The Art of the Good Life: 52 Surprising Shortcuts to Happiness, Wealth and Success by Rolf Dobelli (Part 1)

Foreword. Since centuries ago, people have been asking themselves on what it means to live a good life? Is it better to seek happiness or to avoid unhappiness? The world is complicated and there is no simple solution. We need mental tools and models to rely on. This book is based on research as well as knowledge from ancient times. The tips from the book should help you navigate the challenges in life.

Mental Accounting (How to Turn a Loss into a Win). A speed camera on the expressway captured my car speed and I was going too fast. I used to be angry with such instances. However, now I smile when I receive summons. I pay the fines using money which I have set aside for good causes every year. This is known as mental accounting. You are tricking yourself into giving yourself a peace of mind. The fact has happened, but you can choose how to interpret the event. Living a good life has a lot to do with interpreting facts in a constructive way. To take the sting out of payment, you can pay first and consume later. When something has become a little more expensive/cheaper, I don’t think about it. I rather save my energy than money. You will help to retain your inner poise. Mental accounting will teach you to value your time.

The Fine Art of Correction (Why We Overestimate Set-Up). During a flight, the pilot constantly makes readjustments to the flight path. When things don’t go according to plan, we have to navigate. We can’t take our hands off the steering wheel. Our live is exposed to turbulence. Correction is more important than the set-up. The human body works in this way to fight viruses and bacteria too. In every relationship, fine-tuning is crucial too. We don’t like to correct because we feel we were right at the start. The US Constitution has been amended dozens of times already. There is no such thing as ideal training.

As an amateur pilot I’ve learned that it’s not so much the beginning that matters but the art of correction following take-off. – Rolf Dobelli

The Pledge (Inflexibility as a Stratagem). Clayton Christensen, an author, lives his life according to pledges. A pledge means an absolute commitment. This indicates inflexible behavior. However, when it comes to important issues, flexibility is not an advantage but a trap. This is because new decisions require willpower and lead to decision fatigue. Pledging saves your mental energy. Pledging means you are consistent on many topics. Pledges must be very firm and you must not waver.

Chain yourself to your pledges. Uncompromisingly. It’s easier to stick to your pledges 100% of the time rather than 99%. – Rolf Dobelli

Black Box Thinking (Reality Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings; or, Why Every False Step Improves Your Life). The black box in the plane was an indestructible box that can retrieve conversations in the cockpit so that it is easier to determine the cause of a crash. Black box thinking means radical acceptance of the truth and analyzing your actions. Your illness will still be there whether you want to focus on it or not. Self-deception is not compatible with a good life. The fact is that you are poor at something could be indeed true. Radical acceptance of defeats is part of life. Build your own black box. When making a big decision, think of what is going through your mind. Black box thinking can also work on a personal level. Tackle the problem at the source.

The world isn’t remotely interested in what you think of it or how you feel. Banish all such obscurantist tactics from your brain. – Rolf Dobelli

Accepting reality is easy when you like what you see, but you’ve got to accept it even when you don’t – especially when you don’t. – Rolf Dobelli

To put it another way, if you can’t spot where you put a foot wrong, you’re going to fall flat on your face again. Persistence in your analysis will pay off. – Rolf Dobelli

Counterproductivity (Why Timesavers are Often Timewasters). A car improved efficiency by many fold over horse carriages. Although it seemingly saves time, you have to factor in the time needed for maintenance, patrol, time caught in traffic jams. After factoring all these, the car has an average speed of 3.7mph. Technologies that seem good at the start needs to analyzed using a full cost analysis. For instance, powerpoint is great, but isn’t it a waste of time when you can get the message across using something simpler. Therefore, it is important to be on your guard against counterproductivity. Keep only the bare essentials. Technology can actually be a burden. The author is against modern technology, like smart devices.

A basic rule of the good life is as follows: if it doesn’t genuinely contribute something, you can do without it. – Rolf Dobelli

The Negative Art of the Good Life (Do nothing Wrong and the Right Thing Will Happen). Pilots simply want to avoid crashes. In investment, there is upside and downside. As long as you do the checks on the plane, you should be safe and minimize the downside. Like in tennis, you are likely to win if you minimize on your errors and play conservatively. What makes people happy? The literature does not contain much information. However, we can pinpoint what makes people unhappy: alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic stress, noise, long commute etc. Thus, the trick in life is to eliminate the downside as much as possible.

