management: As difficult as it is, embrace the dynamic of impression management because you need it if you want to achieve social success. The basics in the art of impression management include:

  • Master the nonverbal cues: Be aware of your nonverbal cues so that you can alter them to your advantage.
  • Be a method actor: This involves displaying the right emotions whenever you want.
  • Adapt to your audience: Be flexible and change your nonverbal cues depending on the people you talk to.
  • Create the proper first impression: Go the extra mile regarding your first appearance. Look people in the eye and show a relaxed smile.
  • Use dramatic effects: Determine how often you’ll appear. Use this to make people want to see you. Withhold information too.
  • Project saintly qualities: Give generously. Be sincere and honest by showing your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Be humble. Appear to be destined for success.

Chapter 4: Determine the Strength of People’s Character – The Law of Compulsive Behavior

When you meet someone new, don’t fixate on their reputation or the image they project. Look deeper into their character. Character is a combination of their childhood experiences, as well as their daily habits. What people do once, they’ll do again. You can determine someone’s character strength by their ability to adapt and work with others, their patience, their ability to learn, and how they handle crises.

Nothing divine controls our future. The thing that determines our fate is our character. With this in mind, understand your character to break negative patterns, shape positive ones, and read other people’s characters. To see people’s character, look at their actions over a period of time. Ignore what people say, look at how they behave instead. The more you get to know someone, the more you’ll know about their past. Soon, you’ll begin to identify recurring patterns. Never ignore these patterns because people never do something once.

When someone’s character is strong, they are open to things as long as they don’t go against their values. When someone’s character is weak, on the other hand, they’re often overwhelmed by external factors and they’re unreliable. They evade problems and they’re reluctant to learn new things.

Naturally, we’re the result of both strong and weak qualities, but we have a tendency to move toward one or the other. Avoid weak characters and follow strong ones. Real strength is one of the hardest features to develop, so when you find someone who has it, treasure that person.

Toxic types are difficult to deal with because they’re tricky to identify in the first place. The best way to spot them is to know how they behave and to stay away from them.

  • The Hyperperfectionist seem hard-working and dedicated, but they can’t delegate and they want to control everything.
  • The Relentless Rebel hates authority and wants to be underdogs. They use humor against others to feel superior to them.
  • The Personalizer is sensitive and thoughtful, but this makes them likely to take everything people say to heart.
  • The Drama Magnet seem exciting because that’s how they get love and attention. They position themselves as victims of their circumstances.
  • The Big Talker seems impressive. They are in need of help despite never having achieved anything. They always waste your time and never realize their goals.
  • The Sexualizer is charged with sexual energy that comes from a dark past. They see all relationships as an opportunity for sex.
  • The Pampered Prince/Princess appears magnificent and dignified and uses these qualities to get favors from others. When they’re unable to get what they want, they behave in childish ways.
  • The Pleaser is nice and considerate at first. They use this as a defense mechanism because this comes out of deep resentment.
  • The Savior promises to save you from problems, but in exchange, they want to control you.
  • The Easy Moralizer is always in the middle of some injustice. That said, they mistreat people and are condescending to those close to them.

To follow the Superior character, you must examine yourself with honesty and identify the mistakes that limit you. This will let you break negative patterns and avoid their consequences. You’ll soon realize your full potential. The idea is to channel your flaws into something productive. While extremely difficult, this process will help you break away from the character you crafted when you were young.

Chapter 5: Become An Elusive Object of Desire – The Law of Covetousness

Absence and presence are powerful forces. Being present all the time suffocates. Being absent some of the time sparks interest. This stems from our desire to possess what we can’t. Use this to your advantage, so being absent reminds people that you’re not around and that they want you.

We’re in constant pursuit of something because that’s what makes us human. As soon as we get what we want, we start to think about something else because we perceive it as better. The more difficult to get, the more we want it. This is the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. The author explains this syndrome using the three qualities of the human brain. First, when something good happens, we can’t help but think of something negative. Second, we’re wired to never feel full complacency, therefore, we have a natural inclination toward negative biases. Finally, imagining things gives us pleasure, so to avoid the hard nature of reality, we think of something better.

To stimulate desire in people, you should see yourself, as well as the work you produce as objects. With this in mind, there are three strategies to create those objects:

  • Know how and when to withdraw: Being cold and showing you don’t need others shows that you respect yourself. This increases your value and people will chase you. Your opinions, values, and tastes should never be obvious either. This is all part of looking mysterious. Once you do this, withdraw and become unavailable for days or even weeks. People will feel empty and they’ll think of you.
  • Create rivalries of desire: Human desire is a social affair. We want what others want as well. Create the illusion that others want you or your work and people will come to you.
  • Use induction: People are obsessed with voyeurism. They want to see your private life. With this in mind, reveal secrets that seem new, unfamiliar, and exotic, even if they aren’t. Let people imagine what experiencing the impossible is like. Fantasies of getting rich quickly or recovering youth are universally attractive because they’re either extremely hard or impossible to get.

Be aware of the grass-is-always-greener syndrome because it has its advantages and disadvantages. Being dissatisfied keeps us in pursuit of something better. Chronic discontent, on the other hand, can be a waste of time since doing different things demands time and effort and never goes anywhere. Hoping for something better is futile. The only thing that will bring you calm and focus is a deeper understanding of your reality.

