A Trader’s Ode to Joy By, D.R. Barton , Jr.

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“When you wish someone joy, you wish them peace, love, prosperity, and happiness…
all good things.” —Maya Angelou, American poet

Earlier this week I walked into my publisher’s office (that I visit at least once a month). There were many familiar faces – most hunkered down, doing work. Then, a delightful, smiling face popped up from behind some monitors and the young editor said to me, “I have something for you!”.

She hurried over to my borrowed desk and held out a dreidel. For those who may not know, the dreidel is one of the best-known customs associated with the Jewish Hanukkah celebration (more on the origins of Hanukkah below).

And to be honest, my gifted dreidel is so much prettier than the stock photos I found online, that I took a picture of it:

I got such a wonderful feeling when I was given this gift. It was thoughtful (the young lady who gave me the gift and I had a discussion about Christian and Jewish traditions just a few weeks prior). It was given with a sense of anticipation – the editor did not know if I would like it or not. And it was a complete surprise.

All of those aspects came together to provide, for both of us, true feelings of joy.

Joy is one of the central emotions of this holiday season. Ask almost any child you meet what they’re getting for Christmas or Hanukkah, and you’ll see their state change from whatever it was—to one of joy as they describe their wish list.

Even in the face of over-commercialization of the gift-giving nature surrounding these holidays, joy abounds. There is the delight in thinking about, researching and finding the perfect gift for someone you know or love. We enjoy the warm feeling of seeing family and friends that we somehow don’t get to see often enough during the rest of the year. And there is the undeniable joy of holding a present in our hands – a gift given to us that is full of possibility and hope.

Even the spiritual backdrop of the season is rife with feelings of joy. The story of Hanukkah is one that ends in joy: The Seleucid king Antiochus IV took Jerusalem by force, outlawed the practice of Judaism and defiled the Jewish temple. A successful revolt followed, and the Israelites reclaimed their temple. In the re-dedication of that holy place, we received the now-famous story about one day’s worth of sacred oil that miraculously burned for eight days when there was no other oil available.

A Jewish Historian records the words of the victorious leader of the revolt, Judas Maccabeus, “Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days.”

The joy was not about the miracle of the oil, but about the revival of religious customs and the re-dedication of the temple. Such a celebration of fine food and rejoicing, and the glad hearts that were exhibited, point to the joy surrounding the first celebration of this time-honored festival.

A century and a half later, a baby born to a working-class family and laid in a manger, elicited great exclamations of joy. The announcement of the baby’s birth was not made to kings and queens, but to lowly shepherds. As Luke wrote in his gospel account, an angel appeared to the sheepherders amid the “glory of the Lord” and said, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

In a season filled with such a foundation of joy, let’s explore how being in a state a joy can benefit us as traders and investors and how we can live in that state more often.

The Benefits of Joy

My hunch was that there would be a bunch of research on the benefits of being in a joyful state. I was not disappointed. But first I needed to understand the language that psychologists use to describe joy – in an oversimplification, they use the term well-being that is a combination of two key components: joy and contentment. A search on the combined terms well-being and cognitive function returns millions of hits and tons of research.

The first study I read was research done on 11,234 participants where well-being was measured using a standardized test and cognitive function was tested as well. In short, those who placed in the top quintile of well-being outscored those in the lowest quintile on a battery of cognitive tests by a statistically significant margin. In short (and in a minor oversimplification) a joyful state led to higher cognitive function.

Looking over the research, there is tangible evidence that a joyful state provides:

  • Improved cognitive function (more efficient and effective thinking)
  • Greater physical energy
  • Optimistic expectations of performance

The interesting things is that these are all useful benefits for traders and investors! Who doesn’t want to think more clearly or have more energy?

What we are experiencing is a combination of all of these outside influences: regulatory, monetary and technology changes have combined to reduce cycle times and expand volatility. Today we’ll concentrate on the volatility issues and leave the cycle time reduction for future discussion.

Attaining a Joyful State

Van has long advocated the usefulness of controlling your mental state. And there are many useful states to use. But research (and common sense!) suggests that attaining a state of joy can be very useful for trading and investing. Whether you’re analyzing what’s on the monitors as a day trader or digging into research for longer-term investments, doing so in a joyful state will add efficiency and a sense of fun!

Van suggests assessing your emotional state at the beginning of every day. Drilling down into that thought, I’d suggest keeping track of how joyful you are at the start of every trading or research session. Use a number scale of 1 – 10. The very act of assessing yourself will lead to positive improvements.

The second concept to use is “anchoring”. To do this, recall a joyful memory. A trade that went well or a person that brings you joy are good places to start. The use of positive anchors is a time tested method for achieving a desired state.

I’ve saved the best for last. If you get to a place where you just plain can’t get into a joyful state, drop what you’re doing and help someone. The simplest act of kindness toward another person has amazing effects on our sense of well-being. There are neighbors who could use a helping hand. There are ministries and volunteer organizations right where you live who would love to have another person help lighten the load. Giving of yourself is the simplest path to living in a state of joy.

In fact, recent research shows that you can raise your baseline level of happiness just by conscientiously and voluntarily helping other people. The same study found that those compelled to help by a work requirement or a family member did not raise their “happiness set-point”. This is such great news (that we can raise our baseline level of happiness) that I’ll write a whole article about it in the future.

Too many traders and investors enter the markets “fighting against” – trends, against institutions or market makers, even against themselves. Try consciously approaching the markets in a state of joy – I think you’ll find the experience (and the results) much more appealing.

Whether you light the menorah, decorate a Christmas tree or enjoy other spiritual traditions, may you experience all the joy, hope, and love that this season has to offer!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback or what brings you joy – just send an email to drbarton “at” vantharp.com. Until next time…

Great trading and God bless you,

D.R.

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