The Geometry Of Wealth – How Money Figures In A Joyful Life

The Geometry Of Wealth 

I love to read. It’s also my #1 prescription for anyone that suffers with insomnia. I typically average 5-7 books a month and usually get a list of book ideas from either the books I read (they reference other books) or from other people.

When I met with Dr. Cherry Chen (The Real Estate Physician) in Dallas a few months ago, I asked her what she was reading.

She immediately told me to buy “The Geometry Of Wealth.” Within about 60 seconds, Amazon claimed that a new copy would be at my doorstep in two days with Free shipping! I love Amazon.

Dr. Cherry was right, The Geometry of Wealth by Brian Portnoy was a great read and I’ve included the highlights in case you decide to forgo reading it yourself.

A Story In Three Parts

The Geometry of Wealth is a story told in three parts, which as you can probably tell from the title, has to do with shapes:

  • Circle – Define Purpose
  • Triangle – Set Priorities
  • Square – Tactics

These represent the journey from purpose to priorities to tactics. Each step has a primary action associated with it.

  • The first is adaptation.
  • The second is prioritization.
  • The third is simplification.

The framework builds a bridge from mindset to action.

Money Life

Portnoy uses the term “money life” throughout the book, which has four dimensions that we’re all familiar with:

He states that with money, it’s an isolating event as most of us try to figure it out ourselves, which causes us to face three challenges:

  1. We have more control over our own finances.
  2. We are wired to make BAD money decisions.
  3. WE have less room for error.

Let’s take a look at each one in more detail…

Challenge #1: You’re in charge – like it or not

With a deluge of information readily available at our fingertips, it’s now easier than ever to find virtually anything you can imagine. No more getting the encyclopedia off the shelf. We simply grab our smartphones, and voila, we have our answers.

With more information comes more control. It seems that many people are using this to manage their long-term financial health, which is also increasing anxiety.

Even though information is abundant, it seems that our overall confidence in being able to enjoy a comfortable retirement is low.

Research shows that only 18% of workers were “very confident” about having enough money after they stopped working.

Challenge #2: You’re doing it backwards

The second problem is even bigger: It’s ourselves.

We’re wired to steer us toward making lousy financial decisions.

A perfect example of this is regarding the stock market. When the market drops, we feel less secure. Humans have a stronger tendency towards losing something rather than gaining.

We worry that the market will continue to fall and many times sell low but don’t have a problem buying when the markets are going up.

Would you ever race to Target when they mark up something you want to buy but avoid it when it goes on sale? Of course you wouldn’t but we do it everyday regarding the stock market.

Don’t worry, it’s not your fault! We can’t help how God made us.

Challenge #3: You don’t have much room for error

It’s gotten harder to make a good living. This is one of the key shifts and is the consequence of automation in the workplace.

A perfect example of this is what orthodontists are up against…..The Smile Direct Club. Now, consumers can bypass having to see an orthodontist to get straight teeth…heck they don’t even have to leave their homes as everything that’s needed is shipped to them.

Many service professionals such as law and medicine are now seeing a stagnation of incomes and thinning ranks.

Are these three challenges causing us to be unhappy? You’d actually be surprised at what really drives up to happiness.

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The 40% Solution

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, argues that there are three factors which determine human fulfillment. These are:

  • Disposition: Who you are. (Genetically speaking)
  • Circumstance: What you face.
  • Intention: What you do.


According to the pie chart below: our built-in genetic disposition drives about half of the happiness (moods generally) we experience.

I’d agree to this as I’m more of a homebody keep to myself person, which makes me happy, but my wife is the outgoing, hanging out with people person which makes her happy.


I guess what they say is true, “Different strokes for different folks.”


Only a small portion of our contentment (10%) is determined by life’s circumstances. So it really doesn’t matter if you live in a mansion or shack, you have a great family life or going through a nasty divorce, or whether you’re an all-A student or the bottom of your class – these and other examples have only a slight impact on our happiness. Say it ain’t so!

The reason for this goes back to how we’re hard wired. Our brain as the amazing ability to adapt and grow accustomed to everything, whether good or bad. It’s actually a remarkable defense mechanism as it allows us to transcend most setbacks in life.

Remember, “it ain’t how hard you hit, it’s how hard you get hit and keep moving FORWARD.”  So pain and misfortunes are rarely going to hold us back because of this.

This is also true on the flip side of things. Our great outcomes and highs in life (buying that brand new car!) evaporates very quickly which is also known as “hedonic adaptation“.


According to the research in The Geometry of Wealth, it appears that we DO have some control over our destiny – about 40%.

Your choices of THOUGHT and ACTION make a big difference.

I’ve discussed this in the past with these two articles:

Lyubomirsky states that knowing that there’s always a balance between what’s in our control and what’s not alleviates some of the pressure of believing that through raw willpower, we can become someone we’re not. So there’s no need to abide by unachievable standards.