Chapter 6: Elevate Your Perspective – The Law of Shortsightedness

We lack perspective now because this is something we get with time. Where we are now gives us a vision of reality that’s limited and distorted. As time goes by, we learn more information and the picture gets clearer and clearer. To get a bigger view of the present moment, we need a farsighted perspective.

First, we need to detach ourselves from the issue we’re handling. Then, we look for several explanations and this involves looking at the entire context. Finally, we see how the problem unravels over time. To rephrase it, a farsighted perspective requires distancing yourself from the present, looking deeply at the problem, and getting a further look into the future to see the consequences of your actions.

Bringing awareness to the signs of shortsighted thinking is important if you want to achieve your long-term goals and plans. The four most common ones are:

  • Consider unintended consequences: Sometimes the urgency of the present makes us come up with a solution without considering the context, the causes of the problem, and the consequences it might have. Good intentions alone won’t lead to good results. The world is complex by nature and so are people. Taking action starts an endless chain of reactions, so it’s impossible to know all the possible ramifications. That said, being aware of the obvious negative consequences can be the difference between success and failure.
  • Don’t get involved in petty arguments: You may find yourself in the middle of a battle at some point. This is a waste of time because that battle isn’t about achieving long-term goals, but about feeding your ego. When this happens to you, back out. Winning arguments is pointless. Instead, focus on your actions and not your words, think about your long-term goals, and keep a list of values close at hand.
  • Don’t be addicted to the minute-by-minute news cycle: Following what’s happening now creates the illusion you’re part of something. Over time, we become impatient and our attention span decreases. One of the worst consequences is that focusing on fragments of the moment gets us away from the larger picture. The antidote to this problem is to develop patience by slowing down and waiting before taking action. Also, when facing important problems, have a clear sense of your long-term goals. Time will eventually prove you right so stick to your plan.
  • Don’t be exposed to information overload: When you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you have access to, that’s because you don’t have your priorities straight. Only let essential information get to you. Otherwise, you’ll feel mentally exhausted, confused, and hopeless. Develop a mental filtering system based on your priorities and long-term goals.

The passage of time isn’t inherently bad. We avoid thinking about it because we associate it with getting old, but as we age, we get to experience the advantages of the different stages. The older you are, the greater perspective you’ll have. Similarly, death motivates you to do your best. When it comes to the future, think about your long-term goals as something concrete instead of vague dreams. Think of the past as the formative years that shaped your character and identity.

Chapter 7: Soften People’s Resistance by Confirming Their Self-Opinion – The Law of Defensiveness 

People are competitive. When they try to persuade us, we become defensive. To get people to become less defensive, we must make it appear like what they’re doing is because they want to. Never attack people or insult their intelligence. In early childhood, we develop a protective side. To unlock people’s defenses, we must create a feeling of validation. Before we can do that, they need to feel they can be vulnerable around us or they need to feel compelled to fight for a common cause.

People have something called self-opinion. This is how they see their personality and sense of self-worth. Self-opinion has three qualities. First, everyone feels autonomous, intelligent, and good in some way, so challenging any of these universals makes people defensive. Second, their self-opinion can have a neutral state. Finally, you can confirm their self-opinion so that you can suggest and insinuate something you want. To achieve this third possibility, you must give people inner security. This involves showing that you respect them, that you appreciate their experience, and you must get them to laugh. Don’t fake this, so practice empathy whenever possible.

Being transparent and asking for something you want is out of the question. Those who are honest become passive-aggressive. Also, influencing others is an unavoidable game. At its best, you might persuade something dangerous and antisocial.

The author suggests five strategies to become a master persuader:

  1. Transform yourself into a deep listener: Listening with full attention is difficult because we’re usually more interested in our thoughts and feelings. To mitigate this, see every interaction with someone else as an excuse to learn something new or be surprised. Instead of asking questions robotically, guide the conversation. The more the person talks, the more they’ll discuss their insecurities.
  2. Infect people with the proper mood: Communicate a mood and the other person will mirror it. Act relaxed and anticipate an enjoyable experience. Also, don’t judge people, just accept them.
  3. Confirm their self-opinion: these are autonomy, intelligence, and goodness.
  4. Ally their insecurities: everyone is insecure about something. Identify those in people and don’t trigger them. Flatter the qualities people are insecure about. Praise efforts and not talents. Effort insinuates that you’ve earned something through hard work. Never ask for help after praising someone. Usually, when people ask your opinion, they just want support and confirmation. Be sincere whenever possible, so choose qualities you already admire.
  5. Use people’s resistance and stubbornness: Some people ask for advice, but find excuses not to do this. When this happens, encourage their resistance and they’ll eventually give up. For this purpose, you can use their emotions (channel their emotions in productive ways), use their language (repeat what they say), or use their rigidity (give them someone to rebel against by doing what they’re doing).

Chapter 8: Change Your Circumstances by Changing Your Attitude – The Law of Self-Sabotage

Our attitude determines what happens in our lives. If our attitude is fearful, we’ll see the negative side of everything, we won’t take chances, we’ll blame others for our mistakes, and we’ll sabotage our careers and relationships. Luckily, we can change our attitude and make it more positive, open, and tolerant.

