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As of 02/20/2019
  Industrials: 25,954 +63.12 +0.2%
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Written by and copyright © 2005-2019 by Thomas N. Bulkowski. All rights reserved. Disclaimer: You alone are responsible for your investment decisions. See Privacy/Disclaimer for more information. Some pattern names are the registered trademarks of their respective owners.

Can you be happy and successful as a trader? Let's find out.


Worry and Anxiety

Picture of my dog, resting.

Before we can learn how to be happy, we must figure out what is making us unhappy.

First up is worry and anxiety. Basket Case Bob climbed his way up the ladder of success by learning how to trade, developing a trading plan, and following that plan.

Now that he is a successful trader, worry accompanies each trade. How did that happen? In many cases it begins with a loss. Losses are part of the business of trading, of course, but he blamed himself for each loss. Even though he followed his trading system religiously and worked with his trading plan, he continued to blame himself as if each loss was a mistake he made instead of the market taking a random turn. That blame caused anxiety which changed him from a happy trader to one full of worry.



Here is a list of rules that Bob used to fix himself.

  • Quiet space. Find a quiet space near the office where you can sit and contemplate, undisturbed by anyone.
  • X minutes daily for two weeks. Set aside a certain amount of time each day for two weeks.
  • Feel miserable. During the contemplation time, your task is to do nothing except feel miserable. Do whatever it takes to feel miserable.

Bob chose to begin his contemplation by spending two hours each day feeling miserable for the first few days. That may sound like a lot, but it pales in comparison to the 16 hours of awake time he spent worrying each day.

Soon after beginning the exercise, he found a pattern to his misery: The same worries and anxieties occurred repeatedly. He also found that he enjoyed worrying. Why? Blame his mother.

It's Mom's Fault

Basked Case Mom used to worry so much and was such an expert at it that she taught classes on how to worry. When she died, Bob filled her shoes and continued the family heritage. In other words, he started to worry, too. When the losses began adding up, so did the worry and anxiety.

After finishing the two weeks of contemplation, Bob reported that he would begin laughing each time he looked at the park bench where he chose to feel miserable. He began conversing with his mother instead of keeping her memory alive by worrying. "I'm happy again," he says. He continues to worry, but it lasts just minutes not hours.

This exercise worked for Bob because he would start laughing each time he started worrying, interrupting the sequence of negative thoughts.

Some successful traders believe that their constant worrying helps prevent losses from growing. And that belief sets up a habit that creates unhappiness.


The Excitement Junkie

Basked Case Bob started trading not for the money nor for the challenge, but for the excitement, the adrenaline rush it provided. This excitement forced him to overtrade, to keep that excitement coming, and that bred mistakes. Those mistakes were costly, leading to unhappiness. When he became unhappy, his anxiety and stress levels increased along with other emotional states, turning him into a larger basket case.

Anxiety strikes most traders, but second place belongs to unhappiness brought on by an addiction to excitement.

What Gives You Pleasure?

Moving from the excitement of trading to more subtle pleasure is a worthwhile objective. For example, create happiness by meeting a profit goal, experience the perfect trade, have the freedom to do what you want when you want, run a successful business, and so on. Find out what gives you pleasure besides excitement, and then work on achieving that each day. If you move away from the adrenaline rush to something else, you stand a better chance of becoming happy.


Conditional Unhappiness

"I will be happy if I make $50,000 this year," Basket Case Bob says. When he reaches that goal in May, what happens? He sets a new goal. "I will be happy if I make $100,000 this year."

Do you see what is happening? Each time he reaches his goal, he moves it. It's good to have goals, but they should not be tied to happiness. Why? Because as soon as he reaches the goal and has permission to be happy, he sets a new goal, robbing himself of the happiness he sought in the first place. Happiness becomes a moving target, and he remains unhappy because he spends most of his time trying to reach new goals.



Picture of a flower.

Happiness is a backlit photograph (from my back yard).

The solution to this cause of unhappiness is to sever the link between setting goals and happiness. The bad linking of happiness to goals can come from yourself ("As soon as I have enough money to buy a larger yacht...") or from the family ("When I can afford a new house/jewelry for the family/spouse, then I will be happy").

The key to happiness is to discover what makes you happy. Does meeting a set of conditions make you happy or is it something deeper than that? Does making your first million really give you happiness or does happiness come from the knowledge that you can buy almost anything you want, whenever you want? Does happiness come not from reaching a set goal, but to the meaning and fulfillment that reaching the goal symbolizes? Does true happiness stem from making $5,000 on a trade or going to the animal shelter and using some of those profits to save a dying dog?

If happiness comes not from crossing the goal but from memories, then you can experience happiness any time you want. All you have to do is remember a time or a situation in which you felt happy. You can almost bottle it and take a drink from the bottle when you need to, such as when you feel anxious, stressed, or just unhappy.

I remember the thrill I received when seeing my name published for the first time in Stocks & Commodities magazine. I wrote an article in 1993 discussing a trend channel trade I made. Not only did I win in the trade, but I made a few dollars from the magazine, and the ego boost was a nice welcome, too. You probably have similar tales of happiness caused not by reaching goals, but by the emotional rewards, the pat on the back, the accolades fellow traders sing, the anticipation of your first car arriving in your driveway, powered by not gasoline but trading profits.

Savor those situations and file them in your memory for the future. When you are unhappy, open your mental filing cabinet and pull out some of them. You can become a happy trader, one free from worry, stress, and anxiety. Hopefully, you won't have to die first to get there.

-- Thomas Bulkowski


See Also

Written by and copyright © 2005-2019 by Thomas N. Bulkowski. All rights reserved. Disclaimer: You alone are responsible for your investment decisions. See Privacy/Disclaimer for more information. Some pattern names are the registered trademarks of their respective owners. Due to the shortage of devoted followers, the production of great leaders has been discontinued.