Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

Philosophers have spent centuries discussing the idea that there are an infinite number of ways your life could play out, and you just happen to be living in this specific version. It’s a wild thing to contemplate, and it leads to the question: What would be true in every imaginable version of your life, not just this one? Those universal truths are obviously the most important things to focus on, because they don’t rely on chance, luck, or accident. Entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant put it this way: “In 1,000 parallel universes, you want to be wealthy in 999 of them. You don’t want to be wealthy in the fifty of them where you got lucky, so we want to factor luck out of it. . . . I want to live in a way that if my life played out 1,000 times, Naval is successful 999 times.”

Risk is dangerous when you think it requires a specific forecast before you start preparing for it. It’s better to have expectations that risk will arrive, though you don’t know when or where, than to rely exclusively on forecasts—almost all of which are either nonsense or about things that are well-known. Expectations and forecasts are two different things, and in a world where risk is what you don’t see, the former is more valuable than the latter.

Realize that if you’re only preparing for the risks you can envision, you’ll be unprepared for the risks you can’t see every single time. So, in personal finance, the right amount of savings is when it feels like it’s a little too much. It should feel excessive; it should make you wince a little. The same goes for how much debt you think you should handle—whatever you think it is, the reality is probably a little less. Your preparation shouldn’t make sense in a world where the biggest historical events all would have sounded absurd before they happened. Most of the time, when someone’s caught unprepared, it’s not because they didn’t plan. Sometimes it’s the smartest planners in the world, working tirelessly, mapping every scenario they can imagine, who end up failing. They planned for everything that made sense before getting hit by something they’d never imagined.

Your happiness depends on your expectations more than anything else. So in a world that tends to get better for most people most of the time, an important life skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving. It’s also one of the hardest. A common storyline of history goes like this: Things get better, wealth increases, technology brings new efficiencies, and medicine saves lives. The quality of life goes up. But people’s expectations then rise by just as much, if not more, because those improvements also benefit other people around you, whose circumstances you anchor to. Happiness is little changed despite the world improving.

There is no such thing as objective wealth—everything is relative, and mostly relative to those around you. It’s the path of least resistance to determining what life owes you and what you should expect. Everyone does it. Subconsciously or not, everyone looks around and says, “What do other people like me have? What do they do? Because that’s what I should have and do as well.” And this, I think, is a window into understanding why we yearn for the 1950s, despite today being better by almost any measure.

World War II left its mark on America economically and socially. Between 1942 and 1945, virtually all wages were set by the National War Labor Board, which favored flatter pay—a smaller gap between low-income and high-income workers—than would otherwise exist. Part of that philosophy stuck around even after wage controls were lifted. The variance of income between classes that existed before the war shrank dramatically. A few years after the war, historian Frederick Lewis Allen noted that the biggest economic gains in percentage terms had gone to the lowest-earning members of society, considerably closing the gap between rich and poor. If you look at the 1950s and ask, “What was different that made it feel so great?” this is at least part of your answer. The gap between you and most of the people around you wasn’t that large. It created an era when it was easy to keep your expectations in check because few people in your social circle lived dramatically better than you did. Many (but not all) Americans could look around and find that not only were they living comfortable lives, they were living lives that were just about as comfortable as those around them whom they compared themselves to. It’s the one thing that distinguishes the 1950s from other eras. So the comparatively lower wages than those of today felt great because everyone else earned a lower wage too. The smaller homes felt nice because everyone else lived in smaller homes too. The lack of health care was acceptable because your neighbors were in the same circumstances. Hand-me-downs were acceptable clothes because everyone else wore them. Camping was an adequate vacation because that’s what everyone else did. It was the one modern era when there wasn’t much social pressure to increase your expectations beyond your income. Economic growth accrued straight to happiness. People weren’t just better off; they felt better off.