We think that our perceptions are our reality. Our interpretations of things are nothing but an illusion though. Taking this into account, your job is to be aware of your attitude to see how it alters your perceptions. Once you do that, you’ll be able to be more positive.

Greene identifies five forms of the constructed attitude:

  • The Hostile Attitude: This is seeing the world as a dangerous and unfriendly place. By doing this, you’ll be angry and frustrated and you’ll soon force those qualities into those close to you. If this is you, being aware of this attitude is the first step toward getting rid of it. Notice the emotions you feel when you approach someone for the first time and try to feel positive about this encounter.
  • The Anxious Attitude: They anticipate all possible scenarios and they often expect the worst from people. As a way to control outcomes, they limit where they go and what they do. If this is you, channel your energy into something productive, such as work. Also, put yourself in uncomfortable situations to discover that there’s nothing to fear.
  • The Avoidant Attitude: People with an avoidant attitude have doubts about their competence and intelligence. They protect their self-esteem at all costs by avoiding difficult things. If this is you, you should start projects and try to complete them even if you fail.
  • The Depressive Attitude: They weren’t loved by their parents and they feel unworthy of love and respect as a consequence. They see everything around them as an excuse to be depressed. To escape this, they withdraw. Their constant state of depression is contagious and is hard to get away from them without feeling guilty. To handle depression, be aware that you need to slow down. A good way to deal with depression is to do art.
  • The Resentful Attitude: These people are dissatisfied and disappointed because they didn’t get enough love as children. They take everything personally and they bottle feelings up as they plan some sort of passive-aggressive revenge. People with a resentful attitude must let go of grudges.

On the other side of the spectrum, we can find the expansive (or positive) attitude. To cultivate it, we must explore the world to find new ideas and let go of old ones. Studying new ideas also challenges you and gives you mental pleasure. There will be obstacles along the way, but embrace them. See difficulties as a learning experience. Don’t take the things people say personally, so don’t react to their negative feelings or get upset.

Chapter 9: Confront Your Dark Side – The Law of Repression

People tend to hide their dark side, the one that has all their insecurities and negative impulses. The author refers to this as the Shadow and he advises us to recognize it before it becomes toxic. You also have a dark side, so be aware of it and channel it into something creative or productive.

Most of the people around us are pleasant and agreeable, but they all have a dark side. This is what Carl Jung called the Shadow, a group of bad qualities they repress. The Shadow operates unconsciously, but when it reveals itself, the person under its influence is unrecognizable. The Shadow appears in moments of stress or as people get older. Hiding the dark side requires energy, but it reveals itself in the form of signs.

  • Contradictory behavior: This is when people present themselves in a specific way, but their actions point in a different direction.
  • Emotional outbursts: This is when someone loses control and expresses negative emotions. When this happens, believe everything they say during the sudden release of feelings because that’s how they really feel.
  • Vehement denial: Sometimes, constant denial reveals the true desires of someone’s Shadow. Their true feelings are so uncomfortable and unpleasant that the only way to express them is by saying the opposite.
  • “Accidental” behavior: This is blaming your behavior on some uncontrollable circumstance.
  • Overidealization: This is seeing the extreme version of something to justify how you feel about something. You can overidealize a cause, person, or object.
  • Project: This is the most common sign that your Shadow is at work. Instead of assuming our desires, we accuse others of having them.

When you come across someone who exaggerates certain traits (niceness, confidence, affability, toughness, masculinity, intellect), that’s a way to hide the opposite trait. These are seven of the most common traits:

  • The Tough Guy: As a way to hide their softness and vulnerability, tough guys project an intimidating masculinity. Don’t be intimidated and don’t trigger their insecurities despite of what they tell you.
  • The Saint: As a way to disguise their need for power or sex, these people appear to be about goodness and purity. Real saints don’t need to publish their good intentions in exchange for something. Whatever you do, don’t become a follower.
  • The Passive Aggressive Charmer: They seem nice, but they do this as a way to become your friends. Once this happens, they’ll betray you. While nice at first, they can become aggressive or envious. Maintain your distance and identify passive-aggressive comments.
  • The Fanatic: They are committed to a cause, but they don’t deliver. Don’t fall for these people and ignore their drama.
  • The Rigid Rationalist: We are all irrational by nature, but not rigid rationalists. They try to impose their ideas and their mood changes often.
  • The Snob: They want to be different than everyone else as a way to show superiority. They often show this through their appearance. We’re all mediocre at something, but snobs are insecure about it. Instead of admitting their mediocrity, they use their appearance to distract. Also, they surround themselves with special knowledge. Those who are original, don’t need to show it all the time.
  • The Extreme Entrepreneur: These types have high standards, but they’re unable to listen to others and delegate. This is a recipe for disaster and they often go from having full control to completely relying on others.

Some people you come across have a lot of genuine confidence. You can tell this because they can laugh at themselves, admit their flaws and mistakes, have a playful nature, and they’re spontaneous. These are all signs of authenticity and we’re all drawn to them. In a way, we’re all attracted to our childish nature, the one we lost when we became adults. Children are wild, spontaneous, intense, open-minded, and energetic. To reconnect with that side of ours, we should follow the following steps:

  • See the Shadow: Notice the Shadow when you react emotionally. Instead, remember when you were curious and excited. That’s your authentic self.
  • Embrace the Shadow: Looking directly at your dark side will make you uncomfortable. Do it anyway and accept your Shadow.
  • Explore the Shadow: There’s creative energy in your Shadow too. Explore that side of your Shadow too. Having unstructured time will give you the chance to investigate that creative side.
  • Show the Shadow: You don’t have to be nice all the time. Respect your opinions more and the opinions of others less. Ignore what others think of you. You may even have to offend or hurt people with ugly values who criticize you without a cause. Showing these impulses is a way of releasing your inner demons.

