The Art of the Good Life: 52 Surprising Shortcuts to Happiness, Wealth and Success by Rolf Dobelli (Part 4)

Managing Expectations (The Less You Expect, the Happier You’ll Be). Our brains are an expectation machine. Expectations are built without us knowing as well, on a subconscious level. Do not have excessively high expectations of certain events. If your expectations regarding income rise faster than your income, you will be disappointed. Besides feeding yourself, you don’t have to do anything else. There are very few true necessities in life. Learn to erase supposed ‘necessities’ from your life. It is good to have desires, but do not be shackled by them. Not all your desires will be fulfilled. Your preferences are sometimes out of your control. Try not to have expectations of others, as they are beyond your control. To live a good life, draw distinctions between necessities, desires and expectations. You need to keep them separate. Managing your expectations is part of a good life.

Research confirms that expectations have a profound impact on happiness, and that unrealistic expectations are among the most effective killjoys. – Rolf Dobelli

Sturgeon’s Law (How to Tune your bullshit detector). Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap, regardless of what field you are in. To re-phrase, 90% of intellectual things are bullshit. Knowing this is good, as you can filter what you see, hear or read without feeling guilty. Concentrate on being selective in your absorption of content. In life, you will come across a lot of trash, but you need to be able to tune those out. It is easier said than done. Recognize the difference between ideas and good ideas. If you’re not sure whether something is bullshit, it’s bullshit.

In Praise of Modesty (The Less Self-Important You Are, the Better Your Life will be). Even great people will be forgotten in 4 generations or so. The problem with humans are that we are too attached to a sense of self-esteem. Our ego is too big. To live a good life, avoid being too full of yourself. Avoid standing upon your ego too much. Focus on your work and do not brag. The self-serving bias afflicts those who have a big ego in life. They may also over-estimate their abilities in life.

In a hundred or two hundred years at the most, hardly anybody will know who Bill Gates, Donald Trump or Angela Merkel were. And as for the two of us – you, dear reader, and me – a few decades after we’re gone nobody will spare us a second thought. – Rolf Dobelli

Inner Success (Why Your Input is more important than your output). Magazines sometimes produce a list of the most successful and powerful people in the world. Modern societies highlight material success a lot. Why are there no lists for people who are the most satisfied? Definitions of success depends on the product of their time. Don’t follow others blindly. Material success is 100% a matter of chance. True success is inner success. Once you have achieved tranquillity of the soul, you will be able to put up with slings and arrows. You can control your input, but not your output. Inner success is more stable than external success. Take stock of your accomplishments at the end of each day. People desire external gain as it gives them internal gain.

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. – John Wooden

Afterword. The good life is no easy task. Instead of relying on intuition, one should be aware of the biases/heuristics that the mind is susceptible to. Intellectual tools are more important than money. If your friend is not leading a good life, you will know it instantly. This book has provided insights on Stoicism. Throughout this book, I have quoted Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett. This book combines the principles of modern psychology, Stoicism and the philosophy of value investing.

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The Art of the Good Life: 52 Surprising Shortcuts to Happiness, Wealth and Success by Rolf Dobelli (Part 3)

The Book of Worries (How to Switch off the Loudspeaker in Your Head). Everyone has to have the right setting on anxiety. That’s the way humans were wired, to be slightly anxious and wary of our surroundings. In the past, anxiety was useful as it ensured the survival of humans. But in modern day, such anxiety is unproductive. Anxiety will simply affect your sleep quality. Excessive anxiety will lead to stress. Fear is enough. There isn’t a switch to turn off the loudspeaker in your head. One trick is to write down your anxieties in a book at a fixed time everyday. Think about the worst possible consequences. Take out insurance. Focused work can definitely help against brooding as it very fulfilling in nature.

Determine what you can influence and what you can’t. Address the former. Don’t let the latter prey on your mind. – Rolf Dobelli

The Opinion Volcano (Why you’re Better Off Without Opinions). Difficult questions require thought and not simply muttering an opinion. The human brain is a volcano of opinions. We express opinions on topics which do not interest us. It would be better for you to shut up. We think we know answers on unanswerable questions. We give over-hasty answers to complex questions. The trick is to not keep on feeling that you need to give an opinion. Select the topics of your interest carefully. Writing is the ideal way to organize your thoughts. Question your own opinion to see if it can stand up to scrutiny.

Your Mental Fortress (The Wheel of Fortune). One needs to accept the existence of fate. Everything can be turned on their head all of a sudden. Everything you own, value and love is ephemeral. These things are fleeting and temporary. Thirdly, understand that the positive outweighed the negative in your life and that all sweet things are tinged with bitterness. However, no one can take your thoughts and your mental tools. These are the principles of stoicism. Happiness can only found in your mental strength and resolve, not in a Porsche collection.

Envy (Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall). Envy is one of the most toxic emotions. It has many destructive powers. Envy is one of the most important sources of unhappiness. Envy is an animal instinct. The trick is to stay clear of comparisons in order to enjoy a good life. Social media also contains information about others. Do not be envious of the neighbour’s car as car is unlikely to be able to bring someone happiness.

This is the interesting thing about envy: the more we compare ourselves with others, the greater the danger of jealousy. – Rolf Dobelli

The images uploaded have nothing to do with your friends’ normal lives. They’ve been meticulously curated, giving the fake impression that others in your social circle are doing better than they really are. – Rolf Dobelli

Prevention (Avoid Problems Before You Have to Solve Them). What is wisdom? It is a practical ability which we need to navigate life. Avoidance isn’t sexy. Successes achieved through prevention are invisible to others. The financial press loves a good turnaround manager. Hence, we underemphasize the role of some people in society. It is better to steer clear of danger because of your wisdom of foresight.

Mental Relief Work (Why You’re Not Responsible for the State of the World). Sometimes, we hear about the injustices in the world. However, there is nothing we can do about them personally. Most catastrophes are more complex than they seem to be. Don’t overestimate your ability. If you want to help reduce suffering on the planet, donate money. Voluntary work using your time is largely unproductive and you would be better off investing in your circle of competence. It would be smarter to pay and let the professionals do the work. Drastically restrict your news consumption – especially when it comes to catastrophes. Evil is all around us, and some things are hard to prevent. You’re not responsible for the state for the world.

The Focus Trap (How to Manage Your Most Important Resource). Focus is important, but you need to know where to direct it. The problem is that in modern society we are distracted by many notifications etc. Focus is an important resource. Don’t confuse what is new with what’s relevant. Avoid content or technology that’s free. Avoid absorbing information from multimedia as books are less distracting. Act from a position of strength. Focus can affect your happiness directly too.

