This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Laws Of Human Nature" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What is The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene? What laws does he discuss in the book, and why do we need to know them?
In The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene lays out 18 essential laws of human nature. He also explains how you can identify how these laws play out in real life, and what you can do to avoid becoming toxic due to your nature.
Read more about The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.
The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
In The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene lays out 16 laws that will help us understand and predict the behavior of ourselves and others. Typically, we have no idea why anyone (including ourselves) does anything. This is because feelings and thoughts are controlled by different parts of the brain—we can’t consciously access the source of an emotion or mood.
With the help of the laws, we can dive deeper into the workings of human nature and learn to:
- Manage toxic types. The laws will help us identify toxic people so we can stay away from them or fight them.
- Control our own nature. The laws will help us understand our characters, our repressions, our patterns, and other elements of self that we might want to improve or change.
- Make us more empathetic. The laws will help us form stronger connections with other people.
- Make people like us. The laws will help us lower people’s resistance, encourage them to think and feel the same way we do, and make us likable.
(Shortform note: The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene contains 18 laws. We’ve rearranged and combined some of the laws for concision and clarity.)
Here are the laws, organized by categories:
Category #1 of The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene: People Have Unrealistic Self-Images
A self-image is our internal assessment of ourselves. Our assessment is usually a little more flattering than reality, and most of us believe we’re autonomous, intelligent, and good. Assessing and validating the self-image is critical to the following three laws within The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene:
Law #1: People Are Self-Absorbed
Attention is both a fundamental human need and a limited resource, so to get as much as we want, we often turn inward and admire our self-images.
Law #2: People Are Grandiose
Grandiosity is our natural tendency to inflate our self-image and assume that we’re significantly more skilled than we actually are. We do this by, among other things, assuming that we single-handedly achieved success and that our skills are transferable. Use this knowledge to:
Law #3: People Can Be Influenced
We all need our self-image confirmed because we know it’s not always objectively accurate. We tend to like and listen to the people who validate us.
Category #2: People Hide Their True Selves
In The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene explains that all of us keep some of our thoughts and feelings to ourselves because if we didn’t, we’d offend everyone and become social outcasts. We’ll learn how to figure out what people are hiding in the following laws:
Law #4: People Wear Masks
We all display a persona, or a mask, that pumps up our positive qualities and shows ourselves in the best light. However, it’s not always easy to hide our true natures—while we have good control of our words, we don’t always have good control of our body language and nonverbal cues
Law #5: People Feel Envy but Mask It
Everyone masks envy because it’s an uncomfortable emotion—to admit that we envy someone, we also have to admit that they’re superior to us, and most of us can’t take that blow to our self-images.
Law #6: People Are Aggressive
Like envy, most people mask aggression because it’s not socially acceptable.
Law #7: People Have Both Masculine and Feminine Traits
In addition to emotions, many of us hide traits, especially traits that are associated with the opposite gender. This is explained in The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
Category #3 of The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene: People Behave Differently in Groups
When in groups, we’re subject to social force—the energy of collective emotions—and understanding this force is important to the following three laws:
Law #8: People’s Individuality Is Overpowered by Groups
When we’re in groups, everyone else’s emotions affect us and potentially provoke us into doing things we wouldn’t do alone.
Law #9: People Are Influenced by Their Generation
Everyone belongs to at least one group—their generation. Generational values are shaped by world events that took place during the generation’s coming-of-age years and the inevitable conflict with other generations.
Law #10: People Have Conflicted Feelings, Especially About Authority Figures
Authority—guidance towards a higher purpose—is a fundamental human need. However, people confuse authority with leadership (holding a position of power) and often feel ambivalent about authority figures.
Law #11: People Are Irrational
In The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene explains that by nature, everyone is ruled by their emotions, not their minds, because feelings used to be a survival mechanism—when we felt fear, we needed to react instinctively to stay alive.
Law #12: People Are Bad at Long-Term Thinking
We tend to be concerned with the present rather than the future because our brains evolved to look for immediate rather than far-off danger.
Law #13: People Are Compulsive According to Their Character
Our characters are at the core of our being and determine our actions, even when we’re not consciously aware of them. While we can shape our characters, we can’t change them, and this is why we tend to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Law #14: People Have Attitudes
Everyone sees a slightly different version of the world, filtered by their perception, or attitude. Our moods vary, but in general, we all have an overarching emotion that we filter the world through. This is caused by our brain’s inherent and unconscious sensitivity to particular stimuli. For example, if our overall attitude is sadness, when we see sad things, our brain fires strongly, and the strength of the firing makes us pay attention and feel sad.
Category #5: People Want the Wrong Things
By nature, people are unable to be content with their current situation. Desire motivates us, not possession.
Law #15: People Want What They Don’t Have
As soon as we get something we want, we want something else, a phenomenon that’s known as the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. And even though getting what we want is never satisfying, we still pursue our next want, hoping that one will make us happy. This is part of The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.
Law #16: People Want to Avoid Thinking About Death
Being aware of death makes us sad, so we try not to think about it. However, when we avoid thinking about death or desensitize ourselves, our anxiety about it strengthens, and to avoid this anxiety, we try to make our life more controllable by doing less, dulling our psyche with an addiction, avoiding new things so we can’t fail at them, and avoiding spending time with people because they’re unpredictable. All these responses actually make our life more death-like—isolated and unchanging.
After reading The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene, you’ll have a better understanding of people’s behavior, and how to change your own behavior.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Laws Of Human Nature summary:
- Why it's in your nature to self-sabotage
- How you behave differently when you're in a group
- Why you're wired to want the wrong things in life