Rockefeller never yearned for Advil because he didn’t know it existed. But social media today adds a new element, in which everyone in the world can see the lifestyles—often inflated, faked, and airbrushed—of other people. You compare yourself to your peers through a curated highlight reel of their lives, where positives are embellished and negatives are hidden from view. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says people don’t really communicate on social media so much as they perform for one another. You see the cars other people drive, the homes they live in, the expensive schools they go to. The ability to say, I want that, why don’t I have that? Why does he get it but I don’t? is so much greater now than it was just a few generations ago. Today’s economy is good at generating three things: wealth, the ability to show off wealth, and great envy for other people’s wealth. It’s become so much easier in recent decades to look around and say, “I may have more than I used to. But relative to that person over there, I don’t feel like I’m doing that great.” Part of that envy is useful, because saying “I want what they have” is such a powerful motivator of progress. Yet the point stands: We might have higher incomes, more wealth, and bigger homes—but it’s all so quickly smothered by inflated expectations. This isn’t to say the 1950s were better, or fairer, or even that we should strive to rebuild the old system—that’s a different topic. But nostalgia for the 1950s is one of the best examples of what happens when expectations grow faster than circumstances. In many ways it’s always been like that and always will be. Being driven by what other people have and you don’t is an unavoidable trait in most people. It also highlights just how important managing expectations can be if you want to live a happy life.

The best story wins. Not the best idea, or the right idea, or the most rational idea. Just whoever tells a story that catches people’s attention and gets them to nod their heads is the one who tends to be rewarded. Great ideas explained poorly can go nowhere, while old or wrong ideas told compellingly can ignite a revolution. Morgan Freeman can narrate a grocery list and bring people to tears, while an inarticulate scientist might cure a disease and go unnoticed. There is too much information in the world for everyone to calmly sift through the data, looking for the most rational, most correct answer. People are busy and emotional, and a good story is always more powerful and persuasive than ice-cold statistics. If you have the right answer, you may or may not get ahead. If you have the wrong answer but you’re a good storyteller, you’ll probably get ahead (for a while). If you have the right answer and you’re a good storyteller, you’ll almost certainly get ahead. That’s always been true, always will be true, and it shows up in so many areas of history.

Mark Twain was perhaps the best storyteller of modern times. When editing his writing, he would read aloud to his wife and kids. When a passage caused them to look bored, he would cut it. When their eyes widened, when they sat forward or furrowed their brow, he knew he was onto something, and he doubled down. Even within a good story, a powerful phrase or sentence can do most of the work. There is a saying that people don’t remember books; they remember sentences.

Burns says that when writing a documentary script he will literally extend a sentence so that it lines up with a certain beat in the background music; he will cut a sentence to do the same. “Music is God,” he says. “It’s not just the icing on the cake. It’s the fudge, baked right in there.” Now imagine you’re a world-class historian who has spent decades uncovering new and groundbreaking information about an important topic. How much time do you spend thinking about whether a specific sentence of what you’ve discovered will match the beat of a song? Probably none. Ken Burns does. And that is why he’s a household name.

Perhaps no one has mastered the art of storytelling better than comedians. They are the best thought leaders because they understand how the world works, but they want to make you laugh rather than make themselves feel smart. They take insights from psychology, sociology, politics, and every other dry field and squeeze out amazing stories. That’s why they can sell out arenas while an academic researcher who discovers a great insight about social behavior can go unnoticed. Mark Twain said, “Humor is a way to show you’re smart without bragging.”

The most persuasive stories are about what you want to believe is true, or are an extension of what you’ve experienced firsthand.

A big thing to know about how people think is that progress requires optimism and pessimism to coexist. They seem like conflicting mindsets, so it’s more common for people to prefer one or the other. But knowing how to balance the two has always been, and always will be, one of life’s most important skills. The best financial plan is to save like a pessimist and invest like an optimist. That idea—the belief that things will get better mixed with the reality that the path between now and then will be a continuous chain of setback, disappointment, surprise, and shock—shows up all over history, in all areas of life.

More than I want big returns, I want to be financially unbreakable. And if I’m unbreakable I actually think I’ll get the biggest returns, because I’ll be able to stick around long enough for compounding to work wonders.