If you deliberately focus your attention, you’ll get more out of life. Be critical, strict and careful when it comes to your intake of information – no less critical, strict and careful than you are with your food or medication. – Rolf Dobelli

Read Less, but Twice – On Principle (We’re Reading Wrong). Get through life via 50 books that you have read. I can faintly recall the content of books I have read. Little of the books you have read, you can remember. What’s the point of reading a book if you can’t remember the content? Why do humans retain so little of what we read? The problem is that we are not selective or thorough enough. Now, I am more selective with my reading and sometimes even read the same book twice. When young, read widely and do not restrict yourself. This is the stage where you are improving your powers of judgment. After you are 30, be very selective about what you read.

The effect of reading twice isn’t twice the effect of reading once. It’s much greater – judging by my own experience, I’d put it at a factor of ten. – Rolf Dobelli

The Dogma Trap (Why Ideologues Oversimplify Things). Humans think we know things very well until we are forced to explain them. This is the knowledge illusion. Special issues require a lot of thought. We need to account for the effects of the effects of doing something. Ideologies are very dangerous. Notice when you are falling for an ideology. An ideology is one which can seemingly explain everything. Remember to give dogmas a wide berth.

Mental Subtraction (How to Realize that You’re Happy). How generally happy are you with your life? Gratitude is an important feeling which you need to be appreciative of. Gratitude might not work because of habituation and we get used to things. Instead of focusing on the positives, mental subtraction works too. It can help to boost happiness. Think about how much you’d miss the things you do have if you didn’t have them any longer.

Our happiness is sometimes not very salient. We need to do what we can to make it more so. Imagine playing a piano and not being able to hear what it sounds like. Many activities in life are like playing a piano that you do not hear. – Rolf Dobelli

The Point of Maximum Deliberation (Thinking Is to Acting Like a Torch is to a Floodlight). The best ideas come to you while you write them down. Action speaks louder than words. Doing beats talking anytime. The world is opaque to us. To go beyond what we know, we have to forge ahead and act. This is the point of maximum deliberation. This is when all the facts are laid on the table and you have digested them. Meditation won’t help you anymore, if there are no more new acts. Stranded on an island, who would you rather be by your side? Your partner? A Consultant? A boatbuilder? You won’t achieve the good life simply by thinking about things you ought to do. Self-inquiry will get you bogged down in moodiness, vague thoughts etc.

An entrepreneur won’t know whether a product will be successful until she produces it and launches it onto the market – no matter how much consumer research she’s done. – Rolf Dobelli

If you’re simply thinking something over, you’ll never bump up against reality, which means you can never fail. Act, however, and suddenly failure is back on the cards – but you’ll gain new experiences. – Rolf Dobelli

Other People’s Shoes (Role Reversal). Sometimes, it helps to take the place of someone else. The issue might be resolved more quickly. You got to see things from someone’s else perspective. Role reversal is a quick way to build mutual understanding. Reading novels can help you to build empathy fast.

Being immersed in a good novel, accompanying the protagonist throughout both highs and lows, is an efficient workaround that sits somewhere between thinking and doing. – Rolf Dobelli

The Illusion of Changing the World (Part 1 – Don’t Fall for the “Great Men” Theory). Can you really change the world? Modern society are very optimistic for the individual. We see ourselves as engineers of the world. However, the idea that any individual can change the world is a grand illusion. The first problem is the focusing illusion. We over-estimate the importance of our projects. The next bias is the intentional stance such as ‘without Einstein, there would be no relativity theory’. However, without such great people, things would have happened, just with someone else at the helm. Individual humans do not shape history, but there are a myriad of factors driving it. Do not cling on to the illusion, that you can be a great man yourself.

The Illusion of Changing the World (part 2 – Why you shouldn’t put anyone on a pedestal – least of all yourself). Other inventors, if Edison wasn’t around, would have invented the light bulb. Hence, the light bulb would still have been invented. Technology will find its inventors, not vice versa. Even without Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, things would not have changed much. Even outstanding CEOs can’t control market forces. A lot of them are forgotten people already. Hence, we need to be modest about our own achievements.

No matter how extraordinary your accomplishments might be, the truth is that they would have happened you. Your personal impact on the world is minute. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are. – Rolf Dobelli

The only place where you can really make a difference is in your own life. Focus on your own surroundings. You’ll soon see that getting to grips with that is ambitious enough. Why take it upon yourself to change the world? Spare yourself the disappointment. – Rolf Dobelli

The ‘Just World’ Fallacy (Why Our Lives Aren’t Like Classic Crime). We believe in justice and equality and cannot bear injustice. We believe good deeds will be rewarded and bad deeds will be punished. We need to accept the unfairness of the world. In life, we have to put up with a bit of unfairness. Humans like to think everything will turn out fine. The world is fundamentally amoral. Part of the good life is to accept that not everything is fine.

The things that happen to you across the course of your life, especially the more serious blows of fate, have little to do with whether you’re a good or a bad person. So accept unhappiness and misfortune with stoicism and calm. – Rolf Dobelli

Cargo Cults (Don’t Build Planes out of Straw). Many people try to emulate their idol’s behavior or mannerisms, but they can’t achieve the same success. Auditors like to tick boxes, but are so good at identifying risks. Avoid companies that reward ceremony over achievement. Learn to understand what truly made people successful first.

Star far away from any type of cargo cult. And be on your guard: the substanceless imitation of form is more common than we think. – Rolf Dobelli

If You Run Your Own Race, You Can’t Lose (Why General Knowledge is Only Useful as a Hobby). You can recite facts about your own area of expertise. However, what do you know outside your expertise? The more you fill your brain with specialized knowledge, the less you will have for general knowledge. We see ourselves as versatile specialists. Our general knowledge gets affected by this. Our ancestors were better at more things, because they didn’t specialize. Now, society only rewards the specialists. If you are not the best in your field, you will have to specialize further. It is okay to have some general knowledge, but you won’t make a career out of it and do not spend excessive amount of time on it.

The Arms Race (Why You Should Avoid the Field of Battle). Students are trapped in a paper race, because others have degrees too. However, taking into account the education cost, they are barely better off than those without degrees. If you are in an arms race, get out if you can. Find a niche where there is no competition. Find a niche where you can operate smoothly and confidently. Humans are pressured to do many things in modern society. If you want a career as a musician, avoid the piano and the violin as there is too much competition in the area. Steer clear of arms race.

Making Friends with Weirdos (Get to know Outsiders but Don’t be one Yourself). People who do not belong in groups can be very successful too, like Einstein. Many of these people can be termed as outsiders. They enjoy an advantage as they don’t have protocols to slow them down. They also look more deeply and learn to question the status quo more. There is an appeal to being one. However, do not be one. Only the brightest outsiders can succeed. Your best chance is not to leave the establishment. Make friends with outsiders and be interested in their work. Practice reciprocity and tolerance. Surround yourself with smart people and outsiders as they might give you a fresh perspective on things and life.

