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Life, Liberty, Happiness…and Investing

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“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is one of the most famous phrases in the United States Declaration of Independence.

In fact, it is considered by some as part of one of the most well-crafted, influential sentences in the history of the English language.

These three aspects are listed among the inseparable rights of man.

Despite this, as I suppose, it would perplex a visitor from Mars whether we human beings really want what we say we want – life, liberty, and happiness.

This is especially true if the Martian were to drop somewhere on our stock markets, and examines the behavior of investors, speculators, analysts, and fund managers.

He would no doubt question the intelligence of the planet’s inhabitants, and would wonder…

“Do these guys really want life, liberty, and happiness…the rights they have been wanting for ages? They seem to be hell-bent on destroying themselves through their foolish actions! Is this the way the entire humanity works? If yes, I must thank my stars for being a Martian and not a human!”

These thoughts of the Martian are a fact, my dear friend. For the way people behave when it comes to handling money – own or someone else’s – things really look murky (and funny, when it’s not your money).

Theory of Death-Instinct
The famous Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, best known for his theories of the unconscious mind, formulated what is known as the ‘theory of death instinct’.

As per this theory, there is some great impulse towards destruction that dominates all of us. At heart, we all want to die (emotionally and physically).

What else justifies the way most of us ill-treat our relationships, health, and wealth?

We all wish to live forever, but that’s a wish we don’t care about as seen from the little care we take of our bodies.

We all wish to get rich one day, but again, that’s a wish we rarely care about as seen from the way we treat the money we spend years to earn.

As investors, we are more driven by greed and fear than the pursuit of sensible ways of growing our wealth over the long term.

Most of us run after short term gains, and are willing to sacrifice our intelligence and independence to earn them.

So whether it is believing a biased and senseless investing advice on business channels, or blindly following the financial advisor recommending a ‘double your money’ stock, we are least bothered about the risks we are taking (or our self-destruction of wealth) and most bothered about the returns that we can earn from such advice.

It has never worked this way. The long history of stock markets is a proof that every time investors have gotten greedy, they have ended up digging their own grave.

But we never seem to learn from history. The ‘next hot stock’ always seems more beautiful and gives us a greater hope than the ‘last dud stock’ (which was once a ‘next hot stock’).

We always remain in the pursuit of a better life, greater liberty, more happiness, and larger wealth…but at the same time, we are also always busy destroying our future.

See, it’s difficult to get off from this vicious cycle. But I won’t say that it is impossible.

You just need to stop, and think what you are doing and why you are doing it.

As an investor, ask yourself, “Why am I investing, and what am I investing in?”

If the answer to the second question makes you uncomfortable, stop and think whether you are really willing to take the next step.

Most investors don’t think for a second what they are getting into. They are blinded by greed to earn fast money, and this is what destroys their financial future.

You see, investing is about ‘your’ life. It is about you being able to live the way you want to live – liberated, and happy.

So invest with a firm view of achieving these goals. Of course, your aim must also be to get rich in the process, but what is the use of riches if not to liberate you and make you happy?

Got it? Now go for it. Your bright future starts right here, right now.

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About the Author

Vishal Khandelwal is the founder of Safal Niveshak. He works with small investors to help them become smart and independent in their stock market investing decisions. He is a SEBI registered Research Analyst. Connect with Vishal on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Wow , before I put my comments , I wanted to let you know that I dont have the habbit of reading, only in past one year I have worked of this habbit and getting better at it day by day , rather week by week 🙂

    Now the comment I always thought about this theory in a diffent way but had no idea that there was actually a theory on it. I read this theory tomy wife and she said that freud and many more theory.

    Anyways it’s really so true. But the question is How do we change this phycology ?

    • Vishal Khandelwal says:

      Hi Vikrant,

      Thanks a lot for your feedback.

      You must read the book titled “Man Against Himself” by Karl Menninger. It contains a lot of great literature on this theory of ‘death instinct’ and other similar theories.

      Now the question – How do we change this psychology?

      Well, that’s almost impossible because we are ‘hard-wired’ to destroy ourselves. The only way to fight such an instinct is through self-awareness – mainly awareness of our own thoughts and actions. When we are aware of ourselves, we are in a better position to conduct ourselves positively. And that can help in saving us from self-destruction. This also holds true in investing.

