The Surprising Secret to Finding Calm in a Stormy Life | Morgan Housel

Morgan HouselHave you ever felt like the world is changing so fast you can barely keep up? That no matter how hard you try, you still feel lost in a sea of uncertainty? You’re not alone. When most of us feel this, our default is usually to try to attack the change, to lock it down, make things certain. Which, in the end, is a futile quest. And, it also distracts us from focusing on what really matters in those moments, what IS still there and can help us come back to a place of peace and ease, even in the face of profound disruption. 

So, what should I be doing instead? My guest today, Morgan Housel, offers a surprising solution.

In his latest book, Same As Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes, Morgan flips the script on our fixation with change. He asks, what if instead of obsessing over the newest trends, we focused on timeless truths of human nature that endure amidst it all? As Morgan puts it, “Rather than pretending we can predict the changes ahead, let’s focus on things so indelible across history that we can confidently expect them in our future.”

Morgan Housel is a two-time winner of the Best in Business Award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal. His books, including The Psychology of Money, have been lauded for their practical wisdom and storytelling flair.

In our conversation, Morgan and I explore the power of understanding our hardwired behaviors and biases. We discuss how small twists of fate can alter the trajectory of our lives in an instant. How the stories we tell ourselves and others not only captivates minds and moves hearts, but also changes the way we experience nearly any circumstance. And why there is no one formula for “the good life”—only the life you consciously choose and create.

Join us as we investigate the gift of focusing on what endures. Of building lives not on the shifting sands of change, but on the bedrock of timeless human truths. 

You can find Morgan at: Website | LinkedIn | Episode Transcript

If you LOVED this episode:

  • You’ll also love the conversations we had with Scott Galloway about finding center in a changing world.

Check out our offerings & partners: 

photo credit: Studio B Portraits


Episode Transcript:

Morgan Housel: [00:00:00] In order to make a mark in the world, you don’t need to necessarily uncover something new. You don’t need to invent a new product or like, uncover a new fact. There are so much ground to move in, just taking what’s already out there and telling a better story around it, just telling it in a more compelling way. And there was so much potential in doing that. And the barriers to entry are so much lower than inventing something new or discovering something new. Just taking what is already known and telling it in a more easy-to-understand, captivating way.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:30] So have you ever felt like the world is changing so fast you can barely keep up? That no matter how hard you try, you still feel kind of lost in a sea of uncertainty. You are not alone. When most of us feel this. Our default is usually to try and attack the change, to lock it down, to make things certain, which in the end is a futile quest. And it also distracts us from focusing on what really matters in those moments, what is still there, and can help us come back to a place of peace and ease, even in the face of profound disruption. So what should we be doing instead? My guest today, Morgan Housel, offers a pretty surprising solution in his latest book, Same As Ever A Guide to What Never Changes. Morgan just completely flips the script on our fixation with change. He asks, what if? Instead of obsessing over the newest trends or changes, we focused on timeless truths of human nature that endure amidst it all? And as Morgan puts it, rather than pretending that we can predict the changes ahead, let’s focus on things so indelible across history that we can confidently expect them in our future. It’s a really powerful reframe I found. So Morgan Housel is a two-time winner of the Best in Business award for the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal, his books, including The Psychology of Money, have been lauded for their practical wisdom and storytelling flair. In our conversation, Morgan and I explore the power of understanding our hardwired behaviors and biases. We discuss how small twists of fate can profoundly alter the trajectory of our lives in an instant. How the stories we tell ourselves and others not only captivates minds and moves hearts, but also changes the way we experience nearly any circumstance and why there is no one formula for the good life, only the life you consciously choose and create. So join us as we investigate the gift of focusing on what endures of of building lives, not on the shifting sands of change, but on the bedrock of timeless human truths. So excited to share this provocative conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:51] Just really excited to dive into just a bunch of the topics, especially from the latest book. You know, I think we’re all in this world where we open our eyes and we feel like, you know, like the pace of change is almost unfathomable and that there’s a, you know, a sense of persistent whiplash and how do we keep up and what matters and what doesn’t matter. So it’s really interesting to see you sort of diving into, okay, so everyone’s focused on change and how to navigate change. But what if we pay a bit of attention to what’s not changing and the psychology around that and how it affects our lives? So I’m really curious at that sort of contrarian choice to say, let me devote a very substantial amount of time and energy to going deep into this at a moment where it seems like everybody else wants to talk about the opposite. So take me there, actually. What is the compulsion? You know, when you think about like, let me actually focus on that outlier or the many outliers in a world where everyone’s saying, we’ve got to focus on everything that’s changing or we’re going to get left behind.


Morgan Housel: [00:03:47] Yeah, I think it was really two things that led me to be interested in this topic and then eventually write the book. One was maybe the most important was just as an amateur student of history, just like that’s the majority of what I read is the history of all kinds of different topics. Two things are interesting from history. One is recognizing what has changed technologies and cultural norms. And like there’s a million things that have changed. Of course, that’s what’s obvious in history. But to me, what’s more interesting is when you come across something in the historical context and you realize that that’s exactly what’s happening today, and you find something, you’re like, oh, this is how they dealt with this problem 100 years ago. It’s exactly how we deal with it today. There’s no difference whatsoever that’s more rare than the things that change, and it’s harder to spot. But when you spot it, it’s like, wow, there’s this facet of human behavior or an element of life that is exactly the same today as it was 100 years ago or 500 years ago or 1000 years ago. And therefore you can take that and say, look, if that thing hasn’t changed in 500 years, it’s probably not going to change over the next 50 years. You’ve probably found something that is just an indelible part of human behavior. And then the other element that I connected to that that made me interested in this topic was I’ve been a financial writer for 17 years, and something that’s always bothered me about the financial industry, the financial media and financial advisors and portfolio managers is how bad we are at forecasting just the ability to say like, when’s the next recession? When’s the next bear market? Nobody can do it.


Morgan Housel: [00:05:12] Nobody can do it. That’s barely an exaggeration. And with that, you can do one of two things. You can become more of a cynic and just say, nobody knows anything. Don’t even try to forecast future is totally unknowable. Or you can connect it to the first part and say, look, there’s a lot that we don’t know about the future and that we can’t predict. But there are also lots of behaviors that have been so stable in time that show up so commonly in history that we can confidently state that those are going to be part of our future. And then therefore, you say, I have no idea when the next recession is going to occur, and neither does anybody else. But when it does, I know exactly how people are going to behave. I know exactly how they’re going to respond to greed and fear and risk, because that’s never changed. It’s been the same forever. I think that was really the big thrust of when I got interested in this topic and eventually wrote the book about it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:05:59] Yeah, it’s kind of like the, uh, the psychological equivalent of like Heinz 57 ketchup. You know, it’s it has been the same and it will be the same for, I think, over 100 years now. But it’s like, what is the human behavior version of this thing that just constantly endures, no matter how much we change as individuals? It’s one of those things that’s always there and it’s always the same. It’s interesting as you’re describing, like we do have this compulsion to believe that we have some capacity to predict the future. In a very past life, I actually started my career as an enforcement attorney at the SEC. So in mid 90s I’m working in New York City and the SEC, this big prestigious financial institution, at least from the outside looking in. And there was an investigator there who was an older guy, um, later in his career, and he literally would sit at his desk all day long and he had, like, reams of paper billowing over the edge of his desk. And he was like, madly like typing away at, like a calculator and trying to figure things out and pencil in his hair. And what he was doing was he was spending all day, every day. He believed that he he had downloaded the formula in a dream that would allow him to enter all the variables to predict the exact high and low of the market a year in advance. And he was possessed by this a dialing it in and optimizing it. He’s not the only one. We are kind of like wired to feel like we do have this capacity to see the future, and then we want to bet on it. And what’s your take on this and where it comes from and why? It just it endures to this day.