The Secretary Problem (Why Our Sample Sizes are too Small). If you have 100 people to interview for the secretary position, how would you go about it? Take the first good candidate? Or interview many and then assess the feel of the quality of the pool? Statistically, one should interview the first 37 candidates and reject them all; however, you should monitor their quality. Then you should continue interviewing until you find someone better than the previous 37 and then hire her. Although it may not be directly applicable to real life, it can give you guidelines about how long we should be spending time testing things before making a final decision. Try out different options in life first. Understand what are the different options out there. We tend to make decisions too soon and too hasty. Sometimes, our sample size are too small. The trick is to take as many samples as you while you are still young. Be receptive and learn.

Read widely, because novels and short stories are excellent simulations of life. Only as you age should you adapt your modus operandi and become highly selective. By then you’ll know what you like and what you don’t. – Rolf Dobelli

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The Art of the Good Life: 52 Surprising Shortcuts to Happiness, Wealth and Success by Rolf Dobelli (Part 2)

The Circle of Competence (Why It’s Important to Know Your Limits). In the circle are the skills you have mastered. Know your circle of competence and stick within it. Focus on your circle of competence in your career. You should not do things outside the circle of your competence. One often feels tempted to broaden your area of competence, but you shouldn’t do it. To master something, a lot of time will be required. It also involves a certain level of obsession. Be realistic and know that you suck at certain things in life. One outstanding skill can trump many mediocre ones.

The Secret of Persistence (Why Bores Are More Successful than Adventurers). Classy investors buy a handful of companies and they keep them. To avoid transaction costs, they buy and sell as infrequently as possible. They take advantage of a long term horizon. Longevity has its benefits as there are many old books which are still bestsellers even today. Our brains do not have instinct for duration. Long term successes are important. One can be more productive in a peaceful environment. Stick to your circle of competence for as long as possible once you have a rewarding hobby. Perseverance and tenacity are highly valuable virtues.

The Tyranny of a Calling (Do What You Can, Not What You Wish You Could). How can find your calling? People believe there is a bud waiting to be formed inside of you. However, the problem will callings are that they are illusions. A calling that makes you happy is false. Don’t go blindly chasing your ambitious goals and feel depressed if you don’t achieve them. We often only see cases of selection bias, where we see people with a calling being successful. Build on the skills you have. The skills you have mastered are the things you enjoy doing most of the time. Other people have got to value your talents.

You can pursue a craft with love, of course, and even with a touch of obsession, but your focus should always be on the activity, the work, the input – not on the success, the result, the output. – Rolf Dobelli

The Prison of a Good Reputation (How to Shift from External to Internal Validation). Bob Dylan didn’t acknowledge his Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. Grigori Perelman declined the Fields Medal for Mathematics. He is indifferent to what the world thinks of him. As you grow older, you feel that public perception has little to do with the quality of your work. This is the difference between someone with an inner vs outer scorecard. In the past, people were more concerned about their outer scorecard and what others thought of them. Humans spend 90% of the time talking about other people. However, in modern day, what others think of it is far less important. People are approval seeking machines on social media. People are going to comment on whatever please them. Don’t simply crave recognition but rather focus on achieving something.

Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover? – Warren Buffett

People will gossip and tittle-tattle behind your back. They’ll heap you with praise and drag you into shitstorms. You can’t control it. – Rolf Dobelli

The ‘End of History’ Illusion (You Can Change Yourself – but Not Other People). How much have you changed over the last 10 years? In terms of personality, character, temperament, values etc. When asked, most people feel that they won’t change a lot in the next 10 to 20 years. However, it isn’t true that personalities stop developing over time. The good news is that adults can exercise some influence over changes in your personality. Use your idols and be careful of the people you want to admire. The bad news is that you can’t change other people, not even your partner. Motivation has to come from within. One of the key rules of a good life is to ‘Avoid situations in which you have to change other people.’ Do not hire someone where you have to change their character. Skills can be trained, but attitudes can’t be changed easily.

Oh, it’s just so useful dealing with people you can trust and getting all the others the hell out of your life… But wise people want to avoid other people who are just total rat poison, and there are a lot of them. – Charlie Munger

The Smaller Meaning of Life (Which Goals You Can Achieve – and Which You Can’t). Our lives consist of many facets. It is very difficult to answer the question of ‘Who you are’. You should ask about what your purpose in life is. Stop trying to look for the larger meaning of life. However, you should ask yourself about the smaller meaning of life, your goals, ambitions, mission etc. Life goals are very important and it is important to set a few. Goals are useful because they put you in the mood for accomplishing them. Goals make decision-making easier. Life consists of making forks in the road. Goals need to be realistic though.

There is no discernable overarching purpose – not for humanity, life or the universe. The world is fundamentally meaningless. So stop looking for the “larger meaning of life”. You’re only wasting your time. – Rolf Dobelli

Your Two Selves (Why Your Life Isn’t a Photo Album). You have two selfs, the experiencing self and the remembering self. A human can hardly recall moments in the past. We can’t retain our experiences well. The remembering self has better retention and perhaps you can remember the awesome praline that you ate 24 hours ago. The experiencing self is only concerned with a 3 second interval. Our two selves often give contrasting replies. The remembering self tends to recall happy memories as compared to the experiencing self. Humans suffer from duration neglect. The problem of this that our remembering selves tend to value short-term fun more than long term ones. We need to rely on both selves and cannot simply ignore either one.

Humans remember most clearly the peak of an episode, ie., the moment of greatest intensity, and the end. Hardly anything else filters through into our memories. – Rolf Dobelli

Not even duration matters. Whether you’re on holiday for one week or three, your memory of it will be roughly the same. Likewise, whether you’re in prison for a month or a year, it makes no difference to your memory – the specific amount of time spent behind bars will be forgotten. – Rolf Dobelli

The Memory Bank. How much are you willing to pay for an ideal experience? Imagine what would be your most wonderful experience and jot down a price you would pay for it. How much would you pay for it if you weren’t able to remember it afterwards? To many, experiences only count if you can remember them. This is known as a memory bank. But this is weird, because doesn’t what you experience in the moment count? Animals have moments, but few or no memories. This is when we need to value our experiencing self more. Trying to recall happy moments are good, but shouldn’t you just try to enjoy the present as well? The human memory ain’t great and you will struggle to recall things. Even if we can recall, we can only recall the high point and the ending.

Memories are one-dimensional, shallow, abstract, frequently mistaken, partially fabricated and ultimately unproductive. In short, we overvalue memory and undervalue the experienced moment. – Rolf Dobelli

A life of wondrous yet forgotten moments is still a wondrous life, so stop thinking of experiences as deposits for your memory bank. One day you’ll be on your deathbed, and your account will be permanently closed. – Rolf Dobelli

Life Stories are Lies (Why We Go Through the World with a False Self-Image). We act smart and we need to know a lot via our knowledge of past events. Our brain sometimes does not remember information accurately. It remembers processed data and captures stories more vividly. Stories are things that are made up by humans. By turning it into a story, humans can remember things better. The 3Cs are used, compact, consistent, casual. Adults change as they age, more than they think they will. We tend to think that we are smarter than we actually are. This is known as self-serving bias. The trick to overcome this is to ask your friends what they think of you. Every human has their shortcomings and dark sides and it is important to see things realistically.

