The Art of the Good Life summary: Shortcuts to Happiness, Wealth, and Success

If 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 2 of this book summary is here.

Despite the best of intentions, we can't help but make systematic errors when it comes to making decisions, assessing risks and tradeoffs. Such biases or thinking traps are known as “cognitive errors", which are systematic deviation from logical, rational thinking and behavior. If you want to know how to recognize and minimize these “thinking errors”, I had summarised the shortcuts to make better decisions and have a better life.

Some questions to ponder over:

  • What does it mean to live a good life?
  • How should you live? What constitutes a good life?
  • What's the role of fate?
  • What's the role of money?
  • Is leading a good life a question of mindset, or is it more about reaching your goals?
  • Is it better to actively seek happiness or to avoid unhappiness? 

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

  • Use mental accounting to turn a loss into a win
    • People treat money differently depending on where they come from
    • Chuck the loss of time or money into "donation" category
    • Interpret facts in a constructive way to live a good life
    • Pay first, consume later to remove the pain of paying
    • Everything that follows is a gift is a way to be grateful
  • Don't overestimate the starting point
    • A focus on continuous correction is more important
    • Things don’t necessarily run according to plan, foreseeable and undisturbed
    • It’s not so much of the beginning that matters but the art of correction following take off
    • The good life is only achieved through constant readjustment
    • Be open-minded and be okay with failures
    • Have repeated re-planning which is an ongoing process instead of a fixed plan
    • Practice the art of correction by revising the things that aren’t working
  • Be inflexible to make life easier
    • Having to make decisions according to each scenario saps energy
    • Have the courage to reject options 
    • Use radical inflexibility to reach long term goals by making a pledge to achieve your goal
    • Establish the areas where there is no room for negotiation 
    • Compromising and being flexible on essential areas will make you feel tired and unhappy, distracting you from the goal 
  • Black box thinking
    • Build your own black box: whenever you make a big decision, write down what is going through your mind such as assumptions, thoughts and conclusion 
    • When a decision turns out to be a dud, take a look at the history to analyse the cause. Don’t repeat the mistake 
    • With each failure, your life will get better
    • Persistence in your analysis will pay off
    • Rectify your mistakes and do future proofing
    • Accept reality: If you don’t deal with reality, reality will deal with you
    • Learn how to deal with reality and failures  
    • The key is to discover why it happened and tackle the issue at its roots
  • Counter-productivity 
    • Time savers might be time wasters 
    • Be on your guard against counter-productivity (eg: multitasking)
    • Keep apps on your phone to a minimum
    • Have scheduled timings to check your phone
    • Reduce instant gratification on technology as it affects the quality of your life  
    • Do without it if it doesn’t genuinely contribute to something
  • Negative art of good life
    • Do nothing wrong and the right thing will happen 
    • During investing, focus on the potential downside and how to avoid it
    • Give lesser attention on the upside
    • Keep the downside at bay, the upside will take care of itself
    • Depending on the situation, focus on not making any mistakes
    • Concentrating on the downside instead of upside = you can’t say what a good life guarantees, you can only say what a good life prevents 
    • Do your best to systematically eliminate the downside in your life to achieve upside
    • Example: Try to be consistently not stupid instead of trying to be very intelligent 
    • It is not what you add that enriches your life, it’s what you omit

Big part of good life is about steering clear of stupidity, foolishness and trends instead of striving for ultimate bliss 

