Off-Key Reflections on a Market Rally

As the stock market hits fresh highs, the likes of which we haven’t seen since they seemed like lows in 2008, I’ve been reflecting on the notion of expectations, specifically how irrational ones engender ongoing unhappiness.

Even Buddha knows there is enlightenment in mad scrilla.

When the markets were tanking two years ago, I couldn’t imagine I would ever recover. There were days when you might have thought my dog had been shot, but really it was just the 1,000-point plunge in the Dow making me miserable. I don’t even have a dog.

In reality, I didn’t “lose” that much money, and I have it all back and then some now. I do things mostly right when it comes to investing. That’s not to say I always pick winners, but I mitigate risk through diversification, option strategies, and a general laziness that keeps me in a big chunk of cash at all times.

My professional life also centers on financial markets, thus my emotional health is all too entwined with the capricious ebbs and flows of the tape. I chuckled to myself today when I thought about my vacation to the Dominican Republic in the fall of 2008, how I lay in bed every rainy night next to the love of my life mentally summing the ever-moving balances of my various investment accounts. I wanted desperately to run to the local Internet bodega to buy everything at what proved to be all-time lows for many of my favorite companies’ stocks. My fear of identity theft and economic uncertainty outweighed my educated instinct, and I missed an opportunity to bag a ton of loot.

As my boy Kurt Vonnegut would say: So it goes.

While I like to demonize unions and grumble about tax rates, I also like to tread the eightfold path (that’s a haughty reference to Buddhism, people). Enlightenment centers on our ability to be happy in the moment, to wriggle out of the shackles of daily life and its attendant toils and have faith that all is right and as it should be, always, no matter what. Whatever emotional pain we feel falls off us like so much water on a lucky duck’s back.

Now that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re hemorrhaging money. Now that we’re all relatively flush again (uh, don’t say that to the quarter of the country that is still unemployed), are we happy?

Of course not.

We don’t have homes we should have, loving partners we should have, jobs we should have, toys we should have. We’re foiled by our own grand American expectations, doomed to forever push the rock up the hill with blind Sisyphean zeal.

At times like these it’s important to remember not to end columns like Glenn Beck would.

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