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Warren Buffett and The Genie

vintage genie lamp

Beyond being a great investor, Warren Buffett is often considered a great philosopher.

And it’s true – Buffett’s speeches, Q&A sessions, and quotes are full of lessons on how to live a long and happy life.

In The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, Alice Shroeder describes Buffett’s habit of “pontificating on any and all subjects” and one particular fable involving a genie and a car:

Buffett was always wary of falling into what Munger called the Shoe Button Complex, pontificating on any and all subjects merely because he was an expert on business. But by the mid-1990s, both he and Munger were starting to receive – and answer – more and more questions about the business of life. He often treated the athletes and college students to whom he periodically spoke to the fable of the Genie.

When I was sixteen, I had just two things on my mind – girls and cars,” Buffett would say, taking a little poetic license here by leaving out the part about the money. “I wasn’t very good with girls. So I thought about cars. I thought about girls, too, but I had more luck with cars.

“Let’s say that when I turned sixteen, a genie had appeared to me. And that genie said, ‘Warren, I’m going to give you the car of your choice. It’ll be here tomorrow morning with a big bow tied on it. Brand-new. And it’s all yours.’

“Having heard all the genie stories, I would say, ‘What’s the catch?’ And the genie would answer, ‘There’s only one catch. This is the last car you’re ever going to get in your life. So it’s got to last a lifetime.’

“If that had happened I would have picked out that car. But, can you imagine knowing it had to last a lifetime, what I would do with it?

“I would read the manual about five times. I would always keep it garaged. If there was the least little dent or scratch, I’d have it fixed right away because I wouldn’t want it rusting. I would baby that car, because it would have to last a lifetime.

That’s exactly the position you are in concerning your mind and body. You only get one mind and one body. And it’s got to last a lifetime. Now, it’s very easy to let them ride for many years. But if you don’t take care of that mind and that body, they’ll be a wreck forty years later, just like the car would be.

It’s what you do right now, today, that determines how your mind and body will operate ten, twenty, and thirty years from now.

These are great word to live by. And apparently they are words that Buffett has adhered to all his life since, at age 85, his mind is still as sharp as a tack and he seems to be in good physical health, too.

I have to laugh though, since Buffett is often described as having awful eating habits. In The Snowball, Buffett says: “Broccoli, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts look to me like Chinese food crawling around on a plate. Cauliflower almost makes me sick. I eat carrots reluctantly. I don’t like sweet potatoes. I don’t even want to be close to a rhubarb, it makes me retch.” And both Buffett and Munger famously go through an entire box of See’s Candy during every Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Meeting.

But here’s CNBC clearing up this matter:

Buffett says his “bad” eating habits aren’t as absolutely awful as everyone thinks.

The Omaha World-Herald relates Buffett’s response to a New Jersey nutritional dentist who had written a letter encouraging him to eat more healthy food and take nutritional supplements:

“My diet, though far from standard, is somewhat better than usually portrayed. I have a wonderful doctor who nudges me in your direction every time I see him. All in all, I’ve enjoyed remarkably good health — largely because of genes, of course — but also, I think, because I enjoy life so much every day.”

He’s also been exercising more in recent years.

Back in 2007, Buffett told CNBC that his doctor had given him a choice two years before: “Either you eat better or you exercise.” Buffett said he chose exercise, the “lesser of two evils.”

Want to learn more about Warren Buffett? Check out The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, which is by far the best biography on Warren Buffett out there.