Morgan Housel: [00:07:25] I think it is too painful for almost anyone to accept how uncertain the future is, how uncertain your future is. If you were completely accurate, if you were completely honest about how uncertain it is, it would be hard to get out of bed in the morning. I think people need some level of like rational ignorance, if that’s a weird phrase, to assume that they do know what’s going to happen in their future, to give them enough optimism to say, look, since I. What the future’s going to hold. I can go out and take this risk and take this action, because I can kind of see a path where it’s going to go next. I think people need that level of ignorance to move forward. And if you’re completely honest, it’d be hard to move forward. I also think that the it’s so alluring because, as your old coworker could probably think about and dream about, if you can predict the stock market, the rewards are enormous. If you can predict who’s going to win the Super Bowl, the rewards can be enormous. If you do know exactly where your career is going to go next, the life payoffs are enormous. And even if there is a fraction of 1% of a chance that you could do it, if the rewards can be so high that it’s still going to compel you to take some action to do it.


Morgan Housel: [00:08:31] But I think it’s really the first part where it feels so good to remove uncertainty, and therefore we fool ourselves one way or another into thinking that we or somebody else does know the future. This particularly happens when the world is on fire, so to speak. During recessions, wars, pandemics, historically going back hundreds of years, you see this, that people are the most gullible and they have the highest desire for different predictions when the future is the most uncertain. And so if you go back to the Great Depression, World War two, the great plagues that that swept over Europe for most of hundreds of years, that’s when the desire for, like, find some crazy witch doctor who’s going to tell me exactly what’s going to happen next, because it feels so good to remove that uncertainty. And I think that will always be the case, no matter how much. And this is something that the era of big data has not changed whatsoever. Like we have so much data showing, among other things, how bad we are at predicting, like in the stock market, whatnot hasn’t changed the demand for predictions at all. So I think no matter how much data we have showing that we cannot do it, the desire is never going to diminish whatsoever. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:09:39] What’s interesting also, and I’m curious what you feel about this. I have always seen uncertainty and possibility of two as two sides of the same coin. Like you cannot have one without the other. If you’re going to exist in a world of possibility, you have to accept that you know you’re also carrying a coin that holds equal stakes. On the uncertainty side, if you’re going to actually try and eliminate uncertainty in your life, what you’re inadvertently doing is eliminating possibility because there can’t be possibility if everything is known. And yet we are so wired as human beings to want to eliminate uncertainty. But I think the focus is when we think about uncertainty, we think about uncertainty in relation to a downside, and we think about possibility, as always, about the upside, and we never really think about them as being inseparable. I’m curious what your take is on that lens.


Morgan Housel: [00:10:26] I think on a very related to that framework, I often thought of luck and risk as being the opposite sides of the same coin, where if you said, what is the definition of luck, it. Well, my definition would be there are things that can happen in your life outside of your control, that can influence outcomes in a positive way, more than anything you did intentionally. That’s what luck is. But if you said, what’s the definition of risk? I’d say it’s the exact thing. Things can happen in your life outside of your control that have a bigger influence on outcome than anything you can do intentionally. It’s the same thing just in opposite directions. And what’s important is that people tend to be very cognizant of risk and very ignorant of luck. People are like always like in finance, for example, risk-adjusted returns. They hire risk managers. Everything about investing is risk, risk, risk. Nobody talks about luck. Nobody talks about nobody is going to have luck. Adjusted returns. No one talks about hiring a luck manager at the bank. Nobody does that. And I think at least part of the reason is if I look at your success and I say, you got lucky, I look like a jealous jerk. And so people don’t want to say that. And if I looked in the mirror and said, Morgan, you’re success was just due to luck and I’ve been thinking about myself, that makes me feel bad. I want to think that any, any level of success I had, I did intentionally. But really, if you dig into things like there are so much outside of your control, and if you consider that luck, then it’s that two is another thing that’s like, if you’re actually honest about it, it tends to be too hard to swallow. But the opposite is like we’re so cognizant of risk. And when things go bad, you’re like, oh, well, it was risky. It was risky. Couldn’t have seen this coming. But when things go very well and very few people say, I just got lucky. So it’s just like a difference in how we acknowledge them in life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:07] Yeah. And at the same time, when you sort of like, think about and talk to some of the most iconic investors in history, oftentimes they’ll tell you that a big part of their, quote, success over not just a couple of months or even a couple of years, but over decades is by largely focusing on managing the downside and just knowing, you know, it’s the classic line, let the winners run and, you know, like and cut the losers short, fast. So there is a huge amount of this focus. But I guess finding the winners and letting them run like there’s a lot of luck in that side of it also. Yeah. Which factors into the whole equation. So part of what you’re the whole idea with the new book is essentially okay. So if, if so much is outside of our control, let’s look at the things that have pretty much stayed largely the same, human behavior and circumstance and culture and society over a long time. So we kind of lean on those things and count on them. But I guess the big question before we dive into some of the more details is to what end? Like, what’s the outcome that we’re working towards by focusing on what’s staying the same and on an enduring basis?


Morgan Housel: [00:13:06] I think for me, it’s almost a plea for humility. And in some ways, I don’t want to state this too strongly. But in some ways, I think rather than focusing on the things that do never change, it highlights the things out that we that we cannot know and the things that that we most of what we spend our time predicting in finance is like where stocks go, go next, when’s the next recession, what are interest rates going to do? Who’s going to win the next election? Once you focus on the things that are predictable, the behaviors in time that are predictable, you most naturally realize that things like that are not predictable. It’s almost just like looking at it in the reverse order. So I think that that’s a big part of this. I think the exercise for me to, in a strange way, has had like a very big impact on my information diet, because when you train yourself to really pay most attention to things that never change, then when you are reading the news or reading a book or watching a documentary, you’re always kind of asking, like, is this relevant in the future? Was this bit of information only relevant to some specific point in the past? And it may have been very important in the past and shape the world in a very special way, but it’s not something that’s going to be enduring going forward.


Morgan Housel: [00:14:13] I’ll give you an example of this. If you’re looking in the stock market and you see a piece of information that says Microsoft quarterly earnings beat by 5%, beat estimates by 5%, okay, that’s a piece of information may have been very relevant to last quarter, may have been very relevant to what the stock did today. Is that going to make much of any difference whatsoever a year from now, ten years from now, 20 years from now, like, no, no, it’s inspiring information. It has a shelf life. But if you are understanding the history of how investors react to greed and fear, is that understanding and that lesson going to be relevant to you ten years from now? Yes, it’ll be just as relevant ten years from now as it is today. So it has pushed me to focus more on what I think is going to have a long shelf life or a permanent shelf life, versus what I think gets most of our attention in the media, which is expiring information.


Jonathan Fields: [00:15:00] Yeah. I mean, it’s really interesting also because it seems like part of what you’re saying is and you referenced it a couple of times, like greed and things like this, and fear, is that the part of the human experience that’s most predictable, that kind of stays the same over a long period of time is human behavior, whereas the part that’s least predictable is circumstance. And a lot of people would look at the human behavior and say, like, people are rational. People change. Like you couldn’t predict how somebody is going to respond to something. But I guess what you’re saying, when you zoom the lens out and you look at sort of like humanity as a whole and like all the different ups and downs over long windows of time and how we’ve responded, it actually is pretty predictable.


Morgan Housel: [00:15:37] It’s definitely true that at the more macro level, when you’re looking at large groups of people or, you know, whole countries of people, that’s when you get these behaviors that change, definitely within individuals, even I, and I’m sure you and everyone else within my own life, I have changed, my behaviors have changed. My outlook has changed, my views, my political views, my economic views have changed and evolved, and they will continue to do so in the future, I hope so. It’s less predictable at the individual level, but more so at the macro level. When everyone’s working together, when kind of the outliers cancel each other out and you’re just looking at the big blob of humanity. How do people respond to greed? And fear and risk tends to be fairly stable over time, even during periods when the economy has completely and utterly changed. I’ll give you one example of this. There’s a very good book called The Great Depression A diary. It was written by the Ohio lawyer named Benjamin Roth, who kept a very detailed diary during the Great Depression in the 1930s. It was just his personal private diary, but he was a bankruptcy attorney, so he had a very interesting perch in terms of what was going on during the Great Depression. And his son published it in 2010.


