The enemy of happiness is entitlement

By | February 14, 2017

Don’t go around thinking the world owes you anything. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

That’s a badly mangled version of a quote often incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain that I mutter to myself at least three times a day.

Entitlement is the single worst trait in a human being. Expecting a certain behavior or a certain outcome or a certain situation doesn’t increase your happiness level any. In fact, entitlement will only bring you grief when the Universe decides to take back whatever it lent you.

Everything you have is only on loan to you. Your house, your car, your money and all your worldly possessions. Your hair, your cells, your time, your burrito. Everything. The Universe is letting you borrow it all.

That’s nice of the Universe, eh?

The trick is finding happiness and appreciation with what you have instead of lusting over what you want. Focus on the good.

When I was working as a lawyer, I had a list to remind myself to try to enjoy the freaking journey and not just countdown to retirement.

Things I’m going to miss when I’m retired, so appreciate it now, you idiot

  1. Payday twice a month is REALLY fun.
  2. It’s nice having my own office.
  3. And a secretary. I like asking her to scan and fax stuff.
  4. I get to wear nice dresses everyday.
  5. Oh, the occasional free tickets to professional games are nice.
  6. There are a lot of really smart people here to interact with.
  7. I’m not a bum. I’m working. A real job.

Unfortunately and fortunately, we acclimate. We get used to everything. It’s wonderful because you can get used to a lot of bad stuff and still keep living. It’s kind of sucky because you get used to the good stuff too and start to get bored.

I made this.

Gratitude is the answer. Feel grateful for everything you have while you have it. It’s how you hop off the hedonistic treadmill and inhale the scent of the roses.

A sense of entitlement is the opposite of grit. When life gets bumpy, an entitled person feels shocked and angry, dwelling on the unfairness of it all. A gritty person gets back up and tries something else.

Think about what you can control and what you can’t.

Axis of control

Category one includes anything I possess exactly zero control over. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west each day. No matter what I do, that won’t change. And that’s okay! Because the world is too full of things. I’d go mad if I had control over everything. Or I’d grow madder anyway.

I try not to waste my precious time and energy worrying about anything that falls into this category.

Category two includes things I have complete control over. My attitude. How I spend cash. Trying to find an activity that delights me.

Category three includes things I have some control over. How much I succeed at the activity that delights me. How much money I make. The way I position myself for the inevitable bad.

Life is going to suck occasionally. I don’t have control over what or when the suckiness comes, but I can give myself cushion. Having money gives you options and slightly more control than not having money. Work on the things you can control so you’re not flattened by the things you can’t control.

And when you do get what you want? Practice something called negative visualizations. Picture the loss of the thing while you still have it.

When you’re done picturing the loss and realize you still have it, you can celebrate. It’s like the relief you feel when you wake up from a bad dream. Phew! I don’t really have a big exam in a class I forgot to attend. Phew! I still have [whatever you pretended you lost for a moment.]

Do this and when you do eventually lose that thing, you’ll be slightly more prepared for it.


Entitlement breeds unhappiness. Gratitude breeds happiness.

Ideas stolen from stoicism

The first rule about fight club is not to talk about fight club. But everyone talks about fight club. I picked up this jabbering wisdom from a book on stoicism. It’s a life philosophy based on tranquility. One of the basic tenets urges you not to talk about your conversion to stoicism; just live a stoic life.

But everyone talks about fight club.

I dig it. It perfectly encapsulates what I personally mean when I say that I’m striving for joy. My version of happy.

“We will, out of the blue, feel delighted to be the person we are, living the life we are living, in the universe we happen to inhabit.”

Yes! The happiness that surprises me. I didn’t know how to phrase it.

Lots of good ideas in this philosophy.

More gems from stoicism

  1. “Not needing wealth is more valuable than wealth itself.”
  2. “Stoics value their freedom, and they are therefore reluctant to do anything that will give others power over them. But if we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us.”
  3. “A stoic who disparages wealth might become wealthier than those individuals whose principal goals is its acquisition.” Because a stoic has single-mindedness and self-discipline (grit!).
  4. “For most people, experiencing delight requires a change in circumstances; they might, for example, have to acquire a new consumer gadget. Stoics, in contrast, can experience delight without any such change; because they practice negative visualization.”
  5. “Seek friends who share our values and learn from how they live their life.” I’m really starting to think that good friends are the point of life.

31 thoughts on “The enemy of happiness is entitlement

  1. DD

    Great points! I’ve had 3 lists in my daily journal for a while now: 3 things that took me towards my goals today, 3 things I’m grateful for today, 3 things I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I’m going to add a new list: 3 things I’ll miss when I no longer have my job.