The Ovarian Lottery (Why You Didn’t Earn your Successes). Happiness is something you have. How much of success can be attributable to your own actions? Sometimes, it is because you were simply born in a good place. Where we are born definitely influences our success in a big way. The same also matters for the family you were brought up in. Timing is important. We are also a blend of our parent’s genes. For quite a number of things, you owe it to your genes. You haven’t really earned your achievements. You definitely need on others to be successful. Grateful people are demonstrably happier people.

Six percent of all the people who have been born over the last 300,000 years – since Homo Sapiens populated the world – are alive in the present day. They could just as easily have been born into another era; indeed, the probability of that is 94%. – Rolf Dobelli

The Introspection Illusion (Take Feelings Seriously – Just Not Your Own). Describe the objects in front of you. Describe what you feel about them right now. Our feelings are more nebulous. However, we are unable to express them clearly. You can’t achieve the good life through introspection. You are unlikely to achieve a certain purpose just by analyzing. Examine what are the recurring themes of your past and not analyze your feelings. Learn to read the emotions of others. Learn to treat your emotions less seriously. We need to cultivate a new relationship with our inner voices. Feelings will change over time and one should never be ‘owned’ by them. Repressing your emotions will only lead to them coming harder back at you. The key message is not to trust your emotions.

Take other people’s feelings very seriously, but not your own. Let them flit through you – they’ll come and go anyway, just as they please. – Rolf Dobelli

The Authenticity Trap (Why You need a Secretary of State). We all like to talk to authentic people However, do we want people to be too honest and forthcoming? Authenticity online are all staged. We don’t really know what authentic behavior is. There is simply no need to blurt out for innermost feelings. You can play your second self and keep promises and not blurt out personal feelings too often.

The Five-Second No (Small Favors, Big Pitfalls). How often do you say yes to favors without thinking? Do you reject others? When you keep helping others, you have less time for yourself. Co-operation was common in the animal kingdom because of survival. In game theory, the tit for tat works well. In the animal kingdom, animals believe in reciprocal altruism. Only apes have the ability to do it because they have a good memory. It keeps the economy going. However reciprocity has its dangers. Nowadays I say no to a lot of things which aren’t important to me. This is one of the key points of a good life.

The Focusing Illusion (Why You Wouldn’t be Happier in the Caribbean). When you are experiencing winter, you feel that you will be happier in the tropics on a beach somewhere. The more you focus, the greater the influence of the event. Because we are focusing on the climate only, we think Miami is superior. However, it is important to think about other factors. You assign the weather as overly important. Therefore, it is important not to overemphasize any single factor. The problem with humans is that it is not easy to view things from an ultra-wide lens. The grass usually looks good on the other side. The focusing illusion is bad and you need to be aware when it happens.

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it. – Daniel Kahneman

The Things You Buy Leave no Real Trace (Why You Should Buy less and Experience More). How much pleasure do you get from your car? It seems that people do. We tend to overemphasize the impact an object can give us. When you think of the car, you seem happy. However, when you think about using and maintaining it, probably you won’t feel as happy. Expensive objects tend to have higher upkeep and you get used to them after a while. When you experience something, you are fully present. Try to experience more and it is also usually cheaper. We overestimate the impact of purchases on our wellbeing.

While you’re thinking about X, you tend to grossly over-estimate X’s impact on your life. – Rolf Dobelli

Fuck-You Money (Saving Up Freedom). There is a diminishing marginal utility to things you consume, like water even if you are very thirsty. This holds true for money. Think about how much money you need to earn before you feel that additional income will not have any impact on your wellbeing. A decent income is needed for survival, but beyond that, it doesn’t bring you a lot of additional happiness. Rich people have more things to worry about. Life satisfaction for Americans in the 1946 and 1970s were largely the same, according to Easterlin. Wealth is relative, not absolute. Hence, this is the problem that humans face. Fuck-you money are the savings that will allow you to quit your job without you ending up in financial trouble. Don’t think too much about money and worry about slight fluctuations in your portfolio. Don’t compare yourself with the rich or you will feel unhappy. Live modestly even if you are rich as wealth makes people jealous. Genuine success is not financial in nature.

This revelation has been termed the Easterlin paradox: once basic needs have been met, incremental financial gain contributes nothing to happiness. – Rolf Dobelli



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