The Art of the Good Life: Achieve Happiness, Wealth, and Success

AIf you had enjoyed reading The Art of Thinking Clearly and found it useful to apply to your finances and daily life, you will definitely love The Art of the Good Life by Rolf Dobelli. Part 1 and 2 of this book summary are here and here.

The Art of the Good Life, designed for practical living, has fifty-two ways to optimize your happiness

  • If you run your own race, you can’t lose
    • You should have a specialisation and build up your area of expertise.
      • Ask yourself exactly what the field is 
    • General knowledge is only useful as a hobby
  • Why you should avoid the field of battle 
    • If you find yourself in an arms race, get out of it. Everyone is doing the same thing so it doesn’t differentiate you from the pack
    • To get out, try to find a field of activity not beset by arms races. You need a niche that is not competitive, where you can operate smoothly and confidently
    • Try to escape the arms race dynamics in your personal and financial life. Retreat every so often from the battle field and observe it from above
    • You will only find the good life where people aren’t fighting over it
  • Make friends with outsider
    • Have a wider perspective 
    • Don’t be an outsider yourself
  • The secretary problem
    • It is better to be approximately right than to be precisely wrong
    • Take your time to try out different options before making a firm decision 
    • Choosing before you have a strong sense of what is out there is not a sensible idea
    • It may be problematic to make our decisions too soon.
      • It is fine for inconsequential decisions but not for important ones 
    • Strategies
      • Write down the decisions you need to make
    • Read widely and engage in various conversations 
    • Only as you age should you adapt your modus operandi and become highly selective. By then you will know what you like and what you don’t 
    • Problem: Our sample sizes are too small, we make rushed decisions. We rely on a false impression of reality that is not representative

The world is much bigger, richer and more diverse than we imagine, so try to take as many samples as you can while you are young. Your first few years of adulthood aren’t about earning money or building a career. They are about getting acquainted with the universe of possibility. Be extremely receptive. Taste whatever fate dishes up. 

  • Managing expectations 
    • The less you expect, the happier you will be
    • Discern your expectations and assess them realistically 
    • Unrealistic expectations are the most effective killjoys
    • How to handle expectations
      • Categorise your thoughts into: I have to have it, I want to have it, I expect it
      • So you can draw a sharp distinction between necessity, desire and expectation
    • We have a lot of wants but other than breathing, eating and drinking,  you don’t have to do anything at all
    • Few desires are grounded in genuine necessities 
    • Seeing desires as a must make you a grumpy and unpleasant person to be around
    • The sooner you can erase this supposed necessities, the better
    • While a life with goals is essential, take not to not be shackled to them. A lot of things lie outside my control
    • You may consider having a preference instead but it should be insignificant to your happiness 
    • Many unhappy moments are down to sloppily managed expectations, particularly expectations of other people.
      • You can’t expect others to conform.
    • Our expectations possess very limited external force but hold immense internal sway. When we are lax in dealing with them, we allow others to gain influence 
    • Don’t lump together necessities, goals and expectations. Keep them meticulously separated. The ability to manage expectations is part of the good life
  • Sturgeon law
    • 90% of everything is crap
      • So it is okay to pass over most of what you see, hear or read without feeling guilty
    • And don’t try to cleanse the world of nonsense. You don’t have to correct others 
    • The world is full of empty words and you don’t have to listen 
    • Concentrate on being selective on the few valuable things and leave the rest aside
    • Likewise, 90% of your ideas, thoughts, desires and emotions are irrelevant. So don’t take any crap from others and from yourself that is offered to you.
      • Don’t give in to every single urge simply because you feel like doing it
      • Don’t try every gadget merely because it exists
    • Precious few things are valuable, first rate or essential 
    • Spending your time and effort on those 90% is a frustration and waste of time
    • Recognise the difference between ideas and good ideas, products and investments and recognising bullshit for what it is 
    • If you are not sure whether something is bullshit, it is bullshit
  • Be modest
    • The less self important you are, the better your life will be because part of good life means not being too full of yourself 
  1. Self importance requires energy. If you think overly high of yourself, you have to broadcast your self image, and register how the environment respond. Save yourself the effort and focus on your work. So don’t be vain, don’t namedrop and don’t brag about your success
  2. The more self important you are, the more speedily you will fall for the self serving bias. You will start doing things not to achieve a specific goal but to make yourself look good
  3. People who think highly of themselves tend to systemically overestimate their knowledge and abilities, making grave errors in decision making
  • Inner success
    • Your input is more important than your output 
    • Have your own interpretation of success. Be cautious that society can control the way in which individual spend their time through the way it measures success and bestows prestige 
    • Definition of success is a product of time
    • Regardless of what century you are born in, society will have its own success 
    • Don’t just blindly follow the flags, wherever they lead, you won’t find the good life
    • Material success is 100% a matter of chance. You can’t do anything about your genes, environment, intelligence and willpower.
    • True success is inner success
    • Striving for inner success is the most sensible approach
    • To be successful is to be imperturbable regardless of whether you are flying high or crash landing
    • To achieve inner success, focus exclusively on the tings we can influence and resolutely block out everything else
  • Input, not output
    • We can control input, not output
    • If you trained yourself to be serene, imperturbable and ataraxic, you will mostly be happy no matter what fate throws your way
    • Inner success is stable, not external success
    • Success is a peace of mind, which is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming 
    • You have to practice inner success. Every evening take stock. 

In summary you need mental tools to see the world more objectively and sensibly in the long term. They will help you act better and make better decisions than if were relying on your intuition alone

In Summary

You can’t exactly say what a good life is but you can safely say what is not. 

We don’t know for sure what makes us successful and can’t pinpoint exactly what makes us happy. But we certainly know what destroys success and happiness. Pin down only what blocks success. Eliminate the downside, thinking error and the upsides will take care of itself.

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