Jackson Kerchis

Jan 25, 2022

How to Use Charlie Munger’s “Iron Prescription” for Happiness to Help Others and Yourself…

Charlie Munger says:

“Whenever you think that some situation or some person is ruining your life, it is actually you who are ruining your life… feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to go through life. If you just take the attitude that however bad it is in any way, it’s always your fault and you just fix it as best you can – the so-called ‘iron prescription’ – I think that really works.”

I say the iron prescription is mostly true.

You’re the one ruining your life (even when you’re not).

When I lived as a Zen monk I learned the mind-only philosophy of some Buddhists. No event or experience exists outside the mind.

Two students are arguing. One says “the flag moves in the wind” and the other says “the wind moves the flag”. The teacher says – “it's your mind that moves!”.

Ultimately the translation of experience into happiness or suffering occurs within your mind. You should try to make it so your internal conditions (under your control) do not depend upon external conditions (out of your control).

Don’t be the victim. Help those who are actually victims.

Most of what ruins your life is just in your head. I’ve seen that most of my problems are my fault – my ego, my anxiety, or my general dumb-ass-ness. But there are limits.

It’s easy for me to stress about a writing project or sinking $700 into my car. I’d say most of my "problems" fall under the iron prescription.

But what about a single mom struggling to afford childcare as she works two minimum wage jobs? What about a 10th grader in the inner city who can’t read due to the failing public school system? (My friend in Teach For America tells me this isn’t uncommon).

I don’t think it’s fair to tell them it’s always your fault and you need to fix it the best you can.

Sure, optimism is good - ownership is good. But so is realism, so is compassion. And so is shared responsibility.

I’m pretty fortunate. And if you’re reading my stuff you’re likely somewhat fortunate too.

So I say you and I should act like it’s our fault. And fix things the best we can. Then we should help those who can’t fix it on their own. And the “iron prescription” will make the world a much happier place.

Jackson Kerchis

I'm a former startup executive and zen monk. And I created the first Happiness Studies degree. I speak, write, and teach about happiness in work and life.