Two of the essential components of psychological well-being are joy and contentment. It is important to have positive feelings about what we're doing, but it's also important to enjoy a degree of contentment with our lives. Together, joy and contentment yield an ongoing sense of happiness.
As the Aristotle quote at the beginning of this chapter indicates, happiness lies at the center of life. When the Greek philosophers referred to happiness, they did not simply mean a positive, sunny mood. Instead, happiness was intimately tied to fulfillment: the sense of actualizing one's potentials and being the person you are capable of becoming. A happy person in this sense can go through periods of sadness and loss, anxiety and frustration. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a goal-directed life that does not encounter such obstacles. What contributes to the happiness, however, is the deep sense of being on the right path in life: the sense that you are doing what you're meant to be doing.
In that context, the opposite of Aristotle's happiness is not sadness, but rather a certain kind of emotional dis-ease: a vague but pervasive existential guilt that you're letting life's opportunities slip by; that you're settlingfor less than you rightfully should. Much is written about the negative emotional experiences of anger, anxiety, and depression, but little about this kind of gnawing guilt. It is not so dramatic as a panic reaction or an anger outburst, but it can be equally damaging in its haunting corrosive-ness. Day after day, week after week, month after month, to feel like you're selling yourself short in your career, your romantic relationships, and your personal development: it's difficult to imagine a durable confidence and self-esteem built on such a foundation.
Conversely, there is a special glow of satisfaction when you're immersed in a truly fulfilling activity. As a psychologist, those moments when everything comes together and I'm able to make a meaningful difference in someone's life—those are affirmations that carry me through many sessions of slow, gradual, difficult work. Similarly, to prepare a challenging trade idea, execute it with a plan, and then see it make money yields a kind of happiness that cannot be achieved by the same profits from a dumb luck trade. Pride, not as in overweening arrogance, but as an inner sense of conviction about the rightness of one's choices, is an important manifestation of Aristotle's happiness.
Sadly, participation in the markets does not bring this fulfillment to many traders. Yes, they feel pleasure when they make money and pain when they lose it. But they lack the deep, inner sense of satisfaction and joy possible only to those who are pursuing a calling. The reason for this is that they are hoping that profits will bring happiness, when in fact the relationship works in exactly the reverse order. We profit from our life's endeavors when we pursue our happiness. Just as sexual conquests cannot provide the happiness of a fulfilling emotional relationship and winning a lottery cannot yield the depth of experience possible to one who builds a business, profits on trades do not provide the primary emotional fuel for a trading career. They are the happy results, not the causes of happiness.
Unfortunately, many traders pursue markets in ways that cannot lead to fulfillment. They pursue profits like a pick-up artist goes after sex. Sometimes they score, sometimes they don't. There is nothing cumulative in their efforts, however: they no more build a career than the barfly builds meaningful relationships. Many times, traders recognize that gnawing existential guilt: they realize that hours upon hours in front of a screen are contributing little or no economic value, but also yielding no ongoing sense of meaning and satisfaction. It's not that they're necessarily anxious, depressed, or frustrated. They are just empty.
We can recognize the happy trader because he is immersed in the process of trading and finds fulfillment from this process even when markets are not open. I track the traffic to the TraderFeed blog daily and have long noted that the visitor count drops precipitously when markets close on a Friday and through the weekend. After all, what fun are markets if they're not open and active? This is the mindset of the trading barfly. The happy trader finds joy in researching and understanding markets, in preparing for the next day and week, in reviewing trading results and tweaking performance, and in generating new ideas and methods. The distinction between week and weekend is as immaterial for such a trader as it would be for a dedicated artist or laboratory scientist. Indeed, it's not uncommon for these traders to increase their reading during evenings and weekends: they are immersed in the entire process of trading, not just the process of making money from trades.
You will know you're pursuing your happiness when you are so involved in what you're doing that you don't want it to be limited to business hours. When you're in love with the right person, that love pervades all your activities, not just those in the nightclub or bedroom. When you find deep fulfillment in markets, you live and breathe markets, not just when they can pay you out. A useful self-assessment exercise to carry out during the coming week is to log your hours spent on trading outside of formal market hours and how you feel during those times. Do you get bursts of joy when you find new patterns and ideas? Do you generate a deep sense of mastery and pride when you work on yourself and improve your craft? Do your ongoing efforts at figuring out markets and enhancing your performance bring a sense of pride and satisfaction?
If you're not spending as much time on trading outside formal market hours as during them, trading is probably not your calling. Can you imagine a priest who spent time on his religion only from nine to five? An artist who only painted when art shows were active? When trading is truly a part of you, contributing to your happiness, you're most likely to be immersed in the activities that build skills and yield pattern recognition. So much of trading success is finding the niche that sustains such immersion. Trading can be a great job and a potentially lucrative career, but only if it's also a calling.
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