The ‘Good Death’ Fallacy (Why Your Final Moments Shouldn’t Worry You). When you have a terminal illness, you won’t have the ability to engage in philosophical reflection. Even if you can remember, chances are it won’t be accurate. Humans suffer from duration neglect. We have trouble evaluating how attractive other people’s lives are. Of course when you are old, you would not have such a good time as when you were younger. The key is just to live well in the present.

More crucial still is that the way you feel in your final moments is totally irrelevant in the context of your whole life. Contemplating your hour of death is unproductive, and will only distract you from the good life. – Rolf Dobelli

Better a life well lived and a few painful days on your deathbed than a shoddy life and a good death. – Rolf Dobelli

The Spiral of Self-Pity (Why it makes no sense to wallow in the past). Self-pity is largely useless and one can enter an emotional whirlpool if sucked into it. It is an unhealthy thought pattern that should be stopped. One has to accept their wrongs and move on. Blaming others has their own expiry date too. Childhood events have little impact on adult personality. You could blame your genes, but that won’t change anything. Life isn’t perfect to begin with.

If you can do something to mitigate the current problems in your life, then do it. If you can’t, then put up with the situation. Complaining is a waste of time, and self-pity is doubly counterproductive. – Rolf Dobelli

Whenever you think that some situation or some person is ruining your life, it is actually you who are ruining your life… Feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to go through life. – Rolf Dobelli

Hedonism and Eudemonia (How Meaning Can Compensate for Enjoyment – and the Other Way Around). Meaningful activities need not be enjoyable. What should you be focusing your time on? Enjoyable or meaningful activities? Instant gratification can seem animalistic. Striving for the higher pleasures for deemed as Eudaimonia. Every experienced moment has 2 components: pleasurable and meaningful. Good films also need to have a meaningful component. Some graduates are willing to take a pay cut to engage in meaningful projects. One needs to strike a balance between enjoyment and meaning.

The Circle of Dignity – Part 1 (But If Not). ‘But if not’ means ‘over my dead body’. This means issues that are not for negotiation. This is like your individual pledge. It protects you from 3 forms of attack: a) better arguments; b) mortal danger; c) deals with the Devil. You need to know where your boundaries lie. One should have a clearly demarcated circle of dignity. This is the solid ground you can fall upon. It crystallizes with time, around middle age. You need to know which principles you want to defend, and which you are prepared to give up. These are your core principles and beliefs which you need to defend.

The Circle of Dignity – Part 2 (If You Break on the Outside). You have to tell others what you believe in. You have to cherish your own will and keep persevering. People might attack our preferences, principles etc. They might be subtle and we might not even notice them. Each arrow can hurt your self-esteem and weaken your immune system. Verbal attacks can be very painful as well. This is one of the keys to a good life.

The Circle of Dignity – Part 3 (The Devil’s Bargain). What does it mean to sell your soul? Offer each money and the owner weakens. What are the things so sacred to you that you will not sell them at any price? What about your health and your opinions? We have to defend our principles against a) better arguments; b) mortal danger; c) deal with the devil. The trick is to defend your circle of dignity sharply. Everything in your circle is non-negotiable.

9781473667495

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

9781473667495

IIA Magazine June 2017 Issue

Courage under Fire. Public sector auditors need to have the courage to raise issues despite the political agenda in the public sector. Audits provide a cornerstone of good public sector governance. Targeted relationship building is very important. Courage is a pre-requisite of being an internal auditor.

Terrorism and Geopolitical risks. Violence and political uncertainty threaten business interests internationally. Overall, terrorism and political violence have been at high levels. Businesses need to have strategies to deal with the geopolitical climate.

SWIFT has improved their security standards via a customer security control framework, where banks must comply annually. SWIFT will report banks which don’t comply with the new standards.

Corruption usually happen because of a poor tone from the top. The younger generation seems to be more lax when it comes to ethics and to managing others. There needs to be strong leadership from the top to tackle bribery and corruption. The board has oversight of the company’s culture but management has the best position to shape culture. Firms can get insights from departments like HR, finance on the company’s culture. Companies that allow employees to store personal information in emails etc is asking for trouble.

Key stakeholder surveys. Internal auditors should look to get feedback from their most important customers. A QAIP is a requirement but surveys are rarely given to the AC and executive management. Audit should have the habit of surveying at the end of each assurance or advisory activity. The respondent should be able to make comments as well. If the scores are not satisfactory, the CAE should recommend some course of action. Survey results should be shared with AC etc. These results can enter the QAIP as well.

‘It is common for audits with satisfactory ratings to receive high opinion scores while audits with unsatisfactory ratings receive low survey scores despite efforts to adhere to department policies and the Standards.’

Application Control Testing. Control reviews can help ensure critical software applications function effectively and securely. To audit effectively, it is necessary to audit application controls too. This covers every feature and function of the application. Next, one needs to identify the key application processes and the application controls. If necessary, an integrated audit should be performed. One can use the GTAG 8 to help. Auditors can validate input and output controls. Are the processing controls accurate? Are there critical errors in computations? There is a need to examine interface controls as well. IA needs to examine: output controls, storage controls, monitoring controls, configuration management, change controls and patch management.

The Risk in the Control Environment. Auditors need to think beyond check boxes to provide assurance that control processes are addressing risks. The control environment is difficult to measure. IA should not cover up control weaknesses to management. Policies change over time and become less applicable, hence the control environment shifts. SOD is useful, but in cases where the firm is too small, alternative measures need to be made. When there are personnel change, there might be an urgent need to re-train.

‘IA needs to ensure they have authority to analyse and communicate the situation beyond just the existence of policies. Ensure management understands the difference between a control gap and a control failure. It is important to know whether the gap has created a failure, but just because it hasn’t failed to date should not minimize the impact of the gap.’

The ‘Free Trail’ Scam. Data analytics uncovers a sales force fraud using pre-paid credit cards to boost commissions. Be wary of pre-paid credit card usage among commissioned sales forces. There is a need to check credit card transactions against a BIN database. Understand how many customer accounts are associated with a single credit card number. Companies should request for customer credit scoring and upfront payment to prevent customer defaulting on payments.