Chapter 10: Beware the Fragile Ego – The Law of Envy

Comparing ourselves to other people is part of our nature. While this can be an excuse to excel, it can also turn into envy. Envy often leads to inferiority and frustration. Since no one accepts to be envious, recognize its early signs.

Envy is tricky and elusive. There’s passive and active envy. Passive envy is saying something hurtful, but without meaning it. On the other hand, active envy is when you feel so inferior that you act with hostility. You can notice active envy in the following ways: by learning the signs of envy, by identifying those who are more likely to be envious, and by understanding the common actions that trigger envy.

The signs of envy are subtle, so you have to be observant to notice them. To be concerned about someone’s envy, you have to notice certain patterns or repetitions. The most common are:

  • Microexpressions: When people notice envy, you can notice it in their eyes. They look boring, disdained, and hostile. This look (which only lasts a second) is usually followed by a fake smile.
  • Poisonous praise: This is when someone praises you, but makes you feel uncomfortable. This is because the person feels like they have to praise, but they’re not genuine.
  • Backbiting: If people gossip about others, they’ll do it about you. People who gossip regularly don’t make good friends.
  • The push and pull: Enviers befriend the people they envy the most. Once they get close to you, they learn what they can to spot your weak points and criticize you.

These are the most common types of enviers:

  • The Leveler: Levelers seem interesting and entertaining at first. They don’t like jokes aimed at them and they celebrate mediocre work. They are called levelers because they want everyone to be mediocre like them.
  • The Self-Entitled Slacker: Nowadays, a lot of people feel entitled, but they’re not willing to do any hard work to achieve the success they want. Self-entitled slackers always have great ideas, but they lack discipline, so they never achieve anything.
  • The Status Fiend: We’re sensitive to status because we’re social animals. This is a way to measure social position, but it’s also a factor of our self-worth. Status fiends are interested in how much money you make, the properties you own, the neighborhood you live in, and so on. When you encounter a status fiend, you’ll notice that they reduce everything to material possessions: clothes, cars, money, and so on.
  • The Attacher: They attach to people not out of admiration but because they envy them. Also, they gather information so that they can gossip and ruin other people’s admiration.
  • The Insecure Master: These are people in high positions who feel anxious and insecure. When you work for an insecure master, make them look better than you.

While certain people are more likely to feel envy, there are situations that lead to envy in almost everyone. For instance, when your status changes suddenly, your close relationships inevitably change as well. If this is your case, use self-deprecating humor and try to genuinely help others. When others show envy toward you, control your emotions. Due to the popularity of social media, envy is now more common than ever.

Most people deny feeling envy. As social animals, not feeling envy is unavoidable. Greene suggests five exercises to turn your envy into something positive and productive:

  • Move closer to what you envy: Spend time with the people you envy and soon you might change your mind about them. This will let you see behind people’s outward appearance, as well as see the disadvantages of being in their position.
  • Engage in downward comparisons: Don’t focus on those who are more privileged than you, but on those who are less so. This leads to empathy and gratitude.
  • Practice Mitfreude: Instead of congratulating people, try to feel their joy. This is something that Nietzsche called mitfreude and it’s a great way to bond with people because internalizing someone else’s joy is a rare feeling.
  • Transmute envy into emulation: We have the instinct to compare ourselves to others. Whenever possible, raise yourself to their level. Believe that you’re capable of doing what they’re doing, cultivate a strong work ethic, and be persistent. Over time, you’ll overcome obstacles and achieve success. Also, when you have a sense of purpose, you’ll be immune against envy.
  • Admire human greatness: Acknowledge people’s achievements, and celebrate them. Whenever possible, find joy in small moments that are independent of your success and achievements.

Chapter 11: Know Your Limits – The Law of Grandiosity

We have a tendency to think we’re important and superior. When we achieve some form of success, we ignore that luck may have played a part in it or that others may have helped us get there. This can lead to irrational decisions and our success won’t last. Move away from grandiosity by accepting your limits.

Persuading others to help you is difficult but not impossible. If you see this as something simple though, you won’t have the patience necessary to achieve what you want. On top of that, you’ll see the people who want to help you as malleable and predictable. The difference between the two scenarios is that in the former, you’re realistic, but in the latter, you feel like you deserve things. When you feel entitled and godlike, we call this grandiosity. Understand that grandiosity is part of human nature, recognize its signs, and identify these signs in yourself to channel that energy more productively.

Grandiose people grow up pampered and spoiled. Their need to be adored manifests in everything they do. They manipulate and constantly look for attention. Grandiose individuals think they’re better than others.

Nowadays, there’s more grandiosity than ever before. There are a lot of pampered individuals, a lot of people don’t have respect for authority, and technology has become so fast and simple, that people believe that everything in life is that way. The place where you’ll find more grandiosity is social media because it lets anyone get the attention of millions of people.

