The first task given to the attendees of a recent team-building seminar was to go out into the nearby woods on a treasure hunt. I heard about it from one of the disgruntled ‘treasure hunters’. Suffice it to say he was not best pleased by the request to search through damp undergrowth on a frosty January morning. Nor was it clear to him how this would improve the performance of his team of auditors and analysts.
Is an octogenarian capable of managing a multi-billion-dollar fortune? This is a question a French court is now trying to settle in the case of Liliane Bettencourt, the L’Oreal heiress and France’s wealthiest woman. At least ten people are currently being accused of having taken advantage of the cosmetics billionaire. The legal drama will be closely watched by a French public, who doubtless believe that one must be dotty to give 400 million euros’ worth of gifts to a photographer. It is intuitive to believe that elderly people are less able to make good money-related decisions. But is this really true? Continue reading
Julia Roberts is a superb actress. All too often, though, she headlines in movies whose themes I find uniquely unappealing. This means, when I do see her films, I have been dragged reluctantly to the cinema by my insistent other. This simple observation partially explains my lack of appreciation for Ms Roberts’ choice of scripts: how could I confess to having liked a movie when I had protested my disdain 90 minutes earlier? Nonetheless, I am willing to confess here that one of her films did contain a scene I appreciated very much. This was the one in which a lady leaves some US city and embarks on a voyage of emotional, romantic and cinematographic self-discovery in Italy, Bali and India. The highlight for me was near the start of the film when she packed all of her belongings into self-storage before her grand departure. Continue reading
I bit my tongue today. Not one of those unfortunate nicks that catches the tip and leaves me rubbing it ruefully against my inner cheek for the rest of the day, but a full, bare-toothed clamping of the tongue. My mouth filled quickly with blood and, trembling, I had to spit out the half-chewed remains of my croissant into a serviette. The agony silenced me mid-sentenced; apparently, the cadence of mastication and that of my articulation had slipped out of sync. My mother’s rule about speaking with my mouth full had been painfully vindicated. It was unfair. She only cautioned about the danger of hurting the sensibilities of polite company. Had she told me that I might inflict self-injury severe enough to bring tears to the eyes of a grown man, I might have listened.
I was recently fortunate enough to have been able to attend a lecture by French economist, Professor Thomas Piketty, at Frankfurt’s Goethe University. So celebrated is the author of ‘Capital in the 21st Century‘, the packed amphitheatre had to wait fully 30 minutes before the professor was allowed to open his mouth. First we had to endure a speech from the university’s chancellor, then the French ambassador (who had been flown in from Berlin, even though France has consular representation in Frankfurt scarcely three kilometers from where we sat). Thereafter came the obligatory word from the sponsors, and an unusually lengthy introduction from the moderator. Everyone wanted a piece of the action – a sprinkling of Piketty Dust.
Click here for the presentation
In 2004 I came across a treatise on the subject of happiness, and how to achieve it, in quite possibly the last place on earth I would have expected to find it: a newsletter published by an investment bank. The author’s name was James Montier, a stock market analyst. In the very first paragraph, he took the unusual step of cautioning any reader who was seeking specific investment advice to read no further. This was a very prudent step because his first recommendation for living a happier life was that his profit-hungry readers should not equate happiness with money. His nine other tips for improving wellbeing included getting plenty of exercise, sleep and sex, doing enjoyable work, meditation, and developing close personal relationships. None of the tips depended directly on money.
A patient, when offered the opportunity to take a break midway through a painful medical procedure will often accept the offer. However, a spa client offered the chance to take a short break during a relaxing massage session will typically refuse. In each case, the people on the receiving end of these experiences intuitively believe that they are improving their happiness with their choices. But do they? Continue reading
‘Due to current traffic conditions your route has been changed.’ These words, spoken in dulcet tones and with casual indifference by the in-car GPS navigation system, are surely the scourge of motorists the world over. So it was once again this weekend The threat of a traffic jam on the route ahead caused me (and dozens of other vehicles armed with shark fin-shaped antennae) to leave the highway in the middle of nowhere. Continue reading
He was the world’s greatest best man. On the couple’s big day, he had organised all the logistics, been a charming host for dozens of guests, delivered a riotous speech and made a gift of an unforgettable honeymoon vacation. Even years later, he saw his duties as incomplete; he wanted to offer the pair a surprise twentieth anniversary party. So he booked a venue for the bash and started going through his address book to contact all of the original wedding guests. The feedback was overwhelming; everyone found the idea sensational. Indeed, everything looked great, until he got to me. Continue reading
There was a ridiculously long queue on the outside lane of the highway on my way home yesterday. It was only after I had driven alongside it for a few moments that I realised that all the cars were waiting to leave at my exit. By that time, of course, I had left the end of the queue far behind and was faced with the task of trying to squeeze into a line of impatient motorist, delayed by some as yet unknown incident beyond the exit ramp, in the middle of the rush-hour. Continue reading