Synthesizing happiness

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

On Wednesday, November 9, approximately half of Americans will wake up disappointed. Regardless of which candidate prevails on Election Day, roughly fifty percent of the people that she or he will eventually lead will have voted against them. Those whose preferences were not realized will likely begin a new offensive; painting a dystopian picture of the world to come with President X at the helm. Similar to what John Coyne mentioned on Monday. Markets will crash. Businesses will fail. Wars will rage. The historical precedent is that all of this and more will be the new rallying cry of the vanquished party and it’s easy to imagine that it will only be exacerbated by the ugliness and division that have characterized this contest.

But there is another, more powerful precedent that will have a far greater impact on financial markets than who wins or loses: it is our tendency toward resiliency that exceeds our own expectations.

Imagine I asked you to consider your ability to function in the face of the unthinkable – the passing of a child or partner, a debilitating illness, the loss of a job. Odds are, you would describe yourself as helpless, heartbroken and unable to go on. And while all of the scenarios I’ve just put forth are truly tragic, research suggests that our ability to cope with disappointment and loss are greater than we realize until we are thrust into a moment of trial.

To demonstrate this, I’d like for you to consider two groups that seemingly have little in common – paraplegics and lottery winners. If I asked you whether you would be happier one year out from winning the lottery as Option A and becoming disabled as Option B, you would likely suggest that I was in need of a psychologist rather than being trained as a psychologist. Obviously, we would all hypothesize that one year after the life changing event, lottery winners would be much happier and paraplegics would be much sadder, right? But this is simply not the case.

One year after their respective events, it makes little difference whether you are riding in a Bentley or a wheelchair – happiness levels remain relatively static. So, why is this? We tend to overpredict the impact of external events on our happiness. One year later, paraplegics have found out their accidents were not as catastrophic as they may have feared and have coped accordingly. Similarly, lottery winners have found out that having money brings with it a variety of complications. No amount of spending can take away some of the tough things life throws at each and every one of us. As the saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” In much the same way, we tend to project forward to a hypothesized happier time, when we have more money in the bank or are making a bigger salary. The fact of the matter is, when that day arrives, we are unlikely to recognize it and will simply project forward once again, hoping in vain that something outside of ourselves will come and make it all better. Our dreams and our nightmares are never quite as likely as we might assume in the moment and our ability to cope with difficulty as it arrives is far greater than we realize before being tested.

I’m not suggesting that the coming years will be easy, far from it. Humanity’s default setting seems to include plenty of divisiveness and struggle right alongside the moments of altruism. I’m simply suggesting that whatever comes, we, and the institutions that support us, are more capable of coping than we may now realize. Always pithy in his perspective, Warren Buffett said, “In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression, a dozen or so recessions and financial panics, oil shocks, a flu epidemic, and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.”

The future may be in doubt but our resolve is not. It has never paid to bet against America and I wouldn’t start now, no matter who is at the helm.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

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