To see the levels of grandiosity in someone, see how they behave when you criticize them. Extreme emotions are a sign of grandiosity. They talk a lot, but they’re not good listeners. It’s difficult to captivate their attention, they’re impatient, their gestures are dramatic, their voices are loud, and they talk fast because they don’t like being interrupted. The antidote to grandiosity is having a realistic attitude.

Grandiose people have a natural inclination to become leaders. They mesmerize people to the point that followers are unable to see the irrational decisions they make. Grandiose leaders are usually destructive. They create six illusions:

  • They think they’re destined for greatness
  • They present themselves as average
  • They promise to fix problems for others
  • They give the impression that rules don’t apply to them
  • They pretend to have never failed
  • They are vulnerable

We’re all capable of grandiosity. It lets us think we’re better and more superior than we are. We call this fantastical grandiosity because it’s based on fantasies. There’s another form called practical grandiosity. This one’s difficult to achieve because it’s based on reality and we use it to achieve goals or improve relationships.

Here are five principles to achieve practical grandiosity:

  • Be honest and admit you want to be the center of attention
  • Channel that energy into a single project that’s achievable in the short term
  • Instead of letting your imagination take over, accept feedback and criticism
  • Constantly look for challenges above your current skill level
  • Once you control your grandiose energy, let it take over and accept bigger challenges

Chapter 12: Reconnect to the Masculine or Feminine Within You – The Law of Gender Rigidity

There are masculine and feminine qualities to all of us, but we tend to repress them. The price we pay for this is losing an integral part of our character. This affects our thinking, as well as our relationships. We must reconnect with the masculine and feminine traits we’ve lost. These people attract people because you’ll be more authentic and you’ll be more creative than ever.

We think that love makes us irrational, but what if this is our true self? Jung said that people in love are possessed. He referred to the entity that takes over as anima for the male and animus for the female. The person we’re attracted to often resembles our mother or father. Observe your anima or animus, become aware of your projection system to see people as they are, and finally, look at your repressed feminine or masculine traits.

There are six types of projections:

  • The Devilish Romantic: In this scenario, a woman falls in love but the relationship doesn’t last long. This is because the woman in question always wanted to capture the attention of her father.
  • The Elusive Woman of Perfection: This is when men think they found an ideal woman. Since the perfect woman doesn’t exist, they go from relationship to relationship. Instead of pursuing a vague figure, they must get to know someone, accept their flaws, and work on that relationship.
  • The Loveable Rebel: These men hate authority. Underneath their unconventional exterior, they’re traditional and controlling. Women attracted to them had a strong father figure they wanted to rebel against. Instead of chasing rebels, these women should become more independent.
  • The Fallen Woman: This type of woman seems different and needs something (education, protection, or money). Men attracted to them want something dangerous and indecent. These men should get satisfaction from another type of woman.
  • The Superior Man: They appear brilliant, skilled, strong, stable, confident, and powerful. When who want them are looking for strength and superiority. These women feel inferior and never develop strength or confidence. To get over the superior man, women need self-confidence.
  • The Woman to Worship Him: She adores him, completes him, and comforts him at first. These feelings soon vanish and the man feels betrayed. To get over the situation, the man needs to take care of himself.

The midlife crisis is an experience that takes place when we’re about to turn forty. We need a new career, relationship, or experience. This is a crisis of identity. Our identity is so rigid by this point that we need a change. We must release the repressed energy within us and we can achieve this by getting in touch with our feminine or masculine parts.

Masculine thinking looks for contrasts and analyzes its part. Feminine thinking focuses on the complete thing and how they come into contact with one another. All people move toward one style or thinking more than the other. Your job is to create a balance. When it comes to taking action, the masculine style is to advance, explore, attack, and defeat. It’s all about confronting and taking risks. The feminine style, on the other hand, is to withdraw, contemplate, avoid conflict, and win without a fight.

If you’re too aggressive, step back and reflect before doing anything. If you’re too passive, get used to confrontation. Likewise, men blame others for their mistakes and feel responsible for their success. Women blame themselves for their mistakes. Men should look inward when it comes to mistakes and outward when it comes to success. Women need more self-confidence.

For leadership, men identify goals and achieve them. Results are paramount. Women focus on managing relationships within a group. For them, the process is as important as the results.

Chapter 13: Advance with a Sense of Purpose – The Law of Awareness

While animals rely on instinct, humans rely on conscious decisions. If we’re not careful though, we can be pulled in directions we don’t want. To avoid drifting in life, we need a sense of purpose. This is all about knowing ourselves and what we want. Having a sense of direction turns us into an unstoppable force.

Just a few decades ago, people didn’t have many career and life choices. As a consequence, they would settle into things and they would stay there. The world has changed so much since then that finding figures that can help you make better choices (such as mentors, family members, or religious leaders) is harder than ever. When we face something unprecedented, we either get excited and experiment with different things without committing to anything.

Alternatively, the chaos frightens us to the point that we choose something that motivates us and this gives us the stability we crave. Both paths have their problems. Trying too many things means we never get to master any. Committing to one particular thing early in our lives leads to boredom, insecurity, anxiety, stress, and depression.