Morgan Housel: [00:16:41] And there’s an entry in there from 1932, which is kind of the bottom of the Great Depression. In hindsight. We know it’s kind of the bottom. It was the worst that it got. And I remember reading it and thinking to myself, if you change the dates on this diary entry from 1932 to 2008, our financial crisis, every word that he said would fit right in. Every single word fit in perfectly, just in terms of what people were thinking back then. And then two pages later, Benjamin Roth writes in 1932, he says, if you change the dates from 1932 to 1907, the previous Great Depression, that they had everything fit in. And then he starts thinking, he says, actually, and it’s the exact same of what happened in 1894 and 1876. All the other recessions were exactly what was happening. And when I was reading it 80 years later, it seemed to fit in perfectly to what the world was going through in 2008. And so a lot of these things, like at the macro level, in terms of the behavior now, the Great Depression of the 1930s was very different in the details versus what happened in 2008. But the behaviors really weren’t the behaviors were really the same.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:41] It sounds like you’re also distilling it down to we’re really not talking about like, the full spectrum of human behavior. We’re talking about like a core set of primal reactive. To almost like extreme events or circumstances. Those things they like. Like you said, fear. Like greed, like things like this, that for some reason they’re kind of hardwired into us. And during these big dramatic changes in circumstance, we tend to when it comes to that core set of behaviors those have endured for generations and probably will for generations.


Morgan Housel: [00:18:12] I think there’s an element of that, too, in terms of like the generational, where a lot of these just views of the world and what you should be paying attention to get passed down throughout the generations. So the reason that my grandparents were acting the same way in the stock market as I am is a lot of it is just like, that’s a general knowledge, a generational knowledge transfer of learning how these things work. So we’re all kind of even though they are separated by a long distance in time. A lot of these things, just the education that we have, the knowledge, the stories that we all read get passed down along the generations.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:42] Yeah. No, that makes a lot of sense to me. You know, one of the things that you write about also, and you talk about is this notion of, um, I guess you describe it as, um, it’s like a leverage effect, like how very small things can make a really big difference, especially very small things that that were either you didn’t see coming or you couldn’t see coming. You actually describe a story of like a skiing incident where this becomes pretty, pretty apparent.


Morgan Housel: [00:19:07] Yeah. So I grew up as a as a ski racer in Lake Tahoe, and, um, I was on the Squaw Valley Ski team, a bunch of my friends. So we were we were teenagers during this period, and sometimes we would ski out of bounds, which you’re not supposed to do. You duck under the ropes that say, do not cross. But that’s where the amazing skiing is. And when you get down to the bottom, there’s no chairlift when you’re skiing out of bounds. So what we would do is we would ski out of bounds, and then it would spit us out on a back country road and we’d hitchhike back to the mountain. We’ve been doing this for years since we were, I don’t know, 14 or something. And one day it was 2001. We were 17 years old at the time. Myself and my two best friends, Brendan Allen and Brian Richmond. We were skiing out of bounds and as we’re going down, we triggered a very small avalanche. It wasn’t that big. It came up to our knees and we just kind of like wrote it down and kind of high-fived about it at the end, like, oh, the avalanche, that was cool. And then we started hitchhiking back, and we get back down to the base of the mountain, and Brendan and Brian say, hey, let’s, let’s go do it again. Let’s go do that. Run again.


Morgan Housel: [00:20:05] And for whatever reason, I said I didn’t want to do it. It was probably the hitchhiking that freaked me out the most. I always thought, like, we were about to be abducted here. So I said, hey, rather than than hitchhiking, you guys go ski that run again, and I’ll drive my truck around to the base of the mountain and pick you up. And we said, great. And we went our separate ways. They went skiing. I went to go get my truck so I could go pick them up. A few minutes later, I go in my truck to meet them at like this designated pickup spot, and they were not there. And I waited, I don’t know, 20 minutes, and they didn’t show up. I didn’t think that much of it. I think I figured they had already hitchhiked back. They got, you know, maybe I was late and they they already left. I really didn’t think it was a problem. But the day went on and nobody else had really seen them either. And no one else had seen the back of the locker room or on the ski team. Everyone’s, oh, I haven’t seen Brendan. Brian an hours and later that day, Brian’s mom called me at home and she said, hey, Brian didn’t show up for work today, which is very unlike him. Do you know where he is? And I told her the truth. I said, look, we are we were skiing out of bounds.


Morgan Housel: [00:21:03] I was going to pick them up, but they never arrived and no one’s seen them since. And we started kind of putting all this together that this did not look good. After many hours, we called the police for a missing person report that eventually turned into we got search and rescue involved, search and rescue. When they went to the out-of-bounds area where I told them we had been skiing. As soon as they entered this area, they found the fresh scars of what was clearly a massive avalanche that had just occurred within the previous few hours. So they kind of knew at that point what had likely happened here. And after, I guess about 12 hours of searching or so, the search dogs that they had kind of homed in on a spot in this avalanche debris field, and they found Brendan and Brian dead, buried under six feet of snow during this massive avalanche. And of course, whenever I tell this story, I always have to say like, look, I know you, I’m sure, and everyone else has lost somebody dear to you. It’s not unique in that sense. But as the years went on, it dawned on me it was not immediately obvious. But like among the many takeaways that I had of like dealing with losing these two friends was what if I had gone with them? What if I had not said, hey, I’ll go pick you up? What if I had said, hey, let’s all three of us go do that again? 100% chance I would have died.


Morgan Housel: [00:22:16] I mean, a massive avalanche is not something you can really survive. It’s like a giant tsunami barreling down on you. So then I start thinking about the most important decision that I ever made in my entire life was this dumb, brainless decision to not take a second run with them. And that was a decision I put no thought into whatsoever. I didn’t weigh the pros and cons. I didn’t seek outside advice. It was just a dumb, brainless decision that was more important than every other decision I’ve made in my life by an order of magnitude. And I think that idea of like a decision that you make, that. You put no thought into an event that you think is completely trivial, can completely and utterly change the course of your life. Every one of us has dealt with that, whether you know it or not, but I think it also happens at the macro level. One of the most astounding stories that I’ve ever read in history was during the Revolutionary War. George Washington and his troops during the Battle of Long Island were cornered by the British, and all the British really had to do was sail up the East River in New York, and George Washington would have been cornered and it would have all been over.


Morgan Housel: [00:23:18] The British would have won the Revolutionary War. But that didn’t happen because the winds were blowing in the wrong direction that night. So the British could not sail up the East River, and it gave Washington just enough time to regroup and get away. And the rest was history. And David McCullough, who was like one of the world’s foremost authorities on US history, passed away not too long ago. He was asked by Charlie Rose about this incident. And Charlie Rose said if the wind was blowing in the right direction that night and the British could sail up the East River, would there be a United States of America today? And without hesitation, David McCullough says, no, it never would have happened. So the entire existence of the United States of America relies on the directions that the wind was blowing during some random night in August 1770, whatever it was at the time, when you think about how fragile the world is at the individual level, at the macro level, that really highlights of just like, who are you to pretend that you think you know what’s going to happen over the next five years in your life or in the country? Nobody does. Nobody does. It’s a very humbling admission, but I think if you study enough history, you see that over and over again.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:24] Yeah, it’s incredibly humbling. But it’s also on the one hand, it’s incredibly freeing. On the other hand, it’s a little bit terrifying. Like there’s a lot of existential angst that gets sort of like baked into this acceptance of the fact that there are so many things that are either unforeseeable or they are foreseeable, like, for example, the avalanche. But the decision that you make around them in your mind was pretty inconsequential. You know, it really like there wasn’t any there weren’t any stakes. So I’m just I’m going to go grab my truck. You know, if we just sort of surrender to that, you know, the world seems so much more fragile. You know, this is Nassim Taleb, you know, like Black Swan events. It’s, you know, it’s it’s the stuff that we don’t see and can’t see. Yeah, but it’s also the stuff that we potentially what you’re describing is we can’t see, but for whatever reason, we don’t see it as consequential. We don’t feel like the decision that we made about it is in any way meaningful until after the fact. And we realize how extraordinarily important it was in our lives.


