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The Great Escape

Courtesy Tribeca Films

Courtesy Tribeca Films

Pleased to see Wes Anderson’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel just received nine Academy Awards nominations. I loved the film, in part, because I love hotels. The grander the better. And better still, staying in one in glorious solitude.

You see it’s very noisy out there. Then it gets noisy inside my head. One thing about top hotels: they’re very quiet. They allow the busy body and mind to exhale.

It’s been estimated that each day we’re exposed to the equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of information. This has increased five-fold since 1986. Every sixty minutes, there are 5,999 new hours of video posted. (Yes those kittens and puppies are adorable but…) We’ve become so unaccustomed to being alone with our thoughts that it’s a novelty—and for many, an unwelcome one.

Perhaps by temperament writers seem to have a higher tolerance and need for solitude than other folk. When I recently read Andrew O’Hagan’s ode to his 48-hour staycation at Claridges in London in T Magazine, and then followed it up with Ann Patchett’s encomiums to the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, I felt a yearning that some women feel about babies: “I want one.”

Still, those who seek refuge from the jibber-jabber are in the minority. A recent study in the journal Science, shows that most of us make a great effort to avoid introspection. After reviewing 11 different experiments involving more than 700 people, the researchers concluded that the average person finds it depressing and unpleasant to be alone with their thoughts for more than 6 minutes. In one experiment, 64-percent of men, (compared to 15-percent of women), self-administered electric shocks to distract themselves. The comedian Louis C.K. does a great riff about driving and texting, saying that we would rather risk lives than be alone with our thoughts for a few minutes.

All of this busy work has serious implications, not only on the quality of our lives and our relationships—I can’t tell you the number of times I end up speaking to the top of someone’s head because their eyes are glazed on their mobile phones—but also on our decision-making abilities.

Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman wrote about two modes of thinking in his bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow. Type-1 is fast, instinctive and emotional and Type-2 is slow, deliberate and logical. The more we use our minds, the more fatigued our brains become and the more liable we are to use Type-1 shortcuts to making decisions, often with poor outcomes.

Sifting through the equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of information would tire out even the most robust brain, and that’s not counting the kitten videos,  Facebook updates and all the other inputs that roll up on our doorsteps every minute. And don’t even get me started on the financial press. Keeping up with business and investment news can be a 24/7 job.

Hence, the hotel retreat. It’s the perfect way to unburden yourself. One tiny satchel takes care of it. The hotel supplies the rest, and the rest.  You get to experience lightness of being, instead of relentless doing.

A fluffy robe, chilled Champagne, and an empty diary page. Let the introspection begin.


Welcome to Luck & Gravity

Photo Courtesy of Eko

Photo Courtesy of Eko

Welcome to my Luck&Gravity Blog. This blog is about the Magic of Money—everything from how to attract it (possibly), to how to invest it wisely (definitely), and how to spend it (joyously).

My mother—a devout optimist—finds ‘lucky’ signs everywhere. As a child, I remember shopping with her in the grocery store. Picking up a bunch of bananas, if there was one that was less curved than the others, she would point it out and say, “Now that’s a lucky banana. Something good is going to happen today.” Cloud shapes, birds’ nests, numbers, colours, found coins, and various other happy omens populate her world. According to my mother, luck is everywhere. You just have to pay attention.

As I grew up, enchanted as I was with her brand of magical thinking, life experiences began to tilt the other side of the see-saw, pulling down some of that early unbridled optimism.

Because, beguiling as it is, bona fortuna is only half the story. Fortune comes and goes. Things go up and they go down. But gravity, gravity is always there.

There’s no better place to see this dynamic play out than in the stock markets. Here we find, on a daily basis, the bipolar dance between luck and gravity. Periods of expansion and good fortune, where seemingly no price is too high to pay for stock market darlings, turn on a dime into sombre periods of low-to-no-growth when everyone goes back-to-basics.

As a keen observer and participant in the markets for the past 20 years, I’ve come to see them as one of my life’s great teachers. Though they don’t care a fig about me, the markets have taught me to think critically, to read widely, to find interconnections, to trust myself, to take the long view, to take the short view, to be patient, to be disciplined, to take risks, to hedge risks, to not take everything personally, and much more.

As the late actor/comedian Jackie Gleason said:

If you have it and you know you have it, then you have it.
If you have it but you don’t know you have it, you don’t have it.
If you don’t have it but you think you have it, then you have it.

As the world’s best stock investor Warren Buffett said:

Trees do not grow to the sky.

In other words, you’ve got to believe you have it (even if you don’t) and you’ve got to get real (learn the rules of investing). That’s the sweet spot where luck and gravity, (and magic and money), intercept each other. And, when they do, how sweet it is.