  2. rudi schmidt

    You’ve been reading Mark Manson–you’re both right, thank you!

  3. Laszlo

    I am glad you bring up the point of discipline. I have been reading an interview with Marina Abranovitzć — the great performance artist who has been practicing gratitude much like you describe. She talks about how utterly mad she was with her mother for bringing her into the world back then, but that now her mother is completely forgiven, and that she is grateful for her mother for teaching her discipline (NB: an attitude). Stoicism is real tricky, since it constitutes a dual act of a withdrawal, which is somewhat passive, and a jubilant act of utter forgiveness, like the front cover of the first print edition of Charlie Hebdo after the massacre of the editors that depicted Muhammed shedding a tear and saying: Tout est pardonné (All is forgiven)”.
    Although in this blog yo have set up a forum of many people to contribute to your life, you are doing quite a bit of contributing yourself. Love., Laszlo.

  4. Lisa Benson

    Love this. My sister would always remind me that life is not fair so get used to it. LOL.

  5. MrsWow

    Your whole article was great, but the last comment really hit home. It is so important to have a community, one that shares in a similar mindset and pushes you to be your best self. You’re only as good as who you surround yourself with.

  6. Liz

    Great post, Anita! I’m definitely grateful to have come across your blog! 🙂

  7. Mike

    Great reminder of Stoic practice.
    I am also reminded of the Buddhist “divine abidings” which are really happiness practices. Metta (loving kindness), Upekka (equanimity) and Mudita (joy in others success).
    Stoic practice is mostly about Upekka with a little Metta.
    What is little talked about these days is the happiness that can be gained from others success if we genuinely engage. Its the opposite of jealousy. Easiest example to think of when a grandparent celebrates a grandchilds sporting or academic success. But the same attitude can be practiced with anyone even strangers. Its a usually untapped well of joy we can access every day and helps us look outward rather than be totally inward looking. And a total antidote to the much more common resentment we often feel when see someone doing better than us.
    Just thought I would share.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Thank you for this comment. Rather than feel envious that someone else is doing well, feel pride over a human being doing well. That sounds like a wonderful way to look at the world. Any recommendation for further reading?

  8. Palindrome

    This has got to be one of my favorite posts by you- you are so wise! I really needed to read this at this point in my life- I have so much to be grateful for, yet I feel like I am taking many things for granted. Thanks for reminding me that I can lose anything at any time- negative visualization is a powerful tool I can use to adapt a healthier attitude towards my experiences, good or bad. And one day, early retirement will come to me! Like you, I have to enjoy the journey taking me there 🙂

  9. Froogal Stoodent

    I’m a big fan of number 1: “Not needing wealth is more valuable than wealth itself.”


    That’s the sound of the hammer hitting the nail squarely on the head.

  10. Kraken Fireball

    I love the idea of a post it note in order to remind me that I should enjoy where I currently am. I lose sight of it often and I think this would help me to remember that I should enjoy the journey. Thanks for writing!

  11. Hernan

    I get the sense that Americans buy stuff because they believe that they are entitled to a certain lifestyle. You are not entitled to anything! Thanks for a good article!

  12. Nautilus

    Another amazing article. Concerning your last sentence, you may want to google the ‘Grant Study”. It’s one of the most sophisticated studies on healthy aging and it has observed more than 250 Harvard Graduates over the last 75 years. Its main conclusion is that “warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction”.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I’m familiar with the Grant Study. I remember this note quite vividly: “When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” He replied: “But the knot was tied so long ago, and I have been hanging on tight for such a long time.” Haunting.

      Thanks for the reminder though about the relationships aspect of the study.

  13. Matt Colombo

    “A sense of entitlement is the opposite of grit. When life gets bumpy, an entitled person feels shocked and angry, dwelling on the unfairness of it all. A gritty person gets back up and tries something else.”

    Yessss…grit. I aspire to always be gritty.


  14. Warren

    Hey TG, I read this out of a link from your most recent post. It’s a very good post and I appreciated many of the points and the way you present them. In fact, it’s a bit like the other post. – ostensibly about marketing your book, but the discussion of what books you like and speak to you are spot on.

    Thankfully, after not being appreciated by so-called friends, I realized in late high school that it was best to surround one’s self with positive people, not generally negative people or, worse, negativity directed at me. So I agree, it’s all about the friends (many of whom might also be family).

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      This is one of my favorite articles and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think about the advice from that book daily.


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