Under Siege. Public sector auditors can face intimidation, isolation, retaliation, suspension – even termination – just for doing their job. For instance, if the audit conflict with an agency’s head’s political agenda, the agenda usually wins. CAEs might have to sue the government in the end. Targeted relationship building is important. Retaliation might reduce in a reduction of CAE’s duties. Sometimes, they are told to cease investigations. Sometimes, the CEO will tell you want to audit but you are not allowed to listen to the Board. Sometimes, the CAE has to supress facts in a report. The CAE needs to drive an open and ethical environment with the AC to prevent such things from happening. If you want to be the CAE, you need to establish clear reporting lines and ensure you have access to the Board right from the start. If you are not comfortable, walk away. Auditors should build relationships with those they work with. Start by winning over staff and explain your audit charter to them. Keep open lines of communication. Document and verify any disagreements and understand the root cause. Learn to create a paper trail for your findings. Sometimes, resigning is the only option. It is still better to do the right thing.

‘It’s very difficult to make a change if the organization is dysfunctional. Sometimes you can make renovations to a house that will improve the functionality, but sometimes you just have to declare the house condemned and start over.’

How to Audit Culture. Culture audits can help practitioners gain insight into the causes of poor organizational behaviour. Not enough firms are auditing culture. It can be challenging because it is subjective and complex. Culture is shaped by values that influence everyday behaviour within the organization. Management’s create sub-cultures among their teams. Different departments have different cultures and risk tolerances etc. There is no defined criteria for each aspect of the business too. One can start with a model to audit culture. Employees are the best source of information about the culture. Culture is largely perception based. The problem is that employees might be fully honest, they work in silos, they may like to complain etc. The Board and management need to believe that the IA team has what to takes to audit culture. Some of the questions to ask are ‘Do our HR and talent practices reinforce the desired behaviors throughout the organization?’; ‘Does your business manage risk appropriately and in line with our risk appetite?’; ‘What do our leaders communicate to us about risk, ethics, and how we should be doing our work?’; ‘Does the company’s environment promote accountability for desired risk behaviors?’ The audit report must be worded in not a sensitive manner. IA needs to obtain evidence via appropriate engagement techniques. Sometimes, soft evidence can work as well. Structured interviews can be conducted for auditees. It is good to gather evidence from many employees. It is possible to add questions on ethics and culture to the annual employee survey. IA could present a monthly dashboard etc on data like customer survey results, customer complaints, turnover statistics etc.

A smarter approach to third-party risks. Adopting a focused collaborative strategy can help improve management of outsourced service providers. Third-party risks are very real, especially functions which have been outsourced. Banks are to held responsible for their third-parties’ performance. Data breaches in recent times have made this even more important. It is important to manage the risk from third-party vendors. It is good to map a list of third-parties you work with and the risks to be assessed and monitored. It may be useful to develop key risk and KPIs for areas where risk is increasing. It could be useful to send questionnaires to the third party to understand their risk exposure and risk appetite. Some companies are looking at group intelligence as a means of sharing due diligence data. Some firms have already set up risk consortiums. Managing outsourcing risks is vital to protecting shareholder value.

The Innovative Internal Auditor. As businesses strive to find opportunities in a world driven by technological transformation, internal auditors need to continually innovate to stay ahead of the game. IA cannot be static if they want to survive in the environment. Change is part of modern life and IA needs to adapt to changing needs. There is a need for IA to be more forward looking. Because of this, IA needs to innovate in the areas like audit automation, data analytics etc. One needs to adopt a continuous improvement mindset. It takes courage to innovate, but the team will reap the rewards. Get someone on your team to be in charge of innovation. Robots might be able to perform routine control testing. We need to embrace technology to its fullest capacity.

The Dynamics of Interpersonal Behavior. To be successful, auditors need to cultivate their soft skills just as much as their technical abilities. Soft skills like listening, understanding, questioning etc are just as important as hard skills. Sometimes, audit reports are not in sync with what stakeholders want. IA people need to form effective interpersonal relationships. People-centric skills are not easy to master. Auditors need to build trust over a few days. IA needs to keep to promises on deadlines, listen to feedback and deliver their goals. Auditees might feel there is a big difference between themselves and auditors and tend to look down on auditors. IA must approach from the angle that you are trying to help. Having a good mentor will help. Ultimately, IA needs to meet stakeholders’ demands.

Opportunity from Disruption. IA should try to understand emerging risks. Be forward thinking, via a strategic planning process and have more internal audit’s risk assessment process. It is also important to create flexibility in the audit plan. Be inclusive and communicate with the other lines of defence. Be business minded and hire from a wide variety of sources and ensure they have different types of training. Be flexible by design. Evaluate the nature and timeliness of IA’s procedures. Be talent ready.

It is important for IA to issue audit reports and follow-up on corrective actions taken soon after. Although IA reports to the AC, it still has to administratively report to the CEO. Having no time is not an excuse.

Internal-Audit

audit financial company tax investigation process business accounting

How to Listen to Great Music by Robert Greenberg (Part 2)

Classical Era Orchestral Genres, Part 2. The solo concerto was born. This was very important in classical music. The piano and violin as solo instruments were very popular. The viola is any stringed instrumented played a with a bow. Later, it was mostly played on the upper arm or shoulder. There are 4 principal instruments (soprano, alto, tenor, bass). They correspond to the violin, viola, cello and bass. The viola is a perfect fifth below the violin. Modern violins have chin rests. The instruments made by Amati, Stradivari are simply of top grade. These were Baroque instruments. Their instruments could endure the test of time. Fortepiano refers to early pianos made with wooden harps. The first drawings of a piano was invented by Cristofori in 1700. Pianoforte means soft-loud By 1800, pianos almost completely replaced the harpsichord. Mozart composed more than 40 concertos and was incredibly prolific. One simply cannot go wrong with Mozart. Sometimes, there will be a solo theme exclusively for the soloist. The soloist, most of the time, would also prepare a cadenza or a solo. Listen to mozart’s piano concerto no. 1. Mozart’s piano concertos are one of the most famous and best ever composed.

Send in the Buffone. Opera in the Classical Era. It is late 17th century Baroque Italian opera now. The Metastasio was composed between 1698 to 1782. It was known as opera seria, or serious opera. Rosseau hated opera serias and the aristocracy of Italy. His ideas were controversial. Opera Buffa was invented in the streets. Rosseau embraced this style of opera. Listen to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, La Serva Padrona. Listen to Mozart’s operatic ensemble. Mozart composed over 22 complete and incomplete operas. One famous one is the Magic Flue in 1791. Don Giovanni was composed in 1787. It is Italian for Don Juan. Beethoven emerged just after Mozart passed away at 35.

A Revolutionary Artist for a Revolutionary Time – Ludwig van Beethoven. Was Beethoven an 18th or 19th century man? He changed the face of Western music. Listen to Haydn’s symphony no.88 and Beethoven’s Symphony 5. Hadyn was more upbeat. Beethoven’s is ferocious and modern and dark in character. Beethoven’s is in C minor. Beethoven’s theme cannot be sung. The phrases in Hadyn’s theme are rhymed. Beethoven’s symphony 5 doesn’t sound like other music in the classical era, but sounds completely modern. What did Beethoven take his music in this direction? Beethoven was a lonely child and did not have a social life. Bach’s music had more influence on Beethoven than Mozart. After his mum passed away, he took responsibility of taking care for the family. Beethoven focused on power, sound. He was a cocky character, who learnt from Hadyn. After he lied to Hadyn, Hadyn stopped teaching him. Beethoven was very strong willed, which made it difficult to teach him. His hearing loss began in 1796 and he was deaf in 1818. However, despite all that, he still continued composing and making a difference.

