Daily Speculations

The Web Site of Victor Niederhoffer & Laurel Kenner

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7/7/04
The Pursuit of Happiness

Adam Kretschmann

Why do people seem so unhappy? The anecdotal evidence during my morning commute on the Subways, and daily walkabouts show a preponderance of unhappiness. Spontaneous outbursts of joy at the outcome of the Eurocup and Spiderman movies notwithstanding, the world seems to be in a funk. To put some stats on the table there were 170 million prescriptions for anti-depressants last year, in addition to an uncounted number of people self medicating through the use of legal and illegal means.

While we are living longer and enjoying the immense benefits of throw-away razors it would seem that little progress is being made at mastering the pursuit of happiness. It is not surprising that the masses identify more with Peter Parker than John Galt.

Kim Zussman

When trading it's possible to compound tremendous profits with gains less than 55% of the time. However the requirement is that you stand pat, against human nature, in the face of searing defeat almost as often as in victory. In that behavioral finance research suggests losses hurt much worse than equivalent gains it is little wonder many successful traders are human anomalies.

Other research suggests that peak happiness occurs when hope and potential are maximum: youth. Recall the optimism of those years in college or grad school, when possibilities were endless and the historical failures of past culture and middle-aged inflexibility could be slain by the limitless intellect of youth. As a continuum; at birth one is all hope without accomplishment, whereas the old are comprised of achievements without mortal hope.* It is possible that this passage is unsmooth, with accelerations and revelations catalyzed by life and death circumstances along the way.

Along these lines, what hopes do we, the recipients of the most economically successful culture in history, hold for our futures, that of our children, and species? Is it possible that the human intellect is incentivized for competitive innovation which withers irrelevantly in the face of mass-material satiation? Is the now anachronistic notion of interstellar exploration and interplanetary colonization a Saganesque reminder that ultimately we will all have to answer to each other?

The market is like this too: rises on hope and drops on realization (like Greenspan's placation and Iraq's vacation of yore..). Once a shapely mistress liked to cook and clean in just a French apron, and there was great joy in the spilled broth and crumbs which required excessively vigorous wiping and cleaning with thirsty dishrag. Alas time came when the efficient cloth was full and there was no more mess to absorb. All vantages of hope had been realized and duly photographed into the mind's album, awaiting the nostalgic reviews of an old man.

But here is "100-year-old Philip Radinowitz, who unofficially broke the 100 meter sprint record for his age group in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, yesterday and is adamant he will better his time - officially - in October this year. He surpassed the 2002 record of 36,19 seconds set by a fellow centenarian with his record-smashing time of 28,7 seconds. Not bad for someone who spends his time walking and not running. He is a member of the Spartan Harrier's walking club in Cape Town. 'I'm so proud of him,' said daughter Joyce Kruger. 'He really enjoyed it and he didn't even feel tired after the race." He didn't complete today's race, but promised to try again next year, adding (to the effect) that he walks every day and keeps positive thoughts.

*Some will point out that in the end, like in foxholes, there is another transcendent hope

Pamela Van Giessen

"Actually, the happiest people are those who are working to give happiness to others. Happiness is not found by seeking it; it is a by-product of caring about other people."

This is post does not contain numbers but I count as relevant to the markets because it debunks a myth -- that we are only happy if we "care/give, etc." to others, and that it will lead to "spiritual" wealth. This is hogwash. If true, then we'd all be doctors and nurses and health care professionals and working in Mother Teresa's Hospice for the Sick and Dying if 1) being happy is what we're all really after; 2) caring for others is the price of admission. My father spent 4 decades caring for other people 24/7 and he was no more happy than the next guy and in some respects he may have been unhappier. Caring for others is pretty draining work. My mother did chemo infusion therapy for cancer patients. No more or less happy than anyone else. Happiness does not automatically flow (or is some by-product) from caring for other people. Nor does such caring lead to spiritual wealth.

Furthermore, what's happiness got to do with anything? Did happiness invent antibiotics, the internet, computers, airplanes, or build one thing? Did happiness train the neurosurgeon who saved my mother's life when she had a brain aneurysm? Did happiness ever win any competitive event? Put a man on the moon or get him to the top of Mt. Everest? Was it happiness that discovered America or wrote the Constitution? Or composed a symphony or wrote a play or painted a picture?

Why do so many people feel that "happiness" is the end goal when happiness never did or created much of anything?

And why is it that really rich guys (and they are almost always men) insist on telling the rest of us that happiness is 1) more important than money; 2) comes from being collectivist in nature? And don't these ramblings strike anyone else as a bit disingenuous, particularly when rich guys who want for nothing tell the rest of us that "money can't buy happiness." Well, yes it can. It can buy you a nice place to live, a comfortable car which is way better than a crappy rental and a beater car. I am much happier with the prospect of taking a town car than a crappily air conditioned cab to LaGuardia in July. I've gone on long trips by bus and having the money to buy a plane ticket instead makes me happy. First class will make for happier travel than coach. And as any woman knows, real diamonds and platinum are way better than sterling silver and cubic zirconia and a mink is better than a LL Bean pea jacket (we are happier if we are not freezing).

I say "down with happiness." It's nothing but snake oil.

Bcoached

Very well said! As a physician ( and a woman) I know that the happiness that comes from helping others is always sweeter when they pay me for it; and, the larger the payment, the sweeter the happiness. I also have learned that no good deed goes unpunished.

People, such as Sir John, who have amassed great wealth, have the luxury of philanthropy and spiritual contemplation. It is about freedom. I do not have that particular luxury or freedom, and must content myself with battling the markets every day to knock out some profitable trades.

Come to think of it, isn't that what each of us on this list is doing?