C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see.” As in morality, so too in investing. Morgan Housel’s new book, Same as Ever, promises “a guide to what never changes.” Drawing on material from his popular 2020 book, The Psychology of Money, as well as his blog, Housel seeks less to break new ground than to tell familiar lessons well. And Housel is a gifted storyteller.
In the chapter “Wild Minds,” for instance, he describes how after Eliud Kipchoge won the 2021 Olympic marathon, a logistical snafu left him and the other two medalists alone in a bare room for a few hours. The other two runners quickly pulled out their phones and began to scroll. Kipchoge just sat and stared at the wall for hours, silent and content. The bronze medalist later joked, “He is not human.”
Housel uses this story to illustrate how extraordinary successes — whether Kipchoge or Steve Jobs or Elon Musk — often have corresponding oddities or even liabilities that we tend to ignore and might not want for ourselves. The difference between you and an Olympic athlete is more than just your VO2 max, and the difference between you and Musk is more than your intelligence.
Kipchoge is also unnaturally serene, and Musk is addicted to risk. It’s a package deal. Housel often concludes a point like this with, “It’s so easy to overlook.” He seems to realize that his contribution is in articulating common sense and clarifying an intuition rather than offering newfangled solutions. He obliquely acknowledges that style can trump substance in a chapter titled “Best Story Wins.”
He relates Yuval Noah Harari’s assessment of his smash hit Sapiens: “I thought, ‘This is so banal!’ There is absolutely nothing there that is new. … It was really reading the kind of common knowledge and just presenting it in a new way.” Harari’s synthesis and writing — the story he told — were the difference between common knowledge and a book that sold more than 25 million copies. Similarly, The Psychology of Money sold 4 million copies because of Housel’s knack for finding anecdotes and crafting phrases. His investing philosophy is nothing new: Save aggressively, buy and hold low-cost index funds, then keep desires in check.
Ostensibly, a guide to things that never change would have plenty of historical thinkers to draw on since human nature and money are perennial topics of interest. Yet Housel rarely uses anything written before 1950 and shows almost no awareness of wisdom literature. His references often feel more like what you find scrolling X or YouTube rather than gems found digging in the stacks. Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Carrey rather than Job and Jesus.
The book reads like a compilation, rather than an expansion, of his blog: informal, sometimes shallow, always readable. Short, independent chapters end on cliffhangers like, “Now let me share why it’s so hard to gauge how good our future might be,” and, “Next, one of the wildest stories I know.” These transitions keep the pages turning.
Housel writes for the lay reader, even though he blogs for venture capital firm Collaborative Fund. This proximity to massive wealth gives him credibility when he argues that money’s greatest value is granting autonomy. He warns that trying to buy happiness makes money function like drugs or alcohol: “incredible if done right, dangerous if used to mask a weakness, and disastrous when no amount is enough.”
Just like drugs, money’s effect is shaped by our expectations and prior experience. Housel tells the story of Gary Kremen, the founder of Match.com, who was interviewed in 2007 about his work life. At the time, Kremen was living in Silicon Valley, worth $10 million, and regularly working 60- to 80-hour weeks. When asked why he was working so much, he replied: “You’re nobody here at $10 million.” It’s one thing to hear about “keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s another to imagine $10 million feeling like nothing.
Health and Wealth
In his first book, Housel wrote, “There are two topics that will affect your life whether you are interested in them or not: money and health.” Consequently, fitness and finance are full of hucksters and suckers. Liver King and Sam Bankman-Fried and a million like them promise that all those stodgy principles about health and wealth don’t apply to you. They dangle a perfect body or flashy car and promise that this is easily attainable (if you trust them) and lasting happiness is within your grasp.
But of course, it’s never that simple. Instead, Housel’s prescription is to hold on to the tensions. Save like a pessimist but invest like an optimist. Embrace the stress that motivates you without letting it cripple you. A little “inefficiency,” time not at your desk, is often the most efficient way for knowledge workers to generate insight. He counters the popular financial ideal of retiring at 30 to live on the beach, instead quoting Richard Nixon on the meaning of life:
The unhappiest people of the world are those in the international watering places like the South Coast of France, and Newport, and Palm Springs, and Palm Beach. Going to parties every night. Playing golf every afternoon. Drinking too much. Talking too much. Thinking too little. Retired. No purpose. … What makes life mean something is purpose. A goal. The battle, the struggle — even if you don’t win it.
While finance can be esoteric, Housel brings out the broad applications of investing principles, often concluding, “A lot of things work like that.” A good reputation, marriage, and investment all compound slowly over time, but they can be ruined in a matter of minutes. If you have enough stability to handle short-run problems in your portfolio or career, you can stick around for the long-term gains. You must keep running to stay in place in your relationships, your business, your career because no competitive advantage or one-time effort makes success permanent.
Good moral teachers remind us of what we know but ignore, and C.S. Lewis also warned that new moralities are the domain of “quacks and cranks.” Today, we might add influencers to that list. Some might call Same as Ever redundant, self-evident, or boring, but there is a comfort in truths well-spoken rather than schemes well-disguised. Housel is the rare teacher who is bold enough to teach old ideas but skilled enough to make them fresh.