Morgan Housel: [00:25:26] And to talk about, like, what you can do about it or what you can’t do about it. I mean, for sure, there is somebody today who left for work at 752, but if they had left at 753, they would have died in a car accident. And the reverse is true. There’s someone who left at 753 who did die in a car accident this morning, and if they had left at 752, they would be at home with their wife and children. Right now, that exists all the time. And I think that is just the the fragility observation of life as well. But for the person who left one minute earlier, you know, that would have survived if they left a minute earlier. What advice, even with hindsight, do you tell that person you can’t preemptively look at the clock and say, oh, I need to wait an extra hour to miss this intersection? They’re like, you can’t. There’s not much you can do about it. That’s just the inherent fragility of life. And I think when you accept that there’s no amount of preparation or planning that can actually protect you, that can actually protect you from something like that, even if you’re wearing your seatbelt and you have an airbag in one night, it’s just like the dumb luck of what you didn’t see coming. That chapter in particular was not here’s what you can do about it. Here’s the advice that I can give you other than let’s not pretend like there’s a reason I concluded as a first chapter, because I think in many ways it highlights the premise of the book, which is do not pretend like you know what’s going to change in the future. You do not. The world is very, very fragile and hangs by a thread. And therefore, rather than pretending like we know what changes are in our future, let’s focus on things that we know are so indelible across history that we can confidently put weight into their existence in our future.


Jonathan Fields: [00:26:59] Yeah, until relatively recently spent my entire life in New York City. So I was there during nine over 11 and exactly like you said, like I knew people that went to work that day and didn’t come home. I also knew people that were headed to work and had for some reason, it wasn’t a premonition or anything like that. Like the the subway got delayed, like the a meeting got canceled or like, you know, got put off two hours so they didn’t have to be in quite so early. And but for that fact, who knows what would have happened. And they live with a level of angst that to this day often endures just by sort of, you know, like the quote, close call. But also for a lot of people, my experience has been when you go through that, it can either be psychologically devastating or it can basically. Rewire the way that you look at every moment of every day of the rest of your life and say like I am promised nothing, let me be here. Let me just find as much joy as I can. Let me be with the people that I want to be with. And sometimes it’s both, and sometimes it goes back and forth between them. But it doesn’t not affect you in some profound ways. What I’ve seen.


Morgan Housel: [00:28:08] Yeah, someone recently asked me if I had survivor’s guilt from my skiing story, and I said, I don’t think survivor’s guilt is the right word, but I think survivor’s humility is probably closer to it. I don’t think I ever felt guilty about it. Maybe I should, you know, there’s probably a lot to unpack there, but I definitely had this. It left me with a feeling of like, anything can happen at any moment to any, to anyone. I mean, that we woke up that day just thinking it was an ordinary day. We had been skiing that run since we were kids. We had been skiing in general six days a week for our entire childhood growing up. So there was nothing out of the ordinary about that day. Nothing seemed like what we were doing was any different from what we had done the day before. And the day before. It really was just kind of a strike-out-of-the-blue moment.


Jonathan Fields: [00:28:54] You kind of bounce around between a whole bunch of different topics in the recent book, and I thought it was really interesting. One of them that you jump into is this notion of divide between expectations and reality, and in particular, the impact on happiness, on like how or on our affect on how, you know, not just successful, but like how we view our lives, how we move through lives, how fulfilled and happy we are. And you also have a really interesting conversation around not just the the happiness or the expectation reality gap, but also how relative time periods influence this and its effect on happiness.


Morgan Housel: [00:29:35] Yeah, I’ve always been interested in just this general idea that if expectations rise in lockstep with circumstances, then the economy can get much stronger, much richer, much more productive, much more prosperous, and people don’t feel any different for it because and there’s there’s no such thing as an objective level of wealth. Everything is just relative to other people and to those people around you. So people rarely stop and think about like, oh wow, wages adjusted for inflation have doubled in the last, you know, 30, 40 years. No. Very few people do that calculation. What they do is they look at their neighbors and their coworkers and they’re like, well, what do they have? How big is their house? How big is their car? And then they measure that relative to whatever they have today. But because of that, you do go through these periods where if you look historically like the average American has gotten so much wealthier, adjusted for inflation since the 1950s, way wealthier, earning way more money, higher net worth, bigger house, better health, longer life expectancy, go on down the list. And not only are we, by and large, no happier for it, but there’s this nostalgia for the 1950s where across generations, people tend to look at that period as the peak Golden Aires years of middle-class prosperity. And if you look at the numbers, it’s just not the case.


Morgan Housel: [00:30:51] It’s really just not the case. And I think if there’s any explanation for that nostalgia of like, well, if we are richer today, why do we view that as being such a great period? And I think at least one of the explanations here, there could be many different explanations, is that the 50s were an era where, for better or worse, there was very little wealth inequality. A lot of that was just like an echo from World War Two about how companies were managed. And, you know, the top marginal tax rate was 91% in the 1950s. So it was an era where you did not have, by and large, extremely wealthy people inflating the aspirations of everybody else. And so because of that, the lower wages in the 1950s felt great because people looked around and everyone else was earning lower wages. The tiny homes that they lived in felt adequate because everybody else was living in a tiny home. The cheap vacations, going camping up in the mountains. That felt like a great vacation because that’s what everybody else was doing at the time. And I think like to grossly generalize what has happened over the last 80 years is on average, we have gotten richer. Our incomes adjusted for inflation, have doubled, our homes have have have increased, the size of our homes have increased.


Morgan Housel: [00:31:58] But there’s a small level of society that’s gotten way richer and living in way bigger homes and living way better lives. That has inflated the aspirations of everybody else. And so even if you look at a period where you’re like, you’re talking to Average Joe American and you’re like, hey, Average Joe, you’re earning twice as much as you used to, why aren’t you happy? By and large, it’s because he’s now looking at somebody on Instagram who’s earning ten times as much as he did and is earning a living in a ten times bigger house. And so it’s just the idea that if your expectations rise as fast as your income or faster than your income, you’re never going to be satisfied with what you have. And there’s a very long history of that. I think that’s always been the case, but it’s more potent today than I think it’s ever been because of social media. And now when you are comparing yourself to other people in society, it’s not your neighbors and your co-workers. It’s a curated highlight reel of a bunch of strangers, picked by an algorithm that knows exactly how to get your attention and knows exactly how to drop a little bit of dopamine right in your face. It’s always been the case, but it’s more powerful today than I think it’s ever been.


Jonathan Fields: [00:32:59] Yeah, I mean, that’s so interesting. And if I hear what you’re saying correctly, you know, the impulse, this is one of those things that stayed the same. You know, we’ve always had a comparison side of our like we’re always happy relative to those we compare ourselves to. There’s no really objective sense, but the really big shift here. So that stayed the same for generations. The big shift you’re describing is that the actual circumstance of wealth disparity, whereas like whereas kind of like everyone that was around you immediately was probably in a similar circumstance. You didn’t have a whole lot of access to reach beyond that immediate sphere of influence. To be able to compare yourself to now, there is extreme differences in wealth, and pretty much every single person, through their devices and through social media, has all day, every day pushed to them access to be able to compare themselves to so many others who will be persistently, profoundly wealthier, profoundly farther down the road. Whatever is the perception in your mind, even though you have no idea what the real lives are. But and that’s part of like the weirdness here too, is that we’re now comparing ourselves to people that we have no connection or relationship to, and also we’re taking the representations of their relative wealth as a to be true, and b we assume that they must be happier than us also, when both could be complete fiction. And we’ve seen so often, especially in social media, that they are smoke and mirrors and yet the compulsion is still there. We just keep doing it.


