Thursday, October 04, 2007

Prescriptions For Guaranteed Misery In Life

As some of you know, I really admire Charles Munger, Warren Buffet's partner. The clarity of his thinking, personal story, and professional success are worthy of study.

I recently read Poor Charlie's Almanac, The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger. The book is a fabulous collection of his thoughts, speeches, writings, mental models, and commentary on Charlie by Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Bill Gross (Pimco), and others.

I particularly enjoyed the speech he gave at his son's high school reunion.

The speech borrowed from an earlier commencement address by Johnny Carson. Carson told the students that he could not tell the graduating class how to be happy, but he could 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
  3. resentment
Munger goes on to add that if you desire misery that Johnny's suggestions were spot on. He adds four more certain ways to guarantee a miserable life to the mix...
  1. be unreliable
    1. do no faithfully do what you have engaged to do.
    2. if you like being distrusted and excluded from the best human contribution and company, this prescription is for you
  2. learn everything you possibly can from your own personal experience, minimizing what you can learn from the good and bad experience of others, living and dead
    1. the idea is to become as non-educated as you reasonably can
    2. do not stand on the shoulders of giants, who needs them
  3. go down and stay down when you get your first, second, and third severe reverse in the battle of life
    1. given the abundance of adversity in life...this will ensure that you will permanently mired in misery
  4. ignore disconforming evidence and remain certain in your views
    1. be one of those people who early achieve and later intensify a tendency to process new and disconforming information so that any original conclusion remains intact
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. Munger quotes the algebraist, Jacobi, who said, "invert, always invert." Many hard problems are best solved only when they are addressed backward.

Following all seven prescriptions will help ensure a life of non-felicity and abject misery. "Invert, always invert."


  1. Great post. I have a Charlie Munger category on my blog, and have been going through Munger's "Psychology of Human Misjudgment" in a series of posts. I will definitely be back to your blog. The "misery" commencement address is wonderful!


  2. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Do you know where I can find a copy if the commencement speech given by Johnny Carson? Thanks!