Power Players

Warren Buffett says this is what he'd do to live a happier life—if he could live all over again

Getty Images

If you're like most people, you probably have a long list of things you'd do differently if you had a second shot at life.

But Warren Buffett? Not so much.

In 1998, at a lecture he gave at the University of Florida's School of Business, an MBA student asked Buffett: "What would you do to live a happier life — if you could live all over again?"

"This will sound disgusting," the Berkshire Hathaway CEO joked, "but the only thing would be to select a gene pool where people lived to 120 or something where I came from."

While Buffett's answer might sound simple at first, the rest of his response revealed that his personal philosophy about happiness has very little to do with longevity.

In fact, if he was given the option to go back and live life "all over again," he probably wouldn't take it.

Buffett is best suited for the society he's in now

The Oracle of Omaha took great care in laying out a scenario to illustrate how "extraordinarily lucky" he already feels today.

He told the audience to imagine a barrel with roughly 5.8 billions of balls — one for everybody in the world. Each ball will determine important factors (e.g., your birthplace, IQ level, gender, ethnicity, skills, parents) in your "new life."

"If you could put your ball back into the barrel, and they took out 100 balls at random — and you had to from pick one of those, would you put your ball back in?" he asked.

In addition to not knowing which ball you'll get, there's another catch: "Of those 100 balls, five of them will be American. So if you want to be in this country, you'll only have five balls to choose from," Buffett explained. "Half of them will be women and half men. Half of them will be below average in intelligence and half above average in intelligence."

He asked the students again: Do you still want to risk taking a second shot at life?

"Most of you won't want to put your ball back," he said. "So what you're really saying is, 'I'm the luckiest 1% of the world right now, sitting in this room — the top 1% of the world."

And that's exactly how Buffett feels. "I'm lucky to be born where I was because it was 50 to one in the United States when I was born. I've been lucky to be wired in a way that, in a market economy, pays off like crazy for me," he said.

How Warren Buffett realized he and business partner Charlie Munger "were sort of made for each other"
How Warren Buffett realized he and business partner Charlie Munger "were sort of made for each other"

You don't need 'luck' to be happy

Buffett acknowledged that not everyone is as lucky as he is because it all depends on the system that one is born into.

"[Bill] Gates says that if I'd been born three million years ago, I would've been some animal's lunch. He says, 'You can't run very fast, you can't climb trees, you can't do anything. You'd just be chewed up the first day,'" said Buffett.

He closed the lecture by encouraging everyone to think about happiness from a more practical standpoint: None of us can live life all over again, but we can increase our overall happiness by choosing to make changes in our career, goals, finances, health and relationships.

"The way to do it is to play out the game and do something you enjoy all your life," he said. "Be associated with people you like. I only work with people I like. If I could make $100 million dollars with a guy who causes my stomach to churn, I'd say no."

He continued: "I urge you to work in jobs you love. You're out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don't like because you think it'll look good on your resume."

Do what you love. It sounds easy when you're one of the world's richest people, but to be fair, Buffett was already doing what he loves long before he became successful.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss:

Melinda Gates shares Buffett's advice and what she and Bill won't spend on
Melinda Gates shares Buffett's advice and what she and Bill won't spend on