Morgan Housel: [00:34:25] 100% agree, like everybody knows, the person on social media that paints their life, let’s say they’re a close friend of yours and they paint their life as being perfect. Here’s my beautiful family on our beautiful vacation with our loving relationships. And if you know that person closely, you’re like, that’s not who you are. I know you guys are hurting. You guys are on the verge of divorce, but on Facebook, it looks like everything is great. Everything’s amazing. People tend to they don’t communicate on social media as much as they perform for you. And so nobody, including me, by the way, is really giving the full picture of what’s going on in their life. On my Instagram, I post cute pictures of my kids. I don’t post pictures of my kids having tantrums, which of course they have all the time. And so social media is designed to almost like it’s intentionally designed so that when you look at it, everybody else looks happier, prettier, smarter, more successful than you are. And it’s very effective at making people believe that no matter how how well you’re doing and how much money you’re making and how happy your relationships are, it’s not good enough. There’s other people who are doing way better than you. That’s what it leads you to believe. So even though that has always been the case, it’s just it’s been absolutely supercharged in the last ten years. And because of that, I think you can easily imagine a world in which my grandkids, your grandkids, are earning twice as much money as us and living longer than us, and maybe in a peaceful world, like, imagine some utopia in the future for our grandkids, and they’re no happier for it. They’re no happier for it because they just expect all of it. And they are surrounded by people who, no matter what utopia they are living in, somebody else on social media is living in what looks like an even better utopia, so that, by and large, has existed for hundreds of years. It’s just crazy powerful right now.


Jonathan Fields: [00:36:04] So, I mean, which always begs the question, then, you know, if this is kind of hardwired into us and it has been forever and it probably will be in the future, and technology isn’t going away. You know, the algorithm still largely run all of this stuff that we interact with on a day-to-day basis, and they’ll keep feeding us what they’re feeding us. How do we not let this destroy us?


Morgan Housel: [00:36:23] I think at the macro level, there’s very little we can do about it. People are comparative creatures by nature, and there’s a very good element to that. Like, you want to live in a world in which most people wake up in the morning feeling like, whatever I’ve achieved, it’s not quite enough. I need to innovate more. I need to work harder. I need to make the world a better place. I need to create a better world for my family. You want that drive? And a lot of that drive comes from a feeling of inadequacy relative to other people. So there is a very healthy element to this comparison game that we don’t want to eliminate. It gets dangerous at the individual level when your own goal post is success are moving faster than your circumstances. So I was just at I just did a podcast earlier today with my wife. My, my wife and I were being interviewed by somebody else talking about money in our old household, and my wife said, oh, like. Over the years, our goal post has shifted. Like our goal post to success used to be back here and now it’s way up there. We have moved it, but we haven’t moved it as much as our income has gone up. And that’s the only thing that’s important. So it’s fine to to have aspirations, but you also need the understanding that if your aspirations are growing faster than your circumstances, it’s just a recipe for disaster.


Morgan Housel: [00:37:29] So I want more money. I want more success. Of course everybody does. But I also know that I need to manage my expectations with as much emphasis as I do managing my circumstances. And if I don’t, it’s all for naught. Like if I’m fortunate enough to achieve any kind of financial success. But I expected all of it. You get no joy from it whatsoever. So I think that balancing act between like, yes, the aspirational goalposts can move, just making sure they are moving slower than your circumstances, your income, so to speak. That’s the critical part. But I think at the high level, it’s never going to go away. There’s no societal solution for comparing yourself to other people and assuming that they are happier than you are. And by the way, in terms of that being the case forever, Montesquieu said this 300 years ago. He said, if you only want to be happy, that is very easy to achieve, but people want to be happier than other people, and that is difficult because we assume other people are happier than they are. He said that 300 years ago, and it is as true today as it was back then.


Jonathan Fields: [00:38:29] Yeah, well, it wasn’t there. Like a similar Aristotle quote, it was something like, it’s easy to be happy, like do nothing, be nothing, say nothing. Um, I love it. It speaks to the expectation side of it. It is interesting to think about the fact that a certain amount of just sort of underlying discontent has fueled so much good in society, like if we were happy. Deal with the state of medicine 300 years ago, it would be exactly the same, you know, for the happy, the state of communication, of connectivity, of like all these transportation would still be largely the same. And maybe you’re going to argue that there are certain things about like day-to-day life that were better 300 years ago, and you may be right in certain elements, but on the whole, when you look at the metrics of a society and the markers that we tend to look at for, you know, like a good society, a society that treats its people well and that lives longer and does all these things. And, you know, we do want that level of change. And and you will never have that without a certain level of underlying discontent with the present. And I think some people get tripped up because they’re like, well, that’s always a bad thing. And my take has always been, you know, discontent can coexist with gratefulness at the same time. Like, I’m grateful for where we are and for what we have. And at the same time, I still yearn for change in certain elements of my life and in my world. And those things can coexist. You know, you don’t have to just say like, I don’t like, I’m not grateful, you know, like I’m ungrateful and I just want more. Like, you can actually have both of these things. You can be grateful and honor and humble and at the same time want change. And I think sometimes we don’t think that those things can coexist. And I’m curious what your take is on that. No, I completely agree.


Morgan Housel: [00:40:10] I mean, I’ve framed it very in very similar terms of you need to get optimism and pessimism to coexist, but I think as you just framed it, of terms of gratefulness and discontent to coexist, that’s really important. I think the cognitive dissonance of that, you should be able to handle that the that you should not be one or the other. You can have both of those at the same time. The other thing that comes to mind here, in terms of having people wake up discontent and being that be the fuel of progress. I love reading biographies of very successful individuals and very rarely, with almost no exceptions, do I finish the biography of this successful entrepreneur general sports person who whoever might be and think, I wish I had their lives almost never because their life seemed torturous and terrible. That’s why they’re successful is because they woke up every morning, absolutely tortured out of their minds because they needed to achieve more success. So at the end of the biography, I usually think, I’m so glad that person exists in the world because I get to benefit from everything that they created. At the same time, I would never in a million years want their lives. That’s a really important realization that sometimes, like the biggest innovations that we get from society are from people or from eras where things are terrible.


Morgan Housel: [00:41:20] And I think if you go down the list, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, I think they’re tortured people. They are or were tortured people who woke up every single morning with their mind like buzzing to a degree of like, I haven’t achieved enough. Whatever I’ve achieved, it’s not merely enough. I’m not moving fast enough. I’m not. I don’t have enough money. The company’s not big enough. We need to go, go, go. And again, I love that they exist in the world. But let’s not pretend ourselves that, like, that’s something that I would necessarily want for myself. And I think most people wouldn’t want it for themselves. Elon Musk said this just a couple of weeks ago. He said, I’m paraphrasing him, but he said, you might think you want to be me, the richest man in the world, but I’m telling you, you do not. And he points to his head and he’s like, it’s a tornado up here. You do not want to be inside of this head right now. And I think that is it was a very honest admission. And I think that’s true for a lot of very successful people, that they are tortured by their feeling of of inadequacy of what they’ve achieved.


Jonathan Fields: [00:42:12] Yeah. I don’t know if you ever saw the, um, the movie Whiplash, the Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, and he’s sort of like a young, up-and-coming jazz drummer who wants to be one of the greats. And it’s literally all about how hard will we push ourselves to that point where we don’t just change our own future, but we literally make a mark in history, and we change the nature of the entire genre or field that we’re in, in a way where people remember us for generations. And the question is like, if we look at the musicians that have changed the face of music, are we really glad that they existed? Probably like you were saying, do we like reading books and biographies and memoirs about their lives? Sure, because it’s wildly entertaining and often off the rails. But like, would we want to be the protagonist in that story ourselves? As much as we might want what we think they have? And I think that’s where the disconnect is. We’re like, ooh, if only I could have, like, achieved that level of notoriety or fame or money or wealth or impact or whatever it is, so many of us want that. But then if you basically have to opt into the truth of the story, that you have to live every day to get there or be there to get that almost none of us want that. Like that is our nightmare scenario. Totally. And yet we kind of gloss over that point. We just like, we don’t want to tell that part of the story. We just want to tell the end state. Yeah.


