psychology

In Praise of Gratitude

© Can Stock Photo / PetarPaunchev

The Harvard Medical School published an essay with this same title some time ago. The key lines: “Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Gratitude may be about past blessings, current conditions, or reflect a hopeful and optimistic attitude about the future. One of the best things about an attitude toward gratitude is that it can be cultivated.

In one study, three groups of people were directed to write a few sentences each week. One group was instructed to write about irritations or things that had displeased them. The second was directed to write about things that had affected them. The third group was directed to focus on things that had happened for which they were grateful.

After ten weeks, one group was more optimistic about life, and had a greater sense of well-being. That group also happened to exercise more and make fewer visits to the doctor. You can guess which one.

We believe there are interesting applications to the work we do together with you. Short term fluctuations in the markets may be irritating, but gratitude for long term returns might let us focus on more rewarding mindsets. The economy and markets always seem to be a mixed bag, but gratitude for opportunities may help us avoid a focus on problems that might prevent us from investing effectively.

At the heart of all this is the simple truth that we get to choose what gets our attention, what we focus on. Does choosing gratitude make us healthier, wealthier, and wiser? No guarantees, but we might have more fun while we find out together.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Who Controls Your Destiny?

© Can Stock Photo / photocreo

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
-C.S. Lewis

When we came across this quotation from novelist and academic C.S. Lewis, it made us realize one other trait tends to set you, our clients, apart from others. We have long believed you form a niche market of the mind, sharing certain beliefs about investing and life. Our understanding of your uniqueness is deepening as we go along.

Successful planning—our work–requires all of us to believe that we have some control over our outcomes—that we can start where we are and change the ending. But not everyone believes that.

Do people have control over how things turn out, or do external factors, things beyond our control, govern? Psychologists refer to this dimension of personality as the locus of control. We humans vary in this respect.

Much is beyond our control. Accidents happen, markets move randomly in the short run, others sometimes make decisions we do not like. Yet we try to make the most of what we have to work with. We expect that we can make the future better with the actions we take today.

At one extreme, some believe nothing they do can make a difference. If planning is fruitless, we cannot be of service. At the other extreme, some believe that everything can be controlled. This is a problem too—we do not control the stock market!

We are grateful for your balanced outlook: willing to take action to make a better future, knowing that stuff happens, always looking to make the best of it.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else on your agenda, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

You Are Somebody, Not Everybody

© Can Stock Photo / Bialasiewicz

Our pursuit of effective strategies for successful investing covers a wide range of disciplines. Economics and mathematics are obviously needed, but history and psychology play surprisingly large roles.

As contrarian investors, avoiding stampedes is a fundamental principle for us. We often find ourselves going against the crowd. It turns out that there is a lot of conventional wisdom with which we disagree.

The world is complex; humans use shortcuts all the time to keep things simple enough to handle. The problem arises when characteristics of a group are ascribed to each individual within the group, as a shortcut way of dealing with people.

For example, Americans on average are sedentary and overweight. But if you watch who enters the door of the YMCA at 6 A.M., you know that the group characteristics do not apply to every individual. We use this same principle to find clients who will not sell out at low points or fall for the latest overpriced fad.

Behavioral economics indicates that humans tend to behave in counterproductive ways when it comes to investing. But just as the “Y” does not treat each member as if they were overweight and sedentary, we know that counterproductive behavior is optional at the individual level. We choose to try to avoid it.

We were reminded of this recently in reviewing some studies about happiness. The studies show that people quickly take new things for granted, homes and cars for example, so the initial happiness soon wears off. But in our experience, this is a matter of choice.

When in Louisville, I live in the humblest quarters ever since I graduated from college. I am grateful to have an abode that meets my modest needs. In Florida, my days are spent in a nice home that is wonderfully suited to our family. My gratitude and appreciation and happiness about that never flags. This just puts me right in the middle of the pack of the greatest clients in the world. (Our opinion.)

When we read studies about behavior, we will always remember that you are somebody, not everybody. Economists and psychologists can prove all they want about human tendencies, but we will not accept their findings as your fate or ours.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

A Tale of Two Theories

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / ambro

Psychologists have a strategy to help cope with anxiety called the “dual model strategy.” It works like this:

You have a concern about some imminent disaster, which you believe is the source of many troubles for you. This is “Theory A.”

The alternative is that your concerns may actually be unfounded, but your fears themselves are creating your troubles instead. This is “Theory B.”

When it comes to investing, Theory A probably sounds like this: “The problem is that the economy will crash and I will lose money.” Theory B would then read: “The problem is that I worry that the economy will crash.”

If Theory A is correct, the proper plan is to pull your investments out of the market and put your money someplace safe. But there are two problems. First, we’ll never know if Theory A is correct until it is too late. Second, the economy and the markets have eventually recovered from every previous downturn. If you act on Theory A, there’s a good chance you may end up hurting yourself by acting at the wrong time. But Theory B—the idea that your worries are the real problem—is something that we can always work on.

The question is, how do you cope with your anxieties about the market? Perspective is important. Most of us are in this for the long haul, and are counting on our investment basket to provide for us for years and decades to come. Watching the market slide may be nerve wracking—but if you look back over the years, the speed bumps are barely noticeable.

Even so, it is easier to say “stick with the long term plan” than it is to live through short term bumps. There are some practical steps you can take to help cope with your market anxieties, too. Make sure you keep a cash reserve for emergencies: your investment portfolio is not a replacement for money in the bank. Also, as you reach the point in your life when you start to rely on investment income, it’s important to understand where your income is coming from. Even if you fear a downturn in the markets, it may not necessarily affect the ability of your income investments to generate cashflow for you to live on.

The key in all of this is to come up with an investment strategy that you’re comfortable with. If you continually change tactics every time you get nervous you may hurt yourself financially. If you need help coming to terms with your investment worries, please call or email us to talk them out.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.