Beethoven’s Compositional Innovations. When the going gets tough, the tough innovate. He was influenced by Napoleon. From 1792 to 1802, he composed mostly classical style of Hadyn and Mozart. The heroic period is between 1803 and 1815. Many of the string quartets and piano concertos were composed during this period. The late period is from 1816 to 1829. They contain the last 5 piano sonatas, the 9th symphony and the diabelli variations. He composed 9 symphonies, 16 string quartets and 32 piano sonatas. He believed that music is a form of self-expression. He simply uses classical form to where they serve his expressive needs. There are also motivic development and on-going dramatic narrative. He placed great emphasis on learning and development as an artist. Many other composers were influenced by his works. All of his innovations can be heard in the first movement of Symphony 5. The music grows from violent to lyric triumph. Theme 2 was in E-flat. Theme 2 follows on smoothly from theme 1. Now, we enter the development section. Motivic development and fragmentation have deep metaphorical meaning. Later he switches to C major. C major is the key of hope and life. Essentially, he was a Romantic composer.

My art is for me, not for you. What I feel, see, and hear is important, and I/my art will express what I feel, what I see, what I hear. Take it or leave it. – Robert Greenberg

It is the struggle between C minor and C major, between despair and hope, between death and life, that is the large-scale dramatic narrative in Beethoven’s 5th symphony. It is a struggle that is won by C major during the third movement, a victory that is celebrated in the blaring and giddy 4th movement. – Robert Greenberg

Isn’t it Romantic? The Music of the 19th Century. This is the period from 1827 to 1900. It meant a poem that dealt with legendary people. In the 19th century, it refers to something outside of the everyday. There is much expanded expressive content and incremental changes. Franz Liszt was from the Romantic era. Many respected Beethoven as the ‘Moses’ of new music. There are 4 romantic era trends. They are fascination with emotional states. Tchaikovsky wrote the fantasy overture to Romeo and Juliet in 1869. This represents explicit emotion. The second major era is musical nationalism or use of folk music. The third era was a fascination with nature. Nature was pure and was worshipped. Beethoven’s Symphony 6 represents a summer evening’s storm. It is known as the Pastoral symphony and has a 4th movement climax. There was an even greater shift to individual styles.

All art aspires to the condition of music. – Robert Greenberg

Structural Problems: Formal Challenges in early Romantic Music. Alternative structures needed to be formed. People started composing shorter pieces and without structure. Program music flourished in the 19th century. Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote is about Don Quixote in 10 episodes. A symphonic overture is a 1 movement program written in sonata form. Schumman, Mendelsson, Mahler, Dvorak all composed a few pieces based on traditional structures. Brahms was flexible, like Beethoven. Schubert created the ballad or a lieder, or a song. He composed the Erlkonig (Elf King) for Baritone and Piano. Schubert was incredibly prolific for someone who passed away at 30. He composed 9 symphonies, 13 operas and hundreds of songs. The piece is from a poem. A father attempts, vainly, to save his young son from the clutches of the ‘Elf King’. This is one person mini opera. The father is in baritone. The voice of the boy is set high. The narrator is set medium low and the Elf King is smooth. This is one of the compact, power of the German song. Schubert went from one piece to another. Both Chopin and Liszt continue to define piano music up to today. Chopin was born in 1810. He was composer for piano. He composed 16 polonaises, 4 impromptus, 21 nocturnes, 20 waltzes, 4 scherzos, 58 mazurkas, 27 etudes, 28 preludes. Chopin has unwavering commitment to the piano. His pieces are also very short.

Going Beyond Beethoven. Franz Liszt said that his talent ennobles me. He believed God bestowed him with a gift. Many composers were influenced by Beethoven. They wrote program music. Listen to Hector Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, composed in 1830. He took creative risks. He was a self-indulgent man. He composed it when he was only 27. However, it’s his most bold and influential work. It was his symphonic autobiography. It was one of the most ground-breaking works. It was a story about an artist in love. His passion for Harriet Smithson took centre stage. It was a combination about music and literature. The piece was 5 movement long. The first movement is about reveries – passion. The second is that he finds her noble and shy, yet the image is linked with a musical idea. It hardly resembles the sonata form anymore. The second movement, the image of his beloved appears wherever he goes. The third movement is dark, one of despair. He hopes that his loneliness will be over. Nature is the metaphor in this case. There is a weeping descent too. In the 4th movement, he poisons himself with opium. The ‘March of the Scaffold’ is one of the most famous movement. The author was accused of killing his beloved and his severed head was displayed to the howling mob. The fifth movement is about hallucination. ‘She’ joins the Sabbath and takes part in devilish orgy. This piece of music is stunning in how original it was.

19th Century Italian Opera – Rossini and Bel Canto. The focus is on French and Russian opera. They were very influential in the 19th century. Operas were being performed in many places. It was cultivated in the large Italian cities. Opera was supposed to delight and move the listener. The operatic style is bel canto or ‘beautiful voice’. Rossini, Bellini were some of the composers. Rossini composed William Tell, an opera. He is one of the most quotable composers of all time. Most of the time, operas were not published and they passed off old material as new. Rossini used the same overture in 4 different operas. The Barber of Seville, was however, very famous indeed. It is one of the greatest opera buffe ever composed.

Giuseppe Verdi – It’s All About the People (Dramatic Truth in Italian Opera). His name sounds European. He was no nonsense and to the point. Italian opera improved because of him. He was a prolific composer too. His wife and daughter passed away. Un Giorno di Regno was a complete failure. Nabucco was a hit. He used dramatic truth and momentum. Often he kept to his style and refused to bow down. He didn’t care what the critics thought of him. The orchestra played a much bigger role here. Aida was his most famous opera. The characters he chose resonated greatly with the audience. A lot was based on how human the characters were portrayed.

Nineteenth – Century German Opera (Von Weber and Wagner). This was about nationalism and experimentation. In 1821, Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischutz was played. German opera was not prominent. The Italian ones always reigned supreme. The singspiel type became very popular and gained huge prominence. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was outstanding and was able to capture the literary beauty of the German language. Music was tended to be dominated by minor keys. The opera tends to contain supernatural beings and happenings and a background of nature. The pattern of good over evil tend to be present. Carl Maria von Weber was a virtuoso pianist. He wanted a fully inclusive artwork. German opera was a lot more free form than Italian language ones. Richard Wagner was a controversial composer and was a revolutionary. He created over 13 musical-dramatic productions. He wanted to combine Greek drama, myth, Shakespeare and Beethoven together into an art form. Tristan und Isolde is a very influential piece. Wagner invented the Leitmotif, a thematic melody or progression that represents a person, a thing, or even an idea. A descending chromatic line represents death. Arthur Schopenhauer believed in the power of classical music. This idea helped shaped Wagner’s thinking. It cannot be denied that Wagner was revolutionary and created an alternative reality and arouses a sense of the mystical in us.

