7 rules for a happy life from Berkshire's Charlie Munger
The legendary investor says if you don't relish managing your own investments, leave it to others and find something else to enjoy.
Warren Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger are by far the most quoted people in investing and finance.
They regularly give insightful interviews and Buffett has written a letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders every year since 1977. Trawling through his missives are a great way to learn about investing.
It is less well known that Munger often talks about how to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life, despite his many personal setbacks. At the age of 31, Munger was divorced, his young son had died of leukemia and he had no money. He rebuilt his life, and as well as becoming one of the world's most successful investors, he focusses on the essentials of happiness.
He will soon turn 100 and seems as enthusiastic as ever. He says:
"Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge, and self-pity are disastrous modes of thought. Self-pity gets pretty close to paranoia…Every time you find your drifting into self-pity, I don’t care what the cause, your child could be dying from cancer, self-pity is not going to improve the situation. It’s a ridiculous way to behave."
There are many articles on Munger's rules for a happy life, but here are a few from various sources, some with relevance for investing:
1. Manage expectations. “The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. That’s one you can easily arrange. And if you have unrealistic expectations, you’re going to be miserable all your life."
2. Avoid envy. Envy not only makes people miserable, but turns them into lousy investors.
3. Eliminate resentment. Wallowing in resentment leads to more misery, and it's better to think of things to be grateful for.
4. Stay cheerful despite adversity. Life does not follow a predetermined path. “Life will have terrible blows in it, horrible blows, unfair blows. It doesn’t matter. And some people recover and others don’t.”
5. Be reliable and surround yourself with reliable people. Reliability is about being predictable and reasonable but don't spend too much time worrying about what other people do. “If you’re unreliable, it doesn’t matter what your virtues are. Doing what you’ve faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct. You want to avoid sloth and unreliability.”
6. Follow your natural drift towards something that excites you. “If you can’t somehow find yourself very interested in something, I don’t think you’ll succeed very much, even if you’re fairly smart.”
7. Read and study constantly. Learn from past mistakes and become as educated as possible.
What is the relevance of happiness to investing? It's a stretch to argue happier people make better investors, but if the daily volatility of the market and share prices make you tense and losses create anxiety, then you're not living your best life. It would be better to diversify your investments across a range of funds (active or passive) according to your risk appetite, and leave the asset management to someone else (even if it's an index) while you get on with something that gives you more pleasure, while trying to ignore the market noise.
If a portfolio is constantly adjusted due to the worries of staring at a screen all day, the results are likely to be inferior versus staying invested for the long term. A recent global funds management survey by EY concludes:
"Australian clients appear more actively aware of declines in their portfolios than those in other markets, with the vast majority (97%) saying they change investment behaviour due to declines in portfolio value, significantly above the global average of 73%."
But if you enjoy investing for yourself, then go with it, although this quotation from Thomas Kennedy, the Chief Investment Officer at Trafalgar Partners, a US hedge fund, when asked if he likes his job, shows an extreme:
"Absolutely. Best job ever but you have to love it, otherwise the volatility will kill you. My team and I work 85 hours a week on average. The stress is offset by the money we make and spend when we are not working. My work week runs from 3pm on Sunday until 1pm on Friday here in San Francisco so I get about 50 hours off a week to relax with my wife, kids, and 5 dogs ... there is such a rush standing in the center of the markets as they swirl about, that is the most exciting thing about my life and feeds my passion. If you aren’t geared for it though it will kill you."
Take Munger's advice and look for rules that make you happy rather than worrying day and night on your investments. There's no point spending your time trading and investing if it kills you.