We all want a sense of direction, but our options are virtually endless. The inner compass guiding our actions involves discovering our individual purpose. This internal guidance system manifests itself often when we’re children, but as we get older, the voice becomes clearer and clearer. The author calls this voice our primal inclinations. Our job is to trust that voice so that all the negative emotions turn into productive ones. The opposite of primal inclinations are false purposes and include all the things that guide your behavior but will never give you what you’re looking for. Examples of false purposes include power, attention, and money.

Never ignore the role of having a sense of purpose, so find it and connect to it deeply. This is hard work because you’ll run into many obstacles and distractions. With this in mind, the author suggests five strategies to overcome said strategies.

  • Discover your calling: This involves looking for things that fascinate you. Examine the activities that feel natural and easy.
  • Use resistance and negative spurs: The process of getting the basic skills so that you can combine them in creative ways is boring and painful. Nevertheless, embrace the pain, as well as people’s criticisms. Use everything negative as motivation.
  • Absorb purposeful energy: Don’t spend too much time with people who don’t have a sense of purpose. Instead, look for the opposite. You may find a mentor or a partner and they’ll encourage you to be better.
  • Create a ladder of descending goals: Having long-term goals gives you clarity, but also generates anxiety. Whenever possible, have smaller goals that you can achieve easily. This gives you a sense of progress and satisfaction.
  • Lose yourself in the work: having a sense of purpose requires commitment and sacrifice. Along the way, there will be temptations, as well as times of frustration, boredom, and failure. To avoid all this, achieve moments of flow where you lose yourself in what you’re doing. For this purpose, you have to be in the middle of a project, you must give yourself uninterrupted time, and you must focus on your work.

Be careful with false purposes. They create the illusion of purpose, but they’re empty. Real purpose can’t be manufactured and it comes from within. This means that it’s personal and intimate. False purposes, on the other hand, come from something external.

These are the most common types of false purposes:

  • The pursuit of pleasure: This refers to sex, drugs, entertainment, or games. You can identify them because you get diminishing returns whenever you engage with them. In other words, the more you do them, the less pleasure you obtain.
  • Causes and cults: People need to believe in something so they gravitate toward microcauses or cults.
  • Money and success: People who pursue money and success have trouble defining what’s enough. This turns into a neverending obsession that’s devoid of meaning.
  • Attention: Social media has made pursuing fame and money easier than ever. Ironically, having a sense of purpose draws people as well. In this case, the attention goes to your work and not yourself.
  • Cynicism: This is the feeling that life’s meaningless. Move away from this idea because it leads nowhere. Find excitement and curiosity in the world instead.

Chapter 14: Resist the Downward Pull of the Group – The Law of Conformity

We all became different people in social contexts. Sometimes we imitate others and sometimes we change our beliefs to fit in, or our mood changes depending on the prevalent emotions of the group. If we’re not careful, this social personality can take over. Become self-aware of how you behave in groups and cooperate as long as you remain independent and rational.

The invisible energy that affects a group and connects its members is called the social force. The social force leads to both internal and external sensations, it adjusts in strength depending on the size of the group, and it draws us in. The social force is neutral, but it can be used for positive purposes (cooperation and empathy) or negative purposes.

To make the best out of the social force, we need group intelligence. This intelligence is about bringing awareness to the effects of the social force so that we can resist its negative effects. The Social force has two aspects: an individual effect and the group dynamics.

The individual effect encompasses the patterns that individuals fall into and they include:

  • The desire to fit in: This involves dressing like everyone else, as well as adopting the same values.
  • The need to perform: When we’re part of the group, we’re always performing. As part of this act, we adapt our dialogue to be accepted and liked and we hide our flaws and display our strengths.
  • Emotional contagion: The emotions spread from member to member.
  • Hypercertainty: This is our predisposition to act, though it leads to risk-taking. Be aware of this so that you can doubt and reflect. Being rational protects you against the foolish behavior of the group.

Group dynamics are the patterns groups fall into and they include:

  • Group culture: The group always has a culture or spirit. At the core, there’s always an ideal and the culture reflects the group’s founders.
  • Group rules and codes: To avoid the distressing nature of disorder and anarchy, the group follows a series of implicit rules.
  • The group court: In groups, there’s always a courtier (a companion to the king or queen who follows and imitates them). Courtiers do everything they can to get the attention of their leaders.
  • The group enemy: All groups have some form of enemy. See the enemy as it really is and learn from them.
  • Group factions: Eventually, groups turn into small factions. Create a strong culture to prevent this from happening.

Carefully observe how you behave within groups. Raise your self-esteem to resist their influences. Also, be aware of reality to avoid irrationality. Note that groups can pull you downward or upward. We call the latter a reality group and its members are diverse, open-minded, cooperative, and individualistic.

These are the different types of courtiers:

  • The Intriguer: They want to get power and replace their boss. While seemingly loyal, charming, and efficient, they use people to get what they want.
  • The Stirrer: They’re deeply insecure, so they resent others and feel envy for what they have. They instill doubts in others to start trouble.
  • The Gatekeeper: They idealize the leader and know everything about them.
  • The Shadow Enabler: They identify repressed desires in people, including their leaders.
  • The Court Jester: Their only role is to be funny. They don’t have much power and they’re rarely taken seriously.
  • The Mirrorrer: They get close to people and they reflect their moors and ideas to get what they want. Mirrorers can read people well and have a lot of power.
  • The Favorite and the Punching Bag: The Favorite has forged a close relationship with the king or queen and the Punching Bag is ridiculed in a cruel manner.