Of Thee I Sing (Music al Nationalism in the 19th century). The evolutions faltered. Political nationalism was outlawed. This led to a musical movement called nationalism. This was a powerful feeling. The basis here is largely folk music. We will explore the music of Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and the group of composers known as the Russian Five. Chopin loved Poland and some of his works are styled like Polish dances. Listen to Polonaise for Piano in A Major. It is like a waltz. This one is the most heroic. There is a simple form A-B-A. Later, he saw his income dry up as he got older. He hated performing. Liszt was an amazing piano prodigy. He was impressed by how Paganini played the violin and wanted to be the Paganini of piano. His works are very difficult to play. Many saw him as the God of piano and women were extremely impressed with him. He was virtually one of the greatest who ever lived. Later on, he composed orchestral music as well. Hungarian Rhapsodies were Hungarian folk music. The Rhapsodies are very fun. He was proud of his music. The most famous piece is Hungarian Rhapsody the 2nd in C sharp minor. It was played in Tom and Jerry too. There are constant shifts between major and minor. Nowadays, musicians could play part of their ‘ethnicism’ too. Brahms was very impressive too. He composed Hungarian dances and other works. Listen to Brahm’s Hungarian Dance 5.

Romantic Nationalism, Russian Style. Russian nationalism also emerged because of political events. St Petersburg is the most westernized city in Russia. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1812, pride swelled. One of the famous composers in Mikhail Ivanovich Glindka. Later, he composed an opera. The Russian 5 were Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, Balakirev, Glindka. They studied music carefully and analyzed them. They didn’t like Rubinstein as they were a threat to Russian music. Listen to Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov. He mastered proper compositional technique. He became very influential. Listen to the Russian Easter Overture. It is very nationalistic. This was the spirit of romanticism. Next we will explore the different factors that affected 21st century music.

A Modern Music for a Modern World. This is a period for change. Music changed dramatically. For those who liked classical music, 20th century music might seem dissonant. They are acquired tastes. However, we might feel so because people need to get used to the music. You will need to understand the context of the music and the historical perspective. The period of Beethoven was known as romanticism. Mahler’s symphony 9 is still a Romantic composition. Mahler was a complex and difficult man. He was almost homeless and never welcomed anywhere. He was ‘forced’ to conduct for a living. The first movement is pregnant with meaning. The cello notes represent his heartbeat as he was suffering from irregular heartbeats. Later, the music slips and spirals into the abyss. It is a fatal heart attack. Commercially recorded music was only available in the early 1900s. It has been a double edged sword. The speed at which we do things now will probably lead to over-stimulation in someone from the 19th century. Because people demanded more, we cannot simply play the same old music over and over again like in the past. This affected music creation. Einstein’s theory of relativity forced us to re-consider the way we live. There was an extremely great desire to be relevant.

I want my music to be as relevant to the 20th century as the aeroplane. – Claude Debussy

‘Commercial recording made it possible for anyone to hear anything, anywhere. But, unfortunately, the record industry also created the passive listener: the couch potato. With the availability of commercial recordings, it was no longer necessary to attend a concert or learn how to play an instrument yourself if you wanted to hear music. – Robert Greenberg

Two hundred years ago, people thought nothing of sitting in a carriage for 5 days to travel 250 miles; of taking 30 days to cross the Atlantic; of writing a letter and having it answered months later; of reading a 2000 page novel.- Robert Greenberg

Revolutions, Evolutions, and ‘-isms’ galore. Making New Music in the Early 20th century. The French music revolution was emerging. France is the musical marsupial of Europe. Their music tend to celebrate timbral nuances. The French language is nuanced and flexible. This is a sense of pride for the French. Claude Debussy was revolutionary. His music was characterized by finesse and nuance. He was born in Paris and hated German music. Debussy liked to eat only small portions of food. Some of his works were influenced by the French language and romantic expression/literature and Impressionism. Impressionism was about art, light, blurred edges etc. He had an original approach to rhythm, melody. Listen to ‘Nuages’ from Three Nocturenes for Orchestra. His music doesn’t have any clear theme. His style has been greatly imitated. He sees every chamber group as individual instruments that can be used in any way he pleases. The harmonic colours are often interwined. His music was not well received by critics. Often, his music contained a lot of vague floating shapes and this was not well received by many. Debussy’s music is what modern compositional music sounds like.

From Russia with Rhythm – Igor Stravinsky, Stravinsky’s teacher was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He was a late bloomer and was not very talented when young RK accepted him as a student. Serge Diaghilev spotted Stravinsky’s talent. Stravinsky’s first great work was The Firebird. It was based on a Russian folk tale. There was plenty of innovation being used. The dance has asymmetric beats. Another work with rhythmic asymmetry is The Rite of Spring. It is the product of primitive Fauvist spirit. The dramatic narrative is created via rhythmic asymmetry.

No Waltz in the Park – Arnold Schoenberg’s Vienna and Expressionism. Vienna was the heart of the Austrian German musical tradition. His music was a continuation from German music. Many Germans and Austrians share the same language and cultural heritage. In the 19th century, expressionism was born. Schoenberg was a pure Romantic. To him, the artist should express himself to the fullest. He was born in Austria. The good thing about Vienna was that there were many composers there. He eliminated dissonance from his music. He composed 21 songs known as Pierrot Lunaire. It is basically a set of sophisticated cabaret songs. The poems follow a A-B-A form. Pierrot is the clown who has the ability to commit heinous crimes. The piece is so revolutionary that it can’t be compared with anything else.

