Charlie Munger, the billionaire, has been regarded as a source of wisdom.
In 1986, he was asked to speak for the graduating class of Harvard-Westlake. He prepared for his speech well and decided to draw from the speech of Johnny Carson that prescribed how to live a life free from misery.
He decided to expand on Carson’s speech and add a few more tips of his own, for a recipe that allowed one to live a fulfilling life.
In his speech, Munger listed five things that “guarantee” a life of misery, which should be avoided at all costs. Here’s what they are:
In the original speech, Carson said that he had taken drugs occasionally, and that every time he did so, he became quite miserable. Munger added his own experience with drugs to this anecdote and talked about how four of his close friends had wasted their life away thanks to drug abuse. These four friends of his had been highly intelligent and ethical, but two of them died of alcoholism, and the third was alive at the time, even though he was an alcoholic too. Munger said that the level of susceptibility to addiction varies from person to person, but addiction can become a problem for anybody. It is always wise to be overly cautious of addiction. And if you are struggling with addiction, don’t be afraid to ask for help. What is important is that you have decided to stop and seek for help.
Munger said that resentment can guarantee a life that is miserable. It does not work for anyone to hold on to grudges and harbor resentment. He referred to Johnson, who spoke extensively about how life is already hard enough to swallow without adding in the bitterness that resentment brings. He recommended that to avoid feeling resentful, one can opt for the ‘Disraeli Compromise’. He told them the story of Benjamin Disraeli, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who kept a list of his enemies in a drawer. Every time he felt resentful, he took out the list and reviewed the names, and the fact that all his enemies had been dealt the luck that they deserved even without his interference brought him his much needed peace of mind.
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To avoid a miserable life, Munger suggested that one should keep their word. Being unreliable and not following through on the plans you make will undoubtedly make you feel terrible and set you up for a lifetime of misery. The science behind this is quite simple: unreliable people are hardly seen as trustworthy and eventually end up losing all their friends and loved ones. Referencing the story of the tortoise and the hare, Munger explained how being unreliable can cause problems for you later on in life – he said that when you are unreliable, you run the risk of being outrun by lots of mediocre tortoises instead of being outrun by just one fine tortoise.
4. Getting knocked down
Munger said that if, after being knocked down by life, you refuse to get back up on your feet again, it can spell out misery for you. He said that since there is already no dearth of adversity in the world, letting life knock you down will ensure that there comes a point when you’re permanently and completely “mired in misery”.
5. Refusing to learn
Munger gave the example of Sir Isaac Newton to show how learning from your past mistakes can be very helpful in living a life that is free from misery. He said that Newton was able to garner widespread recognition for his work because he knew how to learn from the mistakes of those who came before him. Learning from your past mistakes can help you to avoid making those same mistakes again in the future.