      Regards,
      Vishal

  2. Thanks for replying , before I go to sleep ( will read your reply later) how do you have/get such clear thought process? Gn

  3. Vishal Khandelwal says:

    Hi Vikrant,

    Thanks for your kind words, but I’m still learning.

    Whatever I write or discuss here at Safal Niveshak is entirely based on my observations of other investors in general, and myself in particular.

    You can call this entire initiative ‘my experiments with truth’. And I welcome you to play a very important part in the development of the same.

    Regards,
    Vishal

  4. punit lohani says:

    Thanks. I liked this theory of death instinct. Here, I would like to share Thoreau’s quote: “Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow.”

    He further writes: “When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence. That petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.”

    I think ultimately it’s about how much control we have over our mind.

  5. “your aim must also be to get rich in the process, but what is the use of riches if not to liberate you and make you happy?” Well said

    Recently i break my run towards the rat race to become rat. When i am seeing my senior, who are now more depressed, tense and have no time for themselves and their family, friends and relatives. This forced me to rethink if i want the same life by sacrificing these all for money.

    Financial Freedom and Happiness should be the goal

    Thanks,
    Manish Yadav

  6. Deepa Bhatia says:

    You must read another psychologist and his theory on Man’s search for Meaning. Read here.

    Victor Frankl, was a psychologist who wrote the book “Man’s search for meaning” while in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. He saw that of the many within the camp, the people who survived were different in their outlook from the many who perished. The survivors seemed to have a purpose which was above their own personal suffering and which enabled them to live through immense suffering while still keeping hope.

    Victor Frankl in fact rallied against the American values highlighting the immediate gratification of pursuing happiness as the ultimate goal vs. what he felt was the search for meaning. An easy example is about couples with children. On a day to day basis, these couples score lower on the happiness score and higher stress vs. others without children BUT they score far higher on overall meaning of life, of contributing towards people other than themselves etc. which help them go through the daily grind and find greater joy from a live well lived. Maybe a similar comparison can be drawn between happiness/instant gratification(speculation?) vs. meaning/long term rewards(investing?)

    • Thank you for introducing Mr Frankl.

      That is an interesting take on longer term happiness vs immediate gratification. I guess humans go through cycles of thought as well, and as of now instant gratification seems to be the mantra.

  7. Dear Vishal, profound as usual. Very well said, “what is the use of riches if it does not liberate ourselves”. And what is liberation? Well, death is certain, it is the only certainty in this life. Death of this body we call “me”. I do not know about what after death, so I will not go there. Then what is liberation? To me, it increasingly seems to be the preservation of the fullness & completeness within. And I am increasingly seeing that fullness is also emptiness, they are the same! Feeling complete, is the same as feeling empty. Liberation to me is to constantly be in touch with this fullness/emptiness in all moments of life. That is a wonderful life, a life living liberated. How to do this? We will all get there sooner or later (some teachers say in many births), but the best way is to associate with calm people who care to teach us. And self introspect (this is not the same as thinking, it is more akin to observing what is within, our reactions, sensations etc). And also read read read, until we do not have to read again anymore!!! But reading without assimilation will not help, just like eating without digestion! 🙂

    Sorry, too philosophical for a value investing blog! But Buffet / Munger / Schloss have kept saying that “do not do anything that will keep you awake at night”! So even in investing, invest in a way that is liberating, and makes one’s life harmonious. Even if this means lesser returns, particularly in the short term. BTW, I am gradually moving towards harmony, although the chains of long formed habits are hard to break. With all your good wishes, I will get there! 🙂

  8. Hi Vishal,

    Loved your msg “what is the use of riches if not to liberate you and make you happy”

    That says it all 🙂

    thanks,

    Vikas

  9. Eswar Santhosh says:

    A few disconnected thoughts on this:

    My goals are different – Life, Liberty and pursuit of contentment. Happiness is about our expectations and what happens externally. Whenever those two do not match, you get the other side of the coin – disappointment / sadness / heart break. Being content is not settling for less, not trying to stop being better, but balancing out expectation and reality – at least that’s how I think of it.

