“Why are you in such a sad mood, Ravi?” I asked my friend as he visited us with his family this Christmas.
“You should see my stock portfolio Vishal!”
“Why, what happened?”
“Oh, it’s up just 30% this year!”
“30%! And you are still sad?”
“Yeah, because this could have been more than 30% had I not missed a few amazing stocks like…”
“Like Mindtree that is up 120% in the last one year, Cera Sanitaryware that is up 90%, Eicher that is up 80%, Aurobindo Pharma that is up 105%…and then there are the ones like Relaxo and Ashiana Housing, that are up 100% since April.
“And wait, hold your breath, look at Liberty Shoe that is up 70% in the last one week! If only I had just 2-3 of these stocks in my portfolio, my 2013 return would have been 50%+.”
“Wait Ravi!” I said, “What if your portfolio had Financial Technologies that is down 85% during 2013, or Tulip Telecom that is down 83%, or Geodesic that is down 80%, or A2Z Maintenance that is also down 80%? Your returns would have been in the negative!”
“What do you want to say, Vishal? Please be clear!”
“All I want to say to you Ravi is that please stop being miserable!”
“Miserable? I am not miserable!”
“You are, and I can see that on your face and in your words Ravi! You are resentful of missing out on some high flier stocks of 2013 while ignoring that things could have been worse, and that’s what makes you miserable!”
The Art of Being Miserable
We all suffer from a disease called “Hindsight 20-20” that causes us to see things more clearly after an event then before.
It is like saying that you see the situation or problem perfectly after the fact since 20-20 is perfect vision.
One side-effect of this disease is that we are always resentful of the past and thus we often kick ourselves for things like…
- I wish I could have done this!
- Only if I had done this!
- If only I had this stock in my portfolio!
- If only I had sold that stock earlier!
- I knew this would happen but…
In 1986, Charlie Munger gave a speech at his son’s graduation day at Harvard School.
This speech was a modified version of the one given by America’s king of comedy, Johnny Carson, and covered his prescriptions for guaranteed misery in life.
Here is an excerpt from that beautiful speech that covered three ways you can guarantee misery in your life…
What Carson said was that he couldn’t tell the graduating class how to be happy, but he could tell them from personal experience how to guarantee misery.
Carson’s prescriptions for sure misery included:
1. Ingesting chemicals in an effort to alter mood or perception;
2. Envy; and
I can still recall Carson’s absolute conviction as he told how he had tried these things on occasion after occasion and had become miserable every time.
It is easy to understand Carson’s first prescription for misery – ingesting chemicals. I add my voice. The four closest friends of my youth were highly intelligent, ethical, humorous types, favoured in person and background. Two are long dead, with alcohol a contributing factor, and a third is a living alcoholic -if you call that living.
While susceptibility varies, addiction can happen to any of us, through a subtle process where the bonds of degradation are too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. And I have yet to meet anyone, in over six decades of life, whose life was worsened by overfear and overavoidance of such a deceptive pathway to destruction.
Envy, of course, joins chemicals in winning some sort of quantity price for causing misery. It was wreaking havoc long before it got a bad press in the laws of Moses. If you wish to retain the contribution of envy to misery, I recommend that you never read any of the biographies of that good Christian, Samuel Johnson, because his life demonstrates in an enticing way the possibility and advantage of transcending envy.
Resentment has always worked for me exactly as it worked for Carson. I cannot recommend it highly enough to you if you desire misery. Johnson spoke well when he said that life is hard enough to swallow without squeezing in the bitter rind of resentment.
For those of you who want misery, I also recommend refraining from practice of the Disraeli compromise, designed for people who find it impossible to quit resentment cold turkey. Disraeli, as he rose to become one of the greatest Prime Ministers, learned to give up vengeance as a motivation for action, but he did retain some outlet for resentment by putting the names of people who wronged him on pieces of paper in a drawer. Then, from time to time, he reviewed these names and took pleasure in noting the way the world had taken his enemies down without his assistance.
To these three prescriptions for guaranteed misery, Munger added four of his own…
- Be unreliable. Do not faithfully do what you have engaged to do.
- Learn everything you possibly can from your own personal experience, minimizing what you learn vicariously from the good and bad experience of others, living and dead. This prescription is a sure-shot producer of misery and second-rate achievement.
- Go down and stay down when you get your first, second, third severe reverse in the battle of life. Given the abundance of adversity in life, this will ensure that you will permanently mired in misery.
- Ignore a story about a rustic who said: “I wish I knew where I was going to die, and then I’d never go there.”
Both Carson and Munger inverted the traditional graduation speech – they pursued the study of how to create X by turning the question backward and instead studying how to create non-X.
Like the algebraist Jacobi who said, “Invert, always invert,” many hard problems of our lives are best solved only when they are addressed backward.
Munger ends his speech by wishing students – “Gentlemen, may each of you rise high by spending each day of a long life aiming low.”
In the same vein, my wish for you for 2014 is…
In the words of the 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”
Mill’s observation highlights one of the hidden realities of life: It is in the pursuit of happiness that, paradoxically, we can find unhappiness.
In the same way, it is in the pursuit of misery that we can find happiness.
Thus, I wish that you spend each day of 2014…
- Envying that others are making money faster than you;
- Resenting that you did not pick the best stocks from the past;
- Surrounding yourself with people who drain you;
- Seeking quick solutions and expecting instant gratification; and
- Developing a sense of impatience, hurry, and haste.
In short, I wish that in 2014, you spend each day being miserable.
But remember, misery is not an easy state to achieve. It takes hard work and commitment. But if you have what it takes, you will find enough people to guide you along the road to true misery.
There will be times when happiness would seem like a tempting alternative, but please do not get swayed from your path of being miserable.
So, dear tribesman, go for misery in 2014. Nail it! It can give a distinctive meaning to the rest of your life.
Happy New Year! 🙂