Morgan Housel: [00:43:25] I mean, I remember hearing one time that Bill Gates worked seven days a week for 25 years, did not take one day off, not for holidays, not six days, 25 years. He worked seven days a week. And here again, my feeling is like, bless him, I’m so glad of what he gave the world, both in technology and now through his philanthropy and be. I would never in a million years want that for myself. I like my days off with my kids, arguably the most important thing in my life. I admire people like. Bill Gates knows people like him more, even more. And I think it pushes you away from maybe some sense of jealousy when you think like you just mentioned, you look at what they have $100 billion and mansions and jets, whatever it might be. And you move from jealousy to when you look at what it took to get that. I’m like, man, thank you for giving that to the world. And also thank you for like, giving myself something to compare it to of like, of course I would love your wealth, but I frankly would not like the work-life balance that you chose during your career. I prefer mine, and therefore I’m more grateful for mine that I have right now.


Jonathan Fields: [00:44:26] Yeah, and it’s interesting. I mean, you’re sort of referencing a lot of people who are the, quote, icons of business. But if you look across nearly any domain and you look at who are the legends and icons, the people that changed the game in this space, whether it’s art, music, writing, literature, movie making, and then you look at their lives invariably see something very, very similar, like the person who is able to achieve impact on that level without this just wildly disruptive personal story or narrative. I have been searching for people like that for decades, and probably found less than I can count on one hand across every field and domain like that. I’ve been doing this on Good Life Project. for over a dozen years now, and it really is. It’s sobering. And so this also brings up another thing. You step into this conversation from a different angle in the book as well, when you say, and at the same time, it’s supposed to be hard, maybe not hard in the way that we’re talking about where you literally sacrifice your entire life. You hand it over to the gods of impact and innovation and achievement. But the other side of it is like, but, you know, like it’s also supposed to be hard. That enduring challenge and hardship is actually an essential element of pursuing goals. So if you’re saying yes to that, you’re saying yes to a certain amount of this, not necessarily at the extreme, but even on a day-to-day basis. And your most fundamental, this is what I want to accomplish in my life.


Morgan Housel: [00:45:46] Yeah. Because it’s in my field, my domain. I think about investing a lot. And in investing in the stock market over a very long period of time, you can make a lot of money and do well, but there’s a cost to that. And I don’t mean like the cost like the management fee on your mutual fund. I mean the cost that you have to be willing to pay is putting up with a never-ending parade of uncertainty and volatility and ups and downs and maybe years on end where you don’t make any money or lose money. That’s the cost of admission that you have to be willing to pay. And a lot of people ignore that because it’s not on a price tag anywhere. It’s not on a label. It’s like this weird, emotional, ephemeral, like cost of success you need to be willing to put in. But it’s supposed to be hard, like people use in investing. Again, a lot of people know the statistic of 90% of of active managers who are trying to outperform the S&P 500 can’t do it. They’ll fail. 90% of professional investors cannot outperform the index. And a lot of people will use that statistic to show that, like the industry’s a scam or whatnot. My response has always been, of course, of course it’s like that. What world do you want to live in in which everyone who tries to beat the market can do it like that would like that world should not exist. Of course it’s supposed to be hard. That’s why it’s so rewarding is because it is so hard to do and like people will understand that.


Morgan Housel: [00:47:02] To that, you know what percentage of college basketball players make the NBA? I don’t know, but let’s just say it’s 1%. Nobody would say college basketball is a scam because 99% of people don’t get in the NBA. People know like it’s supposed to be hard to get in the NBA. That’s why it’s awesome. But I think for some areas in life that kind of goes out the window. And because the cost of success is not on a price tag, it’s very easy to overlook what’s actually going to be required of you, how much life you’re going to have to exchange, how much stress you’re going to have to exchange in order to get this thing that you are looking at. I read this great interview with Taylor Swift recently, and she was talking about when she was like a 15-year-old aspiring singer, like when she first started going on the stage and she said she would look at her future ten years in the future, and she would imagine not just where she would be, but what it would take to get there. And that might sound trite, but I think that’s actually very rare. I think most people, when they’re dreaming about their future, just dream about where they’re going to be. They just dream about the reward, the big house, the big salary, the fancy car. And they don’t actually have a sense of what it’s going to take to get there. And so I thought that was actually a very wise statement coming from her.


Jonathan Fields: [00:48:08] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the work of Gabrielle Union. She developed this protocol, sort of like through her research that she shorthands as wish outcome, obstacle plan. And she was basically researching what’s the most effective way to achieve something big and important that you want, she said. Like, you know, have the wish, like, define it as much as you can, you know, like, and then and this is where it sort of like differs from different approaches. She’s like proactively identify the potential obstacles, the barriers, the roadblocks both internal to you and external that you think might realistically be a part of this journey and then plan. It’s not just planning how you’re going to succeed. It’s pre-planning how you’ll respond to these things if and when they drop into your path. And she found that, you know, like when she split people up and ran the study on this, that the people who actually did this process were much more likely to achieve the thing they wanted to achieve than the people who kind of ignored all of those stumbles and the internal demons and the external things and just kind of said, this is what I want. Here’s my plan to get it, and I’m just going to push through until I get it. Like really grappling with how hard this potentially is going to be before you even say yes to it, it both gives you the plan to respond if and when it happens. But part of the theory and why people succeed. Also, I’m curious what your take is on this is she kind of felt like these people also had a much more sobering take on what it might actually take out of them to go for this thing, and it probably stopped a lot of them from doing it in the first place when they realized they weren’t down for that. So then the people who looked at that and then said yes were much more likely because they had a shift in mindset, not just plan.


Morgan Housel: [00:49:48] Yeah, I think it’s true in the in the startup space, in business, where the successful entrepreneurs tend to have two character traits, one is just a ridiculous amount of endurance to just the ability to accept pain. And number two, a complete ignorance of the stumbling blocks that are like irrational optimism in their own ability. And so those two things together, because if you were rational about how hard it’s going to be to make this startup work and how greatly the odds are stacked against you, a rational person wouldn’t do it. You need an irrational CEO to be like, all right, our odds of success are 1%. Let’s go do it. And to have the endurance to just, like, put up with all the missiles that are fired at you along the way. There’s a thing in psychology called depressive realism, which is the idea that’s been studied that depressed people make more accurate predictions about the future because they’re more realistic about everything that can go wrong. So an optimist is like, oh, in the future, like we’re going to be great, like our team’s great. We’ll solve any problem. And the depressed person is like, no, here’s the list of 20 things that are going to go wrong that are going to prevent you from doing it. And the depressed person is more likely to be accurate in those assessments. But that depressed person, because they’re depressed, even if they are accurate about the future, is probably never going to get going. They’re going to be stuck in bed, so to speak. Whereas the irrational optimist who is not accurate about what’s going to lie in the future is the one who’s actually going to have a fighting chance of making their just because they’re getting out of bed. So I don’t know what the balance between those two would be other than like, that’s what it is for startups. It’s like a crazy amount of endurance to absorb the bullets fired at you, and an irrational optimism about your ability to get it done.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:21] That makes sense to me, as you’re describing that literally just pulling up in the last two days, I just saw a new research that came out on the podcast industry, like the space that we’re in right now, and they showed that a, quote, the likelihood of achieving a quote successful podcast was 5%, and that the typical podcast that starts publishes one episode and never publishes another one. And they define successful as I believe it was reaching 100 published episodes. That’s interesting because you hear so much talk about podcasting. It’s amazing and it’s great, and everybody should have a podcast. And the barrier to entry is so low, you literally just turn on your computer and like, start talking and and anyone could do it and yes, yes, yes, it’s all true. And if it was easy to actually sort of like endure in this space, you wouldn’t see that 5% metric. And in fact, in the data, they actually said that you’re four times more likely to succeed in your own company, starting your own company, than you are in getting to a success point in a podcast. So it’s really sobering when you see the data. And I can imagine how many people, if they read that report when they were thinking about starting a podcast, would just be like, nope. And how many people that now currently are, quote, successful in this space? Had they seen that data in the beginning, would have said, hey, I’m not doing it.


