Art of the Good Life by Rolf Dobelli

One of the many lessons that I have learned from Mohnish is that from time to time I send out a book-gift to some of the people in my life that I value. Last year, the book that I picked was “The Art of the Good Life” by Rolf Dobelli.

I originally met Rolf at one of the TED conference in Long Beach and was lucky enough to be invited to his annual World Minds Symposium.

Rolf is an essayist and stoic philospher — who likes to learn from the emininent dead, and the eminent living. His masters include Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger and others.

The Art of the Good Life is a modern take on stoic philosophy. Of great interest ot me is Rolf’s claim that all great value investors: Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger and others are, in their essence, Stoics.

I have really enjoyed seeing some of the recipients post photographs of the book as they received them.

There were a couple of other responses that I really liked.

First was Preston Push and Stig Broderson’s decision to have the book be the subject of one of their podcasts on The Investor’s Podcast.

Second was then my friend and Harvard Business School Classmate, Mike Jenner’s write up of each of Rolf’s fifty two chapters in a set of pithy notes.

Mike Jenner

You can link download a PDF of the writeup here.

Art of the Good Life by Rolf Dobelli: 52 Chapter Summary by Mike Jenner

  1. Mental Accounting — set expectations of high expense, monetary or otherwise, so pleasantly surprised
  2. Constant Readjustment — Plans are nothing, planning is everything. Change is continual, and to be welcomed.
  3. Pre-Deciding — avoid decision fatigue sapping willpower
  4. Radical Acceptance and Black Box Thinking — accept what is, not what you want it to be. Review decisions to improve process
  5. Counterproductivity — beware of ‘time savers.
  6. The Negative Art of the Good Life — arrive at the upside by avoiding the errors, the downside. Fate is fate, let it go. Don’t solve difficult problems, avoid them
  7. The Ovarian Lottery — it’s ALL luck, so be grateful, it’ll make you happie
  8. The Introspection Illusion — Don’t trust emotions, let them go. Create distance, scepticism, a playfulness about your emotions. Exhibit ataraxia to stay centred when fate does its thing.
  9. Authenticity Trap — self regulation is important
  10. The 5-Second No — Say no more often to stay on course
  11. The Focusing Illusion — What you pay attention to grows in importance. Pay attention strategically. Focus on what’s truly important.
  12. The Things You Buy Leave No Real Trace — value experiences, not possessions. Spend time doing enjoyable things.
  13. Fuck-You Money — Diminishing marginal utility means more wealth means less and less. Wealth as a satisfier is relative, not absolute, who are you comparing yourself to?
  14. The Circle of Competence — Know what you’re great at, enjoy. Do just that. Obsession is good if you become world’s best
  15. The Secret of Persistence — Perseverance, tenacity and long-term thinking are more important than switching back and forth
  16. The Tyranny of a Calling — Focus on the task, the activity, not the result or output. Set lofty goals, but maintain a level-headed relationship with them. We all have choice.
  17. The Prison of a Good Reputation — Internal validation is key, not external. To spare yourself the emotional roller coaster, concentrating on prestige distorts our perception of what makes us happy, it’s stressful.
  18. The “End of History” Illusion — You can exercise a small amount of influence over changes in your personality. Hang with, and focus on, the right people. You can’t change others.
  19. The Smaller Meaning of Life — There is no larger meaning for life. But goals are invaluable. Leave them a little vague, give yourself wiggle room.
  20. Your Two Selves — Experiencing self (like Memento!) v remembering self. Peak-end rule: remember the extreme thing, and the last thing. Duration neglect: forget how long it took after it’s happened. We tend to overvalue remembering self.
  21. The Memory Bank — Make long term plans, but then focus on the now. Maximise present experiences instead of worrying about future memories. Savour it instead of photographing it.
  22. Like Stories are Lies — The brain weaves facts in memories via a compact (short and simple), consistent (contradiction-free) and causal (clear link between action and impact) story. But we change more rapidly than we think, chance plays a huge role and we have a self-serving bias. Makes it hard to see self as who truly are.
  23. The “Good Death” Fallacy — Age and death are the price we pay for a good life. Enjoy the now.
  24. The Spiral of Self Pity — awful childhood events are minimally correlated with success or satisfaction. Whenever you think some situation or person is ruining your life, it’s actually you who are ruining it.
  25. Hedonism and Eudemonia — Meaning can compensate for enjoyment, or enjoyment for meaning. Every experienced moment has both a pleasurable component and a meaningful one. Focus on meaning AND enjoyment, avoid extremes.