    As far as death is concerned, I ask myself randomly whether I am ‘ready to die this very moment’. Sometimes, I do answer “I do not mind”. But, that has not made me suicidal, hurt anybody (if you discount a few mosquito singers, a few ants, one cockroach and millions of micro organisms) or have negative feelings. It is just more calm when you realize nothing is as important as you think it is. Do I have ‘death drive’? May be, may be not.

    Markets are a great fit for lazy people. Earlier, I used to log in every day, try to predict where things are headed, listen to lot of empty chatter and waste time. In recent years, the number of days I have transacted has fallen more than 50%, the number of transactions has dropped more than 70% and my stress level due to market fluctuations has come down drastically. From worrying about Dow, F&O figures and SGX Nifty, I have started placing more value on not worrying about my portfolio during the weekend (Periods in comparison: 2004-08, 2009-12).

  10. Akhilesh Pathak says:

    Dear Vishal and Tribesmen,

    SN is fast becoming the mecca of imaginers who are in the race of making a better world for themselves and people around them!!

    Those who have seen the Will Smith’s movie-” The Pursuit of Happiness” on the life story of Chris Gardner, will be able to relate to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in a much better way 🙂

    For Gardner ‘ Passion is everything” and why so, I think you should read this.

    One of my most revered thinker and philosophical guide -Benjamin Franklin once said that “Most people die at 25 and aren’t buried until they’re 75.”. Decision is ours, whether we wish to live a liberated life full of happiness and gratitude or just want to die slowly, running the rat race merely to earn a living. The latter will make sure we remain the slaves of desires and vicissitudes of time.

    It is in discipline that we find freedom, It is in practice that mastery develops, it is in frugality that prosperity exist, it is in silence that we find peace and the epitome of eternal liberty & happiness – God. Rumi must have had these feelings only, when he pronounced- ‘silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation’ 🙂

    Investing is more rewarding when it is enjoyable. Joy seldom comes from instant profits or pleasures, and even if it comes, it never lasts. Short terms gains are like steroids, they momentarily boost the performance and make body and mind addictive of their usage, resulting in more short term and long term pains, both for athletes like Lance Armstrong and Investors/ Businessmen like Eike Batista!!

    Warm regards,
    Akhilesh

    • Thank you. I too have been thinking of reading a bit on Franklin, is The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin a decent book ?

      I think both short and long term happiness can be pursued since what is long term but a continuation of short term. It is our perspective (thinking) and ability to live with a balance.

  11. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” must indeed be the most well crafted and influential sentences.
    It encapsulates a lot and makes one wonder how mush of sustained work is needed to achieve even a part of it !
    Agree wealth should help liberate and not enslave.

  12. Akhilesh Pathak says:

    Dear Sudhir,

    The autobiography is more of philosophical novel and you should have a lot patience to read and infer the golden thoughts from the intertwined sentences, incidences and intellectual experiences. You can download the electronic version here and judge yourself!

    My all time favorite from his book are the definitions of 13 virtues-

    ” I proposed to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annexed to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurred to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully expressed the extent I gave to its meaning. These names of virtues, with their precepts were:

    1. Temperance- Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
    2. Silence- Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
    3. Order- Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
    4. Resolution- Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
    5. Frugality- Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself, i.e., waste nothing
    6. Industry- Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
    7. Sincerity- Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
    8. Justice- Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
    9. Moderation- Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
    10. Cleanliness- Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
    11. Tranquillity- Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
    12. Chastity- Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
    13. Humility- Imitate Jesus and Socrates. ”

    Some more-

    “And conceiving God to be the fountain of wisdom, I thought it right and necessary to solicit His assistance for obtaining it; to this end I formed the following little prayer, which was prefixed to my tables of examination, for daily use: ‘O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to Thy other children as the only return in my power for Thy continual favors to me.’

    These might sound like easy words and easier sentences but to follow them is a task of lifetime 🙂

    Stay blessed

    Regards

    • Wow. How wonderful. Thanks a lot.

      With people like you sharing with such forthcoming and openness what other blessing does one need.

    • Amazing stuff, Akhilesh!

      Thanks for sharing here and making this such a wonderful discussion that has brought me great joy.

      I second Sudhir’s thoughts – With people like you sharing with such forthcoming and openness what other blessing does one need. Thanks again!

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