Charlie Munger on health, wealth, and happiness

Charles Munger (1924-2023)

The world lost an icon this week, as Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway sadly passed at the age of 99.

As recently as last month he revealed a few unexpected insights with Becky Quick of CNBC…

On health

Munger quickly realised at a young age that smoking is a destroyer of health, and was close to enough alcoholics to know to steer clear of the perils of heavy drinking.

He wasn’t a health freak or averse to enjoying Diet Coke or peanut brittle, however, figuring that they might trim a month from the end of his life (which wouldn’t be his best month in any case).

“But, avoid crazy at all costs” he advised.

On wealth

Much has been written about the best and worst investments of Munger and Berkshire, but he revealed some fresh insights of late.

If he’d worked a bit harder and a bit smarter at times, then he could’ve been worth multiple trillions of dollars, instead of billions…and Munger said he did still sit around and think about it, so even he wasn’t immune to remorse.

If he had his time again, he said, he’d save more, start sooner, invest, and compound his wealth for longer (quite a statement for someone who successfully compounded the value of his investments to the age of 99!).

Also, perhaps surprisingly to many, Munger noted that if there were no external shareholders in the partnership he and Buffett would have used leverage safely when great opportunities presented themselves to become much wealthier, and sooner.

Long-term investing can in many ways be easier than running a business – look at all the once-successful businesses which have crumbled, from Eastman Kodak to US steel and Sears Roebuck, he said.

Munger had already passed on more than half of his wealth to descendants.

And on happiness

Finally, happiness is expectations exceeded, so try to maintain modest expectations, said Charlie.

Everyone will experience struggles in their life, so aim to retain a bright sense of humour, and surround yourself with valued friends and family.

Many friends of Munger and Buffett traded up to huge homes with the capacity to entertain hundreds of people, but rarely did it make them any happier than maintaining a more modest or basic home would’ve done.

Munger famously once cautioned that:

Comparison is the thief of joy, so stick to your own processes and avoid the compulsion or need to get rich quick.

Thanks, Charlie, for all the wit, wisdom, and laughs.

Bon voyage.