Saturday, 2 March 2019

Retiring early and taking advice from Arthur Schopenhauer? Really?

As regular readers to my blog will know, I like to look at investing through a literary/philosophical lens from time to time.

This is because I would much rather read a novel by Charles Dickens or Joseph Conrad than analyze a company's annual report. 

Sorry, folks. 

I know there are many of your in the Singapore Investment Bloggers   community who love nothing more than whiling away your free time with a copy Singtel's quarterly results, sipping on a hot latte. 

If this floats your boat, then fair play to you. 

It just doesn't do it for me.

So, why do you write a Singapore focused finance blog, I hear you ask?

This is a good question with an easy answer.

I write posts for this blog every Sunday morning for two reasons.

Firstly, if I don't write in connection to my portfolio, I am doomed to forget about it.

I need to type 500+ words every week to keep my mind in the stock investing zone otherwise I simply won't bother week to week. 

Given the choice of picking up a quality piece of fiction or reading the Motley Fool (no offense guys) I would choose the former every time, unless I'm searching for general information about a stock.

This is a question of psychology I suppose, and a strange one at that.

With a hefty portfolio of shares should I take not take more care of my garden? 

Should I not be tending, pruning, watering, hosing, forking, troweling and shearing?

Should I not be fretting, dwelling, flustering, freaking, bothering, troubling and agitating?

Ask the experts, and you get mixed messages:

Some say, keep a close eye on your portfolio and pounce on bargains when the time is right. 

Others say dollar cost average over a long period of time and reap the rewards.

The fact is no one has a clue how to beat the market, so I feel it's best to reel in the ego and admit you are powerless in the face of unpredictability.

Of course, there will always be an 'expert' who 'knows' but really if you sat down late at night with this person, beer in hand, and asked them the secret to their financial clairvoyance, they would take an anxious, twitchy swig of their bottle and sign deeply. 

"You know what, I haven't a clue really"   

They may even break down in tears and reveal to you how their career is built our of false promises and nebulous hunches, preying on the cashed up credulous masses.

Who knows? Weirder things have happened, haven't they?

Anyway, I'm not writing today to put down those in financial services, for we all have to make our daily bread (just some people make it more honestly than others)

Arthur Schopenauer, the 19th Century German philosopher is famous for being the most pessimistic thinker in history.

His aphoristic work is full of amazing insights on life that have made a big difference on how I see the world.

Above all, his sees humans as driven by a continual dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction.

This he explains in his seminal work 'The World as Will and Representation'. 

For Schopenhauer, human desire is futile, illogical, directionless, and, by extension, so was all human action in the world.

He talked about life as being like a mosaic:

"The scenes of our life resemble pictures in rough mosaic; they are ineffective from close up, and have to be viewed from a distance if they are to seem beautiful. That is why to attain something desired is to discover how vain it is; and why, though we live all our lives in expectation of better things , we often at the same time, long regretfully for what is past."

He goes on...

"The present, on the other hand, is regarded as something quite temporary and serving only as the road to our goal. That is why most men discover when they look back on their life that they have the whole time been living ad interim, and are surprised to see that which they let go by so unregarded and unenjoyed was precisely their life, was precisely that in expectation of which they lived."

It good stuff, isn't it? It's imbibed with eastern ideas, particularly Buddhist ideas of which the man was one of Europe's leading experts at the time. 

So how does this tie into investing?

Well, as I read many people's blogs about FIRE and the like Schopenhauer's ideas about life come flooding into my brain.

Many people seems to be forgoing enjoying themselves in the present in favor of an imagined future.

Thus, it seems people are forever 'becoming' something else. If this is the case. what are they doing now?

Isn't 'being' more important than 'becoming'?

This is why I refuse to micro-manage my portfolio for some future that might never come. Having said that, I, too, am guilty of 'becoming' as I have a portfolio of dividend paying and growth stocks, which will, hopefully, make my life easier in an imagined future.

However, what makes my approach different is that I spend as little time as possible fretting over the details.

I would much rather spend the NOW immersed in great literature or non-fiction rather than doing technical analysis or whatever.

Now, I don't want anyone out there to think I'm saying doing these things is a waste of time, I'm not. 

It's just not for me, and the purpose of a blog should be to excavate your own feelings about the world and your place within it.

I just don't want to get to the end of my life and look back and think I could have used my time more effectively when I had the chance.

For me, FIRE, and all the pressure and pain that goes with it can be minimized by a more passive long term dividend paying strategy. 

Who knows when we reach retirement we might be bored and crave the world of work. 

Who knows? Life is strange.

As Schopenhauer said:

"As things are, we take no pleasure in existence except when striving after something - in which case distance and difficulties make our goal look like it would satisfy us (an illusion when we reach it)"

He goes on to say:

"...pleasure itself consists in a continual striving and ceases as soon as its goal is reached. Whenever er are not involved in one or other of these things but directed back to existence itself we are overtaken by its worthlessness and vanity and this is the sensation called boredom."

It's scary to think that we could sacrifice so much now and then when we reach financial freedom feel restless and disinterested. 

So, what's the way out then? This is the big question.

According to Schopenhauer happiness is pretty much impossible, and the future... forget about it. It's a figment of our imagination, a dreamlike state.

As a way out, Schopenhauer recommends withdrawing from society and becoming something like a meditating hermit living in a cave high on a mountain top.

If this sounds too extreme for you, you're not alone. 

What I propose so we can all live a less anxiety driven life is this:

How about people become more aware of being happy in the here and now, eat well, exercise, meditate, listen to good music, talk to good people, write, listen, drink, invest for long term and be thankful for how wonderful life really is.

Let's stop micro-managing and micro-trading and give ourselves a chance to breathe in the sweetness of the moment. 

Retirement will come whether we fret about or not. Let's be prepared, but not kill ourselves trying.

One last word from Schopenhauer on life:

"Yet what a difference there is between our beginning and end! We begin in the madness of carnal desire and the transport of voluptuousness, we end in the dissolution of all our parts and the musty stench of corpses."

Food for thought people. Enjoy life while you have it.

How does that sound?


  1. I agree “ …be happy in the here and now, eat well, exercise, meditate, listen to good music, talk to good people, write, listen, drink, invest for long term and be thankful for how wonderful (?) life really is.” Do your best.
    But for me Schopenhauer is a genius par excellence between people. But, do not forget, if you live long enough, you will see that every turns into defeat!

    Aleksandar Toman

  2. Thanks for the comment, Aleksandar. I think life is wonderful if you approach it with the right mindset.

    What do you mean 'every turns into defeat'?


  3. I have forgotten the word victory. I did mean … if you live long enough, you will see that every victory turns into defeat! (In fact, this is a quote from Simone de Beauvoir.)
    I think if you consider the whole life, it could be, could be (more or less) good, bat not wonderful.
    And about the right mindset (?), think, is that maybe partly or completely the logic of ostrich?
    Anyway, I do agree. We have to enjoy life while we have it, because soon we're not going to be anywhere and we're not going to be anything.

    Aleksandar Toman

  4. Correct sir! Live life to the max as it's dam short.


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