In Boston, inside a quiet mall, the chilled air on the sixth floor held a hint of men’s cologne and new suits–a stark contrast to the late afternoon summer heat outside. I was there, pushing my son, fast asleep in his stroller, while my wife and daughter were shopping elsewhere. I listened to the ‘Berkshire Hathaway Trilogy’ on the Acquired Podcast. It was the second episode, discussing Munger’s journey.
Munger’s life was comforting. He was wealthy but lived simply. He stayed in the same house for seventy years, ate what he wanted, and didn’t worry about exercise. He had a big family and loved his work. He enjoyed reading and learning. He was clear and funny when he talked. He lived to 99, happy and healthy.
But Munger faced many challenges. He fought in a war, went through a divorce, lost his young son, and was broke before he turned 32. In his 50s, he had a painful surgery that made him lose an eye. He’s been a widower for 13 years.
Munger’s way of handling tough times is inspiring. When asked about his relationship with his wheelchair, he said,
“… whenever I feel sad about being in a wheelchair, I think well you know, Roosevelt ran the whole damn country for 12 years in a wheelchair. So I’m just trying to make this wheelchair thing last as long as Roosevelt did.”
Or when he was confronted with the possibility of going blind and no longer being able to read, he said,
“It’s time for me to learn braille!”
Munger’s long life came from his mindset. He grew stronger through hard times. His life shows that a content life was possible by managing our mindset.
Munger believed that life is about “doing what we are supposed to do,” which, in his view, meant behaving well. He elaborated:
“Life will have terrible blows, horrible blows, unfair blows, it doesn’t matter. Some people recover and others don’t. There I think the attitude of Epictetus is the best. He thought that every mischance in life was an opportunity to behave well. Every mischance in life was an opportunity to learn something and that your duty was not to be immersed in self-pity, but to utilize the terrible blow in a constructive fashion.
That is a very good idea.”
He also pointed out several obstacles that might get in the way of doing what we are supposed to do:
“Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge and self-pity are disastrous modes of thoughts. Self-pity gets fairly close to paranoia, and paranoia is one of the very hardest things to reverse. You do not want to drift into self-pity. Self-pity will not improve the situation …
You don’t have a lot of envy, you don’t have a lot of resentment, you don’t overspend your income, you stay cheerful in spite of your troubles. You deal with reliable people and you do what you’re supposed to do. And all these simple rules work so well to make your life better. And they’re so trite.
And staying cheerful … because it’s a wise thing to do. Is that so hard? And can you be cheerful when you’re absolutely mired in deep hatred and resentment? Of course you can’t. So why would you take it on?”
As I listened to his story through my EarPods, I felt an immense sense of calm, echoing the quaintness of the mall, my napping son, and the seemingly sudden arrival of nightfall. 💆🏻♂️