In the famous words of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, “It is better to be envied than pitied.” This profound statement encapsulates a fundamental aspect of human nature – the desire for admiration and respect rather than sympathy and pity. Throughout history, individuals have strived to achieve greatness, to be admired and envied by others. This article delves into the meaning behind Herodotus’ words, exploring the reasons why it is indeed better to be than to be pitied.

The Power of Envy

Envy, often considered a negative emotion, can actually serve as a powerful motivator. When others envy us, it signifies that we possess qualities or achievements that they desire. This recognition can fuel our self-confidence and drive us to further success. As Herodotus suggests, being envied implies that we have surpassed societal expectations and have something worth coveting  In this sense, envy can be seen as a validation of our accomplishments and a testament to our abilities.

Moreover, being envied can lead to increased social standing and influence. People naturally gravitate towards those who possess qualities they admire, whether it be wealth, intelligence, or charisma. By being the object of envy, individuals can attract a network of supporters and allies who are eager to associate themselves with success [2]. This social capital can open doors to new opportunities and enhance one’s overall quality of life.

The Perils of Pity

On the other hand, being pitied often carries negative connotations. Pity implies a sense of helplessness or inferiority, as if one is incapable of overcoming their challenges or achieving their goals. It can create a dynamic of dependency, where others feel compelled to offer assistance or sympathy rather than genuine admiration . This can be disempowering and hinder personal growth.

Furthermore, being pitied can lead to social isolation. People may distance themselves from those they pity, fearing that association with them will reflect poorly on their own image. This can result in feelings of loneliness and exclusion, further exacerbating the negative impact of pity. In contrast to envy, which attracts others, pity often repels them.

The Role of Skill and Effort

Herodotus’ statement also highlights the importance of skill and effort in determining our societal standing. He suggests that force, or brute strength, is of little value when compared to skill This notion aligns with the idea that being envied is a result of our own abilities and accomplishments, rather than external factors beyond our control. It emphasizes the significance of personal growth and development in shaping our lives.

By focusing on acquiring skills and honing our talents, we can increase our chances of being admired and envied. This requires dedication, perseverance, and a willingness to push beyond our comfort zones. It is through these efforts that we can rise above mediocrity and become individuals worthy of envy.


Herodotus’ timeless words remind us of the power dynamics inherent in human society. Being envied signifies success, recognition, and influence, while being pitied can lead to feelings of inferiority and social isolation. By emphasizing the importance of skill and effort, Herodotus encourages us to strive for greatness and be the best version of ourselves. Ultimately, it is better to be than to be pitied.