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What I'm reading #17: Avoid the most stupid sin

By Sam Instone - April 28, 2022

This story dates to 1720.

Isaac Newton, one of the most intelligent people to have ever lived, invested a big chunk of his wealth into shares of South Sea - a leading company in England.

As the company was doing well, its stock began to rise...

Newton doubled his money quickly.

Content with his spectacular gains, he sold the stock.

But it continued to rise.

This troubled Newton, as he saw his friends who still held the stock, getting richer.

When he couldn't stand it anymore, he bought a larger chunk of the stock, to not miss out on future gains.

That was incidentally the peak of the South Sea bubble.

The stock collapsed soon after.

Newton lost millions.

The man who formulated the law of gravity, couldn't understand the science of financial markets.

But let his emotions, in this case envy, guide his decision-making.

Envy is a complex and puzzling emotion

Warren Buffett has often been quoted as saying that it's not greed that drives the world, but envy.

Even a genius like Newton was not immune to it.

Buffett's business partner Charlie Munger calls envy...

“A really stupid sin because it's the only one you could never possibly have any fun at.”

He also says,

"There's a lot of pain and no fun...If you’re comfortably rich and someone else is getting richer faster…so what? Someone will always be getting richer faster than you. This is not a tragedy."

In Hindu philosophy, envy is believed to cause the mind to lose balance, leading to misery.

Envy damages relationships and disrupts our lives like nothing else.

Most of all, it harms the one who feels it.

When you're obsessed with someone else’s success or what they own that you don't, your self-respect suffers, and you may neglect or even sabotage your own life or career.

It feeds your ego when you make a purchase or a career choice.

You feel great for a while.

But this mindset and the focus on comparing, always ends up in you noticing someone who has more than you...

A better job.

A bigger car.

The problem is, you can never ‘win'.

Someone will always have more than you. 

Now, envy isn't something you can get rid of immediately... like an old jacket you don't want anymore.

But one of the ways to safeguard yourself against this ‘stupid sin’ is to shift your focus to the goodness in your life, stop comparing, and be grateful for what you have.

Envy has held us hostage for far too long.

It is time, once and for all to break free from it and experience a more fulfilled life.


"I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people."

- Isaac Newton

Further reading

How should affluent investors understand and deal with risk?

How to safeguard your family’s financial future

What I'm reading #15: A secret to solving the most difficult problems

Goals vs. capital: Are yours aligned?

Retirement planning for affluent expats: The right balance between spending and saving

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