  • The ovarian lottery 
    • You didn’t earn your success: Your success is fundamentally based on things over which you have no control over (genes, environment, country, ancestors)
      • So stay humble even if you are successful 
    • Know that everything you are, have and can do is a result of blind chance
    • As such, donations and taxes aren't financial matters. They are issues of mortality.
  • The introspection illusion 
    • It is a belief that you can learn what you truly desire through sheer contemplation
    • You won’t find a good life through introspection 
    • Your inner voice is anything but a reliable compass. So don’t make your emotions a compass or use it to navigate your life
    • Since your emotions are unreliable, you should take them less seriously 
    • What is more useful is exploring your past and the recurring themes in your life. Examine the evidence, not your subsequent interpretation of it
    • Let your negative emotions flit through you whimsically 
  • The authenticity trap
    • It is out of place to show your authentic self in a casual acquaintanceship or in public
    • Have a second persona that is consistent, professional, reliable and avoid gossip
  • Learn to say no
    • Saying yes to small favours from reciprocity may lead to big pitfall
    • Be careful of a spontaneous yes
      • If you are being asked for something, mull over it for five seconds before making up your mind
  • The focusing illusion 
    • Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it 
    • The more narrowly you focus on a particular aspect of your life, the greater its apparently influence
    • Overcoming the focusing illusion is key to achieving a good life, as it will enable you to avoid stupid decisions 
    • When you compare things (cars, careers, holiday destinations), you tend to focus on one aspect and neglect hundred other factors 
    • You should view your current situation through an ultra wide angle lens and don’t be upset over trivialities 
    • Take a longer possible view of your life
      • Realise that the things that seemed so important in the moment have shrunk to the size of the dots that barely affect the overall picture 
    • A good life is only attainable if you take the occasional peek through a wide angle lens
    • By focusing on trivialities, you are wasting your good life
  • Why you should buy less and experience more
    • A luxurious item makes you happy when you are thinking about it but not when you are using it
    • Find experiences that make you fully present in both the heart and mind
  • Saving up freedom 
    • Your level of wealth is a matter of interpretation.
      • Money is relative, in comparison to others and your money
    • Don’t react with minor fluctuations in your income or assets.
      • Don’t let it worry you as thinking about it won’t help
    • Don’t compare with anyone or with the wealthy 
    • Live modestly 
    • Genuine success is anything but financial 
  • The circle of competence
    • Know your limits - understanding the world is far too complex for a single human brain
    • Know your circle of competence and stick within it
      • Resist the impulse to step outside the circle of competence. Know your boundaries.
      • Resist the temptation to broaden it, especially so as skills are domain specific 
    • Creating a circle of competence takes time. Expect anything worthwhile to take time and obsession
      • People invested hours to achieve a mastery of something
    • Every hour invested into your circle of competence is worth a thousand spent elsewhere 
      • It is not relevant for the areas you are average or below average in
      • What matters is that you are far above average in at least one area
    • A single outstanding skill trumps a thousand mediocre ones 
  • The secret of persistence 
    • Staying still brings about more success (eg: long term investing)
      • But our brains love short term developments. We react to highs and lows, rapid changes to jarring news, but we barely notice continuous changes
    • We systemically overemphasise doing above not doing, zeal above deliberation and action above waiting 
    • Secret of persistence: long term success hinge on slow, boring, long winded process 
    • Good life: less busy work, more endurance 
    • Stick within your circle of competence as long as possible 
    • Perseverance, tenacity and long term thinking are highly valuable and underrated 

You don’t have to be brilliant, only a little bit wiser than others on average for a long time 

  • The tyranny of a calling
    • Do what you can, not what you wish you could 
    • The concept of calling is one of the greatest illusions of our age
    • You cannot live a good life when you pin everything on the fulfilment of your supposed vocation
    • As you do the work, focus on the activity, work and input, instead of the success, result and output.
    • Build on the skills you actually have and put food on the table
  • How to shift from external to internal validation 
    • How you evaluate yourself is more important than a external scorecard
    • Being concerned about how you come across to others goes against living a good life
    • Let go of liking and being liked 
    • Treat external validation with a friendly and composed disinterest
  • You can change yourself but not others
    • Motivation for personal change must come from within 
    • Avoid situations in which you have to change others 
    • Be with people you like and trust 
  • Look at the smaller meaning of life 
    • Smaller meaning of life looks at: Who are you? What do you want? What is your personal goals, ambition, mission?
      • There can be no good life without personal goals
      • Life goals are important. Although there is no guarantee of achieving your end, but if you don't have one, you are guaranteed to achieve nothing
      • Direct your effort to the goal and let it decide your actions
      • Goals make life easier as life consists of endless forks in the road. You could make each choice on a whim or refer to your goals
      • But setting unattainable goals are not satisfying. You need to make sure that your goal is realistic
      • Tip: leave your goals a little vague deliberately such as well-off instead of billionaire
      • The path to good life means adjusting the bar and setting achievable goals. What matters is to know where I am going.
    • Larger meaning of life looks at: What is the meaning of life?
      • The world is fundamentally meaningless. You are wasting your time when you search for the meaning in life
      • Since our lives consist of infinitely many factors, any one line answer inaccurate. You are better off not answering who you are

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