  26. The Circle of Dignity Part 1 — “But if Not” is everything not up for negotiation. Knowing its boundaries is everything. Commitments are so sacred they should be rare. “If an individual has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live” MLK. Withstand better arguments
  27. The Circle of Dignity Part 2 — Society only leaves people in peace if they conform. Keep the faith on those things your hold sacred. Withstand mortal danger.
  28. The Circle of Dignity Part 3 — What things would you never sell, irrespective of the offered price? Have a small but clearly delineated circle of dignity. Withstand ‘the devil’s bargain’.
  29. The Book of Worries — Balancing ‘danger sensor’ and ‘worry detector’. Doesn’t take real threat, fear of threat is enough to impact health. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”. Three strategies: Write out a big book of worries, take out insurance, focused fulfilling work.
  30. The Opinion Volcano — Three mistakes: express opinions on topics of no interest to us, express opinions of unanswerable questions, speak too quickly on complex questions. We confuse affects (instantaneous emotions) with considered reflection. You don’t need to have an opinion on many things. Give yourself a “too complicated” or “haven’t thought about it” bucket.
  31. Your Mental Fortress — 1) accept the existence of fate 2) everything you own, value and love is ephemeral, fleeting, on loan 3) if lost everything, remember the positive outweighed the negative 4) what can’t be taken back are your thoughts, your mental tools, your attitude — a piece of freedom that can never be assailed. How improbable to be alive at all.
  32. Envy — don’t compare! (focusing illusion) Or compare with the right people.
  33. Prevention — wisdom is prevention. Do a pre-mortem weekly. What’s the worst outcome, how avoid it.
  34. Mental Relief Work — 5 recommendations: there’s not much you can do personally, donate money (not time, invest your time in your circle of competence), restrict news consumption, you’re not responsible for the state of the world.
  35. The Focus Trap — only 3 important resources: focus, time, money. Focus is zero sum. You live where your focus is directed.
  36. Read Less, But Twice, On Principle — Immersion, the opposite of surfing. Life’s too short for bad books.
  37. The Dogma Trap — Knowledge illusion: we think we understand much more than we understand. Avoid ideologies: explain everything, irrefutable, obscure. Think independently. Understand you don’t understand the world.
  38. Mental Subtraction — think about what it would be like to lose stuff you value to increase your happiness. Think about the things you’d miss that you currently have.
  39. The Point of Maximum Deliberation — Thinking is to acting as a torch is to a floodlight. Thinking things through has rapidly diminishing returns. “To know what you want to draw, you must begin to draw” Picasso. Be in action.
  40. Other People’s Shoes — The value of the truly second person position. Thinking and doing are separate spheres.
  41. The Illusion of Changing the World Part 1 — Gonna happen anyway. Intentional Stance: it was intended (even when it wasn’t). We give credit to the person standing closest when it happens.
  42. The Illusion of Changing the World Part 2 — Your personal impact on the world is minute. The only place you can really make a difference is your own life. Don’t believe too much in our own self-importance.
  43. The “Just World” Fallacy — Life’s unfair. Accept it. Focus on your garden, your own everyday life, you’ll find enough weeds to keep you busy.
  44. Cargo Cults — the adherence to form without a real understanding of content. Reward achievement, not pomp and ceremony.
  45. If You Run Your Own Race, You Can’t Lose — Specialisation is a good thing. Become the world’s leading expert at something. Specialise radically.
  46. The Arms Race — find a niche where there’s no competition.
  47. Making Friends with Weirdos — Get to know outsiders, but don’t be one yourself. Outsiders have a more dispassionate, objective perspective, have better ideas.
  48. The Secretary Problem — Our sample sizes are too small. Reject all of first 37%. Then pick next best you see. ‘It’s better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.” Buffett. Try more stuff.
  49. Managing Expectations — The less you expect, the happier you’ll be. Distinguish between ‘I have to have’, “I want to have’, ‘I expect’. Erase or minimise haves to be happy. Fine to have a preference, but make it insignificant to your happiness. With expectations, identify, then reduce.
  50. Sturgeon’s Law — How to tune your bullshit detector. 90% of everything is crap. Don’t give in to every urge simply because you happen to feel like doing it. And if you’re not sure if it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit.
  51. In Praise of Modesty — the less self-important you are, the better your life will be. You won’t be remembered, get over yourself. Self-importance requires energy, always on the lookout. Save yourself the energy. Self-importance breeds self-serving bias. You’ll do things to look good, instead of achieving a goal. And you’ll make enemies.
  52. Inner Success — Your input is more important then your output. True success is inner success. Tranquility of the soul. We can control input, not output.
Guy Spier, Lory Spier, Rolf Dobelli