The sound and expressive content of a given era’s music – are a function of the larger environment and a composer’s response to that environment. – Robert Greenberg

When we listen contextually – with the life and times of the composer in mind – we realize that no great piece of music is conventional. – Robert Greenberg

 

Music Selections

Johann Sebastian Bach – Brandenburg Concerto 2; Fugue in C minor; Cantata no. 140; Passacaglia in C Minor; Brandenburg Concertos

Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony 1, 2, 3, 6, 5, 9 ; String Quartet in E-flat Major; Piano Sonata in G major; concerto in D Major for violin and orchestra; Diabelli variations for piano

Hector Berlioz – Romeo and Juliet; The Damnation of Faust; Symphonie Fantastique

Johannes Brahms – Hungarian Dance No. 5; Piano Quartet no. 1; Concerto in D Major for violin and orchestra; clarinet quintet in B minor; piano quartet no. 1 in G minor

Frederic Chopin – Mazurka in A minor; Polonaise in A major

Claude Debussy – Three Nocturnes for Orchestra

Mikhail Glinka – A life for the Tsar

George Frideric Handel – Messiah Overture; Messiah Hallelujah Chorus

Joseph Hadyn – Symphony no. 92, 88

Gustav Mahler – Symphony 3 and 9

Felix Medelssohn – Symphony no. 4

Wolfgang Mozart – Eine kleine Nachtmusik; 12 variations on twinkle twinkle little star; Symphony 39, 40, 41; Piano concerto 17; the Magic flute; The Marriage of Figaro; Don Giovanni

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – Russian Easter Overture

Gioachino Rossini – The Barber of Seville, ‘Una voce poco fa’

Arnold Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire no 1

Franz Schubert – Erlkonig and Symphony no. 9

Richard Strauss – Don Quixote

Igor Stravinsky – the Firebird; The Rite of Spring

Peter Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet; Fantasy Overture

Richard Wagner – Tristan und Isolde

howtolistentogreatmusic

Why We Hate Cheap Things by The School of Life

Why We Hate Cheap Things. In the past, pineapples were expensive and people who bought them kept them as status symbols until they rotted and fell apart. It had almost a ritual quality. Savoring one was like a luxury. The top of the South Towers of St Paul had this divine fruit being perched on it. By the end of the 19th century, technology enabled large plantations to be built. Now, it is no longer deemed as a rare fruit. When the price falls, we become less passionate. In the past, when flying was dangerous and expensive, it seemed thrilling. Now, taking a flight on a commercial aircraft seems a little boring. We definitely do not appreciate the skies as much as Leonardo da Vinci would. The same can be said about having a hot bath. In the past, heating the water was considered difficult. It was largely reserved for war heroes or for the very rich. Now, it is a very common experience and some might even view it as a waste of time. We view cheap prices with a lack of value. Due to the Industrial Revolution, we are now able to make things cheaply. In the past, because of hand labour, more expensive things were associated with higher quality. There was a price to pay for craftsmanship. People hoped that with industrialization, prices would fall. In 1911, the commercial car was born. However, industrialization might have robbed certain experiences of loveliness, interest and worth. Now, it might seem bizarre if we are interested over cheap things. We now favor the things that are expensive. A child’s mind is more curious and wonder-like in nature. Children do not understand money. They can be obsessed with things that do not cost a lot. To adults, costs = value. Over time, when children understand money, they believe that saving for a big purchase is good. The artist Paul Cezanne was obsessed with painting apples and noticing their texture. Every apple exuded their own colour and aura. He was excited over apples, even though he was extremely rich. The fact of life is that we can get great things for little money. We have given up on too many of our native loves. In the modern society, we are drawn into advertising. The issue is that cheap but useable objects do not have sufficient advertising.

We need advertising pursued with the same sense of drama and intensity and ambition but directed towards biros, puddles and olives. – The School of Life

There are two ways to get richer: one is to make more money; the second is to discover that more of the things we could love are already to hand. – The School of Life

Contemplation of the history of the pineapple suggests a curious overlap between love and economics: when we have to pay a lot for something nice, we appreciate it to the full. – The School of Life

A reduction in our esteem for an experience follows a reduction in the cost of obtaining it. – The School of Life

This means that we often end up feeling that we can’t afford good things and that our lives are therefore sad and incomplete. The money hierarchy constantly makes us feel impoverished, while the truth is that there are more good things within our grasp than we believe. – The School of Life

Why We Look Down on People Who Don’t Earn Very Much. If you don’t earn a lot, what you say is unlikely to command much respect. There seems to be a link between talent, effort, skill and income. This is capitalism for you. A person’s wages are determined by the scale of their social contribution. Economics would say that wages solely depend on demand vs supply. Christianity insisted that a person’s worth has no relation to their financial standing. Whether you go to heaven depends on merits. Karl Marx thought that workers should be paid based on their contributions to society. This meant that the wages of the hitmen, casino owners would do down while that of the nurse and the farmer would go up. In the past, lacemaking was a job which was poorly paid. Many painters noticed this and painted pictures of lace-makers at their craft. The artists hoped that through their paintings, more would appreciate the lacemaking craft. Art gives us a sense of a person’s true merit and a willingness to disregard wages. Art can be the answer to bridge the gap between money and human value.

We recognize the phenomenon in our society well enough: the more someone earns, the more they are likely to be admired by strangers, and perceived as interesting and exciting. – The School of Life

On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate. Arts graduates complain about finding employment. Some of them are also underpaid. Some people can’t understand why artists should be paid to study history. People lack a real understanding of what the humanities are about and how it can benefit humanity. The universities also can’t explain why students should pursue humanities. Humanities are the closest we have to replace religion. They are bodies of work that teach us how to lead our lives. We need to reinvent universities. There are practical aspects of reading 19th century literature. Humans crave nourishment as well. There needs to be a new definition of culture.

Good Materialism. Materialism is generally seen as bad. Is there such a thing as good materialism? We have failed to distinguish good from bad materialism. Even religious people have made material items, like shrines, artworks etc. They did so because they believed it developed their souls. Some material possessions can be seen as transubstantiation, where they have both a practical and physical form. Material objects can have a spiritual role in our lives. They can give us a chance to understand ourselves better. We should only purchase things which can lead to the better encouragement of ourselves.

We are still enmeshed in the desire to possess – but we are encouraged to feel rather bad about it. – The School of Life

Why We Are So Bad at Shopping. We need to learn how to shop. Shopping for others is tricky, but we don’t seem to think so for ourselves. Capitalism is supposed to provide us with unlimited options. However, humans are influenced by group instincts. There are very standard consumer patterns in our economy. Our shopping choices are really not that personal. Humans like to follow trends etc. They like to buy what it is fashion in the modern age. We do not want to appear weird in front of our friends. We do not analyze pleasurable activities much. Product reviews don’t help us too much as well.

Part of the problem is that we lack the ability to know, looking back over experiences, what truly brought us pleasure. Our brains aren’t so keen on taking apart their satisfactions – and therefore plotting how to recreate them. – The School of Life

It isn’t that we are too focused on shopping, we are not thinking deeply enough about what we’re doing. We haven’t yet learnt to be doggedly precise enough about pinning down our own fun and making sure we get it. – The School of Life

Using Sex to Sell. Using sex to sell seems cheap and low-class. Ficino believed that humans will move from sex to love. The next stage would be to long and have the capacity to understand. To get someone to understand something, it would to get the person interested in sex. Ficino suggested to Lorenzo to paint pictures of beautiful and sexy people. There is nothing wrong to use it and it has been used in the Renaissance period. However, it is useful to sell something noble. Once our senses are ignited, it is easier to learn. However, there is a need to sell things like books related to wisdom and philosophy.

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