Morgan Housel: [00:52:39] Not going to do it? What’s interesting about podcasts you mentioned this though, like the barriers to entry are so low that it actually makes sense for people to be like, I’m going to try this, and if it doesn’t work, like, fine, it didn’t work. I didn’t have to invest tens of thousands of dollars to make to trying this. So it’s worth trying a similar story from MrBeast, the biggest YouTuber. He told the story where he was like a lot of young YouTubers will come to him and ask for advice and he says, go make 100 videos and then I’ll give you advice. And he said, two things happen. One, most people do not make 100 videos, just like the podcasters will make. Three videos and then quit. Or if they do actually make 100 videos, they don’t need his advice anymore. They’ve already figured out what works for them. That calling mechanism, I think is really important. The other person who I know does this is Seth Godin, the author. As a famous author, a lot of podcasts reach out to him and say, hey, I’d love for you to be our guest. And Seth, if it’s a new podcast, he says, I will be your 30th guest. Like, this is a new podcast. I’m not going to be your second guess. I’ll be your 30th guest. And he kind of knows that most people will not make it to 30 podcasts, but if they do, then it’s a good podcast. Like, you’re like, you probably figured out what works and what doesn’t. So I think that’s great. A lot of people too, even if they do know that there’s only a 5% chance it’s going to work. You know, the this is where, like, the irrational optimist will be like, well, yeah, but I’m part of the 5%. That’s me. I’m going to do it. So I think even if you know the statistics, the irrational optimism of moving forward is just such an integral part of how people think.


Jonathan Fields: [00:54:03] Yeah. And that kind of ties into one of the other things I wanted to touch base on that, that you write about, which is sort of like the, um, the enduring nature of storytelling is one of these things that’s kind of like it has always been at the center of the human condition. It has always been something that has been almost like the bedrock of how we make meaning in life is just the power of storytelling in not just influencing other people, but I think influencing ourselves and really understanding how to make meaning out of the day-to-day experience of our lives and as as the world changes, so much of it is about what is the story we’re telling about the way the world is changing that allows us to make meaning in this moment.


Morgan Housel: [00:54:42] Yeah, people do not have enough cognitive capacity to actually, like, parse the data of everything going on in their life. They more or less need a bumper sticker, a slogan to be like, this is how the world works. Rather than like parsing the fine details. It’s got to be like, who’s telling a story? That sounds good. I’m going to line up behind that person. So there’s so many instances in history, in so many different fields where it’s not the best answer that wins. It’s not the right answer, it’s not the accurate answer, it’s the best story is the person who gets other people to line up behind them and say, that’s the one. You see, of course, a lot in politics where the politician who comes up with the best policy, the most effective policy, almost never wins. Who wins is the guy who pounds the table the hardest and tells people what they want to hear on either side, whether it’s Obama or Donald Trump. Like they’re incredible storytellers at getting their message across. I think for a lot of analytical minds, this drives you crazy. If you think the world should be governed by and driven by the right answer or the best answer, you’re constantly baffled at why people are following and paying attention to the wrong answer, but when it’s a compelling story. One other example that I use in the book is Ken Burns, the great documentary filmmaker. Most of his documentaries do not uncover new information. He’s telling stories about things that everybody knows about the Civil War.


Morgan Housel: [00:56:01] It’s like the most documented period in American history. Everybody knows how it ends. Everybody knows what happens. Everybody knows the characters. He’s not giving you any new information. What he does better than anybody else who’s ever existed in this space is he tells a good story about the topics that he covers Civil War, Vietnam, World War Two, whatever. It would be a better story than any other historian that exists. And so even if the academic historians are uncovering brand new information and Ken Burns most of the time is not, he’s going to be so much more successful and well known and well read, paid attention to than them because he’s telling such a good story. Ken Burns told the story in an interview where he said when he’s making a documentary, he will literally change the script, the narrator’s script, so that a specific word that the narrator says matches up with a specific beat in the background music. So like when the narrator says a powerful word, it matches with a powerful beat in the background music. And I remember hearing that and thinking to myself, what other academic historians do that? And the answer is none of them. He’s the only one who does that, who puts so much effort into telling a good story. And that’s why he’s so much more successful than they are. So even in the most boring, like analytical fields, it’s always the storyteller who’s going to get people’s attention.


Jonathan Fields: [00:57:13] Yeah, and I think we see that so many times and again, sort of like my reference point for podcasting for that is one of the longest-running podcasts in this space. Um, Hardcore History, Dan Carlin publishes 2 to 5 once a year, right?


Morgan Housel: [00:57:27] If that. I think it’s more like once a year.


Jonathan Fields: [00:57:29] It probably is down to that at this point. And it’s often like anywhere from like 3 to 7 hours in an episode. And yet it is consistently one of the top podcasts in the space, because he takes that entire time to just pour himself into being. And he’s doing exactly what you just said. He’s telling history that like he’s he didn’t make the history like it’s in the books all over the place if you really want to go into it. But he tells it in a way that is just so engaging and it draws you in. And the power of storytelling, I think, is so undervalued. And yet it is so central to almost everything we do as human beings and our ability to not just rally people to our cause or to, like, gather people and build community and and innovate and. And create progress. But also, like I said, just to make meaning out of our own day-to-day experiences, like in part about the circumstances, but also in part about like, what’s the story we’re telling ourselves about this particular moment or circumstance. And that’s how we get through so many of our days when it seems like the world is spinning out of control, like, what’s the story we can tell that makes meaning out of it?


Morgan Housel: [00:58:31] And it sounds trivial, but like with Dan Carlin, Hardcore History, part of why he’s so successful in such a good storyteller is literally like how he changes the cadence of his voice, and sometimes he’s using like a deep, slow tone, and sometimes he’s like yelling at the microphone. And you compare that to your average, like Ferris Bueller. Ben Stiller, who was who was a teacher in Ferris Bueller, like, the most boring, dry monotone. He’s just such a Dan Carlin is such a good storyteller that he can literally just be reading the historian’s book, which he very often is. He’s just like citing material in there, but he’s so good at communicating it that he can publish a nine-hour documentary or a podcast on World War I, and you’re going to listen to every word of it. You can’t stop. It’s so good. And that’s actually really optimistic to think that in order to make a mark in the world, you don’t need to necessarily uncover something new. You don’t need to invent a new product or like, uncover a new fact. There are so much ground to move in, just taking what’s already out there and telling a better story around it, just telling it in a more compelling way. And there was so much like potential in doing that. And the barriers to entry are so much lower than inventing something new or discovering something new, just taking what is already known and telling it in a more easy-to-understand, captivating way.


Jonathan Fields: [00:59:47] Yeah, no, that makes so much sense to me. One of the topics I wanted to touch into also, and it kind of riffs off the back of this in a way, you know, we’re talking about storytelling and often like telling the stories of other people, other moments, other experiences of history, but in a way that’s relatable to other people. But this is one of the topics that you dive into also is under the category of now you get. It is the importance of first-hand experiences on understanding and responding to situations in a way that is constructive in your life. Like, yes, it’s great to read about it. Like watch the documentary, like read the book, like gather all the information. But one of these things that endures is the absolute critical importance of us actually being the protagonist, us being in the story ourselves and playing a role. I’m curious what drew you to want to actually center this as a topic and take me a little bit more into that topic and why you feel it’s so important?