In the reality group, the goal is to make things or solve problems. Here, the emphasis is on the work and not on playing games.

The author suggests five strategies to achieve this:

  • Instill a collective sense of purpose: This is sharing a mission with all the other members. The purpose is always clear.
  • Assemble the right team: Don’t be afraid to delegate. Craft a team that shares your sense of purpose and who’s competent. Ideally, your team members should complement each other and they should know their roles well.
  • Let information and ideas flow: Have open discussions with your team.
  • Infect the group with productive emotions: Don’t be upset with obstacles. Instead, move forward, and solve problems. Be confident, but not grandiose.
  • Forge a tough group: Create a group that’s ready for a crisis. Challenge its members regularly and see their reactions.

Chapter 15: Make Them Want to Follow You – The Law of Fickleness

There’s a certain ambivalence to authority. To an extent, people need a leader, but they also want absolute freedom. To become a true leader, gain people’s trust and they’ll follow you no matter what.

First and foremost, the goal of a leader is to focus on the bigger picture. For people to believe in you though, you first have to trust them. The two pillars of authority are vision and empathy. Without them, members of your group will be resentful, and lose respect for you. To prevent this, observe authority around you (work, family, politics, and so on), cultivate strategies to project authority, and finally, don’t confuse authority for something else. Authority isn’t about tyranny, it can be democratic too.

To establish authority, put the following strategies into practice.

  • Authenticity: The author recognizes different archetypes of authority. The Deliverer wants to get rid of evil in people’s lives. The Founder creates a new order. The Visionary artist learns the basics of a particular area and uses them to create something unseen. The Truth Seeker looks for the truth. The Pragmatist wants to fix things. The Healer brings people together. Finally, the Teacher encourages people to do something.
  • The Attitude: We tend to focus inwardly, but we must do the opposite. To do this, lose yourself in the words and gestures of others, earn their respect, and take everyone’s well-being into consideration when you make decisions.
  • The Vision: Focusing on the moment is a small part of reality. Moving away from the present moment gives you a sense of vision that helps you foresee the future
  • The Tone: Working harder than the rest sets the tone. By doing this, people will be motivated by you.
  • The Aura: Be mysterious and fascinating. Don’t be too present or too distant.
  • The Taboo: Be the first one to make sacrifices and if you lose resources from the group, restore them quickly. Don’t overpromise though.
  • Adaptability: Adjust to new generations. Be sensitive and empathic.

Greene makes a distinction between the higher self and the lower self. The higher self is the one that accomplishes things. The lower self is the one that’s too sensitive and escapes reality to get pleasure, it loses time and feels unmotivated. The lower self is stronger and getting it under control requires effort and awareness. Moving toward the higher self involves inner authority. This inner voice tells us to make some sort of contribution to our culture, to work for a higher purpose, to focus and prioritize, and to demand the best work for ourselves.

Chapter 16: See the Hostility Behind the Friendly Facade – The Law of Aggression

People seem to be polite and civilized, but we’re all frustrated in some way. We want to influence others and get some form of power. Some are so frustrated in their quest for power that they become aggressive. Be aware of both chronic aggressors and passive aggressors. If you’re not careful, these people can make you emotional and irrational. Control your own aggression and turn it into something productive.

All humans are capable of being aggressive. Knowing that we’re going to die eventually haunts us. Our world is chaotic and it could fall apart at any moment. We can’t control the world and the people around us. To top it all off, we’re insecure and this makes us vulnerable. As a way to deal with all of that, people become aggressive. Behind chronic aggressors, there’s some sort of trigger that makes them insecure. Aggressors see people as objects they can use for their own purposes.

Our job is to stop denying your aggressive inclinations and make it something productive. This is what’s called controlled aggression. Also, observe aggression in those around you. Finally, stop seeing humans as peaceful creatures that are evolving to become more tolerant.

Since we all prefer to avoid confrontation, we often engage in passive aggression. We’re not openly aggressive, but we still signal disdain. If this happens to you, tolerate it, but if you’re dealing with chronic passive aggressors, you might have to use different strategies.

  • The Subtle-Superiority Strategy: Some behaviors (being late or forgetting about deadlines) are a sign that people feel superior. Don’t be irritated, but make them ashamed by mirroring their behavior.
  • The Sympathy Strategy: This is a person who always finds a way to be a victim. They do everything they can to attract attention, but they also infect you with negative energy. As difficult as it is, stay away from them even if they get angry or resentful.
  • The Dependency Strategy: These people help you, but grow cold over time. Their goal is to make you dependent. Whenever possible, don’t rely on them.
  • The Insinuating-Doubt Strategy: These people say things that make you wonder if they’re praising you or insulting you. Their goal is to make you think about what they said, so just ignore them.
  • The Blame-Shifter Strategy: These people make you feel like whatever happened was your fault. This strategy is all about hiding their behavior. Don’t be affected by the blame shifting and don’t convince yourself you’re overreacting.
  • The Passive-Tyrant Strategy: These people appear to be energetic and charismatic, but a little disorganized. They’re impossible to please regardless of what you do. When you encounter someone like this, it’s often in the form of a superior, so just quit.