The Circle – Purpose

The first step in “The Geometry of Wealth” is figuring out where you want to go. Money serves to push us in that direction. Sorry, you can’t get this from anyone else but yourself.

Only you know where you REALLY want to go in life. As you know that life is a journey of constant ups and downs and the circle symbolizes that we’re never done figuring it out.

To me, one of the biggest joys of life is sitting back and enjoying the ride.

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What Matters

There is no joy in life without struggle and “The Geometry of Wealth” lays out the four sources of a joyful life:

1) Connection

Humans are social creatures and harbor an unwavering need to belong. We are wired to be social (some more than others).

Psychologist Timothy Wilson suggests that, “Happiness research will tell you the number one predictor of how happy people are is the quality of their social relationships.”

Social connections are a deep source of meaning.

2) Control

We all crave control and want to determine our own destiny. We don’t want others to tell us what to do. (Just ask my kids!)

But with more control comes more choices. The more we have, the more miserable we become.

A perfect example of this is when someone is hungry and goes into a restaurant for a good ole burger and fries. You used to be able to say, “I want a cheeseburger and fry” but now there are too many choices that the restaurant must ask you:

  • What do you want on your burger? Cheese? Lettuce? Ketchup?
  • What type of bun? Regular, wheat or jalapeno?
  • Fries? Tater tots? Sweet potato fries? Onion rings?
  • What size?
  • Drinks?

After all those choices, you may not be as hungry as you started off as.

The ability to define one’s own predicament, control one’s attitude, and respond to adversity can be an incredible source of inner strength.

People with a good story about who they are and where they’re going are MORE content than those without one.

3) Competence

What’s the first question a stranger usually asks you? Most of the time it has to do with what we “do”.

For most of us, work means something more than just getting a pay check. What we “do” in life is a deep source of meaning. It defines us.

Being good at something you care about is one of life’s most profound sources of fulfillment.

4) Context

If you were to picture the three C’s above as intersecting circles, then context is the larger circle surrounding them.

Context is a sense of purpose. We find joy when we serve something beyond ourselves.

The Triangle – Priorities

The strategy for achieving wealth starts with mapping priorities represented by triangles, the three points of which illustrate three steps.

To grow and stay wealthy, we should:

  1. Protect – Think risk first.
  2. Match – Keep resources in balance.
  3. Reach – Always aspire for more.


Remember, the pain of losses is GREATER than the pleasure of gain. This is called “loss aversion.” We are wired this way. There’s no way around it. Psychologists have found that our sensitivity to losses is about twice as much as it is to gains, a roughly 2:1 ratio.

An example of this is that a $100 loss feels about twice as bad as a $100 gain feels good.

All in all, we like risk, we just don’t like losses. In life, successfully managing the daily balance between risk seeking and risk aversion is the first key to wealth.

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Portnoy calls mapping our money goals “matching.”

He states that we have two types of goals:

  1. Terminal goals – usually have a fixed amount attached to it such as a mortgage.
  2. Flow goals – the example he uses is retirement. Most people make the mistake and count retirement as a terminal goal (they want to accumulate X to live off of after they stop working).

Financial planning guru, Michael Kitces, says that “The fundamental challenge of goals-based investing is that we don’t really have a clue what our goals actually are.”

We’re poor at predicting what we want in the future. We assume that what we prefer now is what we’ll prefer down the road, that our values will go unchanged and that life’s unpredictable events won’t upend our assumptions.

Portnoy recommends that we target our goals appropriately and adapt as necessary.


Achieving the “reach” stage should bring us pride and joy as we’ve won the money game. Remember that wealth is funded contentment. We’re now able to reach for more by remaining aspirational still striving to get better.

The Geometry Of Wealth states that a critical ingredient in the recipe of growing and staying wealthy is expressing gratitude.

Think about it, are you happier during times of receiving or giving. I find the most joy when I know I can help better someone’s life by the giving of my time or money.

The Square – Simplify

The four corners of a square are used to illuminate the four primary considerations of reasonable investment outcomes:

  1. The growth we hope to achieve
  2. The emotional pain and/or sacrifice of achieving that growth
  3. How any additional investments fit into your existing portfolio
  4. The flexibility to change one’s mind about any particular decision

Portnoy believes that these four corners should form a template for any investment decision.

Cocktail Party Summary

At the end of The Geometry Of Wealth, the author gives a nice cocktail party summary:

Does money buy happiness? The answer to this timeless question hinges on the distinction between being rich and being wealthy. One is the quest for more money, the other is funded contentment. Both modern neuroscience and ancient philosophy demonstrate that the quest for more is an unsatisfying treadmill.

Meanwhile, the ability to underwrite a meaningful life is achievable for anyone who combines the right mindset and the right plan.

The Geometry of Wealth shows the three steps to doing so, centering on adaptation, prioritization, and simplification: Flexibility defining one’s purpose, employing the right strategy, and focusing on the right decision.

Three basic shapes – a circle, triangle and square – simplify the details of these three steps.

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