Morgan Housel: [01:00:40] One is, I’m an amateur fan student of military history, conflicts, battles, and I myself have never served in the armed forces. So no matter how many World War Two books I study, no matter how many D-Day documentaries I watch, never in a million years should I pretend to know what it’s like to be shot at in anger. And you see that come up quite a bit. There’s quite a bit of talking about in various points of history where in basic training you will have generals, commanders who say, like everyone in basic training is full of bravado and they’re like, I’m going to go get the like, give me a gun. I’m going to go get the bad guys. Like, here I come. And then they get put on the front lines and they are utterly scared shitless. And that is so common all throughout war. There is some studies that have shown they’re very controversial. So let’s take all this with a grain of salt that shows that during World War Two, even the front line soldiers, the percentage of them who actually fired a bullet was actually very small. And these are the people on the front lines, the theory being that even on the front lines, most of the people got up, they’re being shot at and were completely scared out of their minds, so scared that they didn’t even have it in them to pull the trigger. That’s not a criticism in the slightest, because in the slightest, because I might very well be that person as well. But I think the understanding that, like when you’re in basic training, you’re like, I’m going to get out there and fight for my country.


Morgan Housel: [01:01:58] I’m not scared of the Germans. I’m going to go do it. And you get in the front lines and it’s like, oh, I had no clue what this was actually going to be like. I think that’s a good model for a lot of things in life. For your career, like a lot of 18 year olds are like, I want to be a lawyer. I’m going to love being a lawyer. Sounds like you were or are so on. And I think a lot of them, after the first year of being an associate, they’re like, this is not what I signed up for. I didn’t realize it was going to be this hard. I didn’t realize the hours were going to be this long and I was going to be this tired. Happens in a lot of fields. I know a lot of doctors and dentists are like this as well. Like it’s very hard to proactively see what that amount of stress and the number of hours and the pressure that you have is going to do to your psyche. It’s almost impossible to know what it’s going to be like until you have experienced it firsthand. It’s easy to look at what other people are doing in life and criticize what they’re doing, or to criticize the behavior that they’re having without realizing that if you are in their shoes, experiencing all of the context that they are, you might be doing the exact same thing yourself.


Jonathan Fields: [01:02:53] Yeah, that makes so much sense to me. And it really argues for not just trying to think your way to experiences and to what you want to do, who you want to become, what you want to try, like do the research, do the thinking. And then at some point, the only way you’re really going to know is to run the experiment, you know, to put yourself in the field of play and whatever that may mean. Whether it’s, you know, you’re an artist who, like, decides I’m going to paint 100 paintings and just see where it goes. Or a friend of mine who’s now become a really well-known illustrator, Lisa Congdon, the one in her family who she always considered to be, you know, like, not artistic. She was a teacher and she’s like, I don’t know, maybe there’s something inside of me. So she literally started she made a commitment. She said, I’m going to do something and post it on Instagram. This is in the very early days of Instagram, every day for a year, because she’s like, the only one I’m going to know is, let me just do this. I’m going to make a bold commit and say, every single day I’m going to do something and put it up there and put it out there. And over the course of that year, she started to realize, wait, not only do I enjoy this, but I feel like I’m improving at it. And she learned the hard and she tested all of her assumptions, you know, and some of them blew up. Some of them were like tested and reinforced. Some of them were not. But if she had kept just saying what if I and tried to imagine it and talk to everybody who’s out there in the field of illustration, everybody who’s doing it. She would get a nice data set, but it wouldn’t be her data set, you know? And there’s a really big difference. But we love to think that there isn’t.


Morgan Housel: [01:04:16] Yeah. I think you also, once you do those experiments, you can have a newfound appreciation for people who you might not have respected that much before, whether it is the soldier who did have the guts to actually fight on the front lines when everyone else was scared, they know now. Like, if you experience that fear yourself now, you might have so much more respect and admiration for them or the artist who is going out and being vulnerable by posting every day online until you experience the critics who are like putting down your work, whether you’re a writer or an artist, until you’ve experienced that you might not know, like how much fortitude it takes to make yourself vulnerable and put your art online. I think once you have experienced some of these things yourself, it gives you a much more respect and admiration for the people that are going through it in real-time.


Jonathan Fields: [01:04:59] Why? Brené Brown often says you know, she has no tolerance for feedback or input from people who are not also in the arena themselves. You know, like get getting battered and like doing the thing. The man in the.


Morgan Housel: [01:05:11] Arena quote story has been badly abused over the years, but there’s a lot of truth to it that it’s like, yeah, like not until you’ve been actually in here getting punched in the face. Should you be criticized. People who are who are down there being punched.


Jonathan Fields: [01:05:22] Yeah. Which, um, when you think about the the state of social media, um, it controverts that whole idea left and right. And brings us almost back to our earlier part of the conversation about the perils of, like, comparative happiness and all that stuff.


Morgan Housel: [01:05:38] Yes, there’s a great quote here to to to finish this part, uh, from Jeff Immelt, the former CEO of General Electric. He said every job looks easy when you’re not the one doing it. Like very easy to criticize. But until you understand actually all the elements of the stress and the uncertainty and the various stakeholders that you have, every job looks easy when you’re not the one doing it.


Jonathan Fields: [01:05:56] So zooming the lens out, we’ve been talking about sort of like all these fundamental parts of human nature that tend to stay the same and enduring way, and how circumstances society interacts with it and how we can think about it in the context of living our lives. Whenever you write a book, you know you’re saying yes to effectively spending a chunk of years both doing the research and then doing the writing, and then putting it out there in the world and spreading the word. When you write something like this, do you have an intention behind it?


Morgan Housel: [01:06:21] I’ve always thought that, and I’ve talked about that. I’d write for an audience of one, which is me. I want to consider myself a selfish writer, eh? Because I think you do your best work when rather than trying to pander for some some unknown audience, you’re just like, I’m just doing this for my own sense. I think most painters, most artists, uh, are selfish painters. They’re not painting for an audience. They’re just like, well, this is what I want it to look like. And so I try to do that for myself. But because of that, I feel like a lot of what I write about, almost all of what I write about, is I’m just trying to figure out problems in my own life and my own world, rather than being like, oh, let me, let me try to find good advice for other people, most of it because I write it through the lens of like, I’m just writing this for me, and I want to write it in a story that I think is interesting in a language that I find personally persuasive. I don’t really don’t think about anyone else when I’m doing it, but because of that, it’s almost like a therapy session for me when I’m going through these, it’s not that like, oh, I have all this knowledge about storytelling. Let me share it with you. It’s like I was trying to figure out the power of storytelling in my own life, in my own career, and studying it for my own selfish reasons. And now let me just kind of share with you what I’ve found. So that’s I think that’s that’s a lot of the purpose for me is I feel like it’s a great job of just self-reflection and self-study. And then if you can take those lessons that I’ve learned about from my own life, if I can try to share them with you in a story that some people will like, some people won’t. That’s always been kind of the thrust behind writing for me.


Jonathan Fields: [01:07:45] Um, love that. It feels like a good place for us to come full circle as well. So in this container of Good Life Project., if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Morgan Housel: [01:07:53] There’s a great quote from Chris Morley where he says, there is only one success in life, and that is to be able to spend your life in your own way. And that true like might sound kind of like trite and trivial. That’s like fortune cookie advice, but that’s it. It’s the observation that, like, the good life for me might be a disastrous life for you. And vice versa, that we’re all so different and so individual, and it’s only a good life if you are doing it your way. And you made the decisions yourself about what you want to do. I think in finance, in personal finance, most debates about what kind of lifestyle you should live are people with very different personalities talking over each other and people being like, you should loosen up. You should spend more money, you should buy a bigger house. Maybe that would work for you, but maybe this works for me. Like, have you ever considered that? And I think it’s a sign of immaturity when you assume that because you want or don’t want something that other people should want or not want that thing. And so the good life to me is just it’s the life that you chose for yourself. Even if other people look at that and they don’t quite understand why you’re doing it.


Jonathan Fields: [01:08:53] Hmm. Thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode safe bet, you will also love the conversation we had with Scott Galloway about finding center in a changing world. You’ll find a link to Scott’s episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Editing help By. Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life project.

Don’t Miss Out!

Subscribe Today.

Apple All Players Castbox Spotify RSS