Embrace your aggressive energy and turn it into something productive. There are four positive traits you can use to your advantage:

  • Ambition: Have big dreams and make them specific.
  • Persistence: Attack your problems with confidence.
  • Fearlessness: Be bold and resilient. Speak up and make demands.
  • Anger: Direct your anger toward something specific.

Chapter 17: Seize the Historical Moment – The Law of Generational Myopia

The generation you belong to wants to be different than the previous one. It develops its own tastes, values, and ideas and you internalize them. As you get older though, those generational values limit your potential. Understand this influence and free your mind.

Bringing your attention to this collective mindset is called generational awareness. We must achieve this in order to develop unique values and ideals, especially as we get older. Everyone that belongs to a generation has a collective personality, something the author calls spirit, this encompasses values and ways to see the world. The collective spirit is evolving and isn’t inherited from the past. This is an emotional tone that lets people relate.

History moves in four acts and they correspond to four generations. The first generation is made up of revolutionaries who want to distance themselves from the past and want to create new values. The second generation demands order. The third generation doesn’t care about new ideas, but they want to build things. The fourth generation is cynical and questions its own values. This creates a crisis that makes room for a new generation that establishes a new order and the cycle repeats.

Our job is to change our attitude toward our generation. Also, we must understand the spirit of our generation and exploit it. The spirit is defined by the historical events that took place before you were born, as well as the parenting styles of the people who raised you. Finally, expand your knowledge. Look at the dominant generations of early adults and people in midlife to see what’s causing tension.

You are the product of the generation you were born into. This shapes your ideas and values but also creates frustration and the feeling that something is missing. To address this, Greene suggests a series of strategies.

  • Resist the past: The values you internalized through your parents pull you their way. This slows you down in your pursuit of new ideas. To overcome this pull, go in the opposite direction.
  • Adapt the past to the present spirit: How you feel now is probably similar to how people from previous generations felt as well. Adapt the symbols and styles of previous historical periods and improve them.
  • Resurrect the spirit of childhood: This is how you reach a large audience. You don’t want to recreate the past in an exact way, but you want to capture its spirit.
  • Create the new social configuration: Find new ways to interact with your generation.
  • Subvert the spirit: Instead of preaching, moralizing, or condemning the spirit, redirect it and turn it into something that captures the look and feel of a certain period while you also use the values you prefer.
  • Keep adapting: Modernize your spirit as you get older. Adopt the values and ideas of younger generations if they sound appealing to you.

We can alter and change many things, but one thing we can’t change is time. While we can’t stop time, we can change how we experience it though. This turns time into something cyclical rather than something linear. To do this, we must take an active approach.

  • The phases of life: As we get older, we experience life differently. Each phase has positive and negative qualities, but try to mitigate the negative qualities whenever possible. For example, you can lessen the influences others have on you when you’re young or you can be curious about the world when you’re older.
  • Present generations: When you’re young, spend time interacting with people from older generations. When you’re old, spend time interacting with people from younger generations. Soon, you’ll absorb their spirit, ideas, enthusiasm, and values.
  • Past generations: The past seems dead and lacking in spirit. This is absurd. The past isn’t dead and we can revive it to learn as much as we can from it.
  • The Future: To understand your connection to the future, spend time with your children. Our work and contributions are what have the greatest power though.

Chapter 18: Meditate on Our Common Mortality – The Law of Death

We avoid thinking about death, but we shouldn’t. Whether we admit it or not, life is short and this gives us a sense of purpose. Confronting mortality helps us the inevitable obstacles of life. Mortality is what connects us even to the people we don’t like.

Death gives us fear and awkwardness. Just thinking about it makes us miserable because death implies pain, separation from the people we love, and uncertainty. The moment we understand we’re going to die, this gives us anxiety, the kind of anxiety that we can’t deny and never goes away. Repressing this anxiety only worsens it. Whatever you do, don’t look for cheap entertainment, don’t get addicted to things, and don’t sit comfortably in your comfort zone. Death is about eternal stillment. Life is about movement and connecting to others. By repressing the very idea of death, you can be alive but deathlike. Confronting death, on the other hand, is the thing that makes you feel alive.

The author shares five strategies to achieve this:

  • Make the awareness visceral: It’s easy to live distracted and looking inward, thinking about death heightens our senses and emotions. To do this safely, meditate on your death.
  • Awaken to the shortness of life: When we don’t think about death, we naturally assume we have more time. Thinking about mortality gives us the energy to concentrate and do great things. Use the shortness of life as a way to clarify your actions, habits, and goals. With this in mind, commit fully to the things that matter to you.
  • See the mortality in everyone: Regardless of who you are and what you have, you’ll die eventually. Seeing everyone as vulnerable gives you empathy.
  • Embrace pain and diversity: Some things in life, we can’t control. Accept everything that happens even if it’s painful. This is an excuse to find new opportunities and get stronger.
  • Open the mind to the sublime: It’s hard to describe what dying is because it’s a mystery. We can learn a lot of things, but death is unknowable. Confronting things we can’t put into words is the sublime. The sublime gives us awe, wonder, and fear. Death is the ultimate example of this, but it shows in the vastness of space too, for example.

Becoming aware of our mortality gives us ultimate freedom. You’ll be able to take more risks because as harsh as the consequences of doing something might be, they won’t be as irreversible as death.

Further Reading

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