All the actions in your life can be reduced to expectations of pleasure and expectations of pain.
Depending on where you stand on the selfish to selfless scale, you might be thinking more about your own expected pleasure and pain, or the expected pleasure and pain of other people. Either way, being selfless basically mean that you experience pleasure by making other people experience pleasure, on some level, and the same goes for pain. Or maybe you don’t like it, but do it because you expect to go to heaven after you die. No matter your motivation, it most likely boils down to an arguably selfish reason, so please judge the action and not the motivation.
Everything you do is an investment, either trying to improve your expected pleasure or trying to minimize your expected pain at some point in the future, which could be as soon as 2 seconds from now (moving out of the way of a projectile you saw coming), or as far as 50 years from now (investing in a retirement fund).
People have wildly varying scales of perceived pleasure and pain. Some people are willing to work very hard and suffer much training their own bodies in the hopes of attracting the opposite sex more efficiently. Some people are willing to work 14 hours a day in the hopes of getting promoted to have more money. Some people are willing to work 14 hours a day in the hopes of not getting fired and being able to eat another day. Some people will get in a fight and risk getting hurt to feel better about themselves.
In a capitalist society, the word “investment” is usually used in the context of spending some amount of money right now, to obtain a higher amount of money later. Since having money usually beats having no money, as long as you can find something to buy to reduce pain or raise pleasure, having any amount of money beats having a smaller amount of money. Investments are therefore usually good for you, if they successfully get you more money. Most of the things you like in life are likely to require some amount of money, and since very few people are willing to work for free, most of the things you need will also require money. Following this logic, you could say that everything you spend money on is an investment. Either it gets you pleasure, it prevents pain, or it gets you more money in order to get more pleasure or avoid more pain at some point in the future. Most investments with this new definition are very short term. Buying food is an investment, because it will allow you to stay alive long enough to experience more pleasure, it avoids the pain of dying of hunger, and it allows you to stay alive long enough to earn more money. Buying more good quality food also gets you the benefit of staying healthy, which allows you to do more things you like, and avoids the pain of being malnourished.
Some investments are more obvious than others. Going to school and getting a degree (in a field where degrees have a value) will increase your chance of getting a good job and a good salary. That’s an obvious investment. Buying a nice suit will arguably raise your chances of getting a better job, having more success with women, etc. That’s a less obvious investment.
Some investments are bad. Either they don’t pay out (buying stocks before a crash), they pay out too late (retirement plan for someone who dies young in an accident), or they pay out something you no longer want when the day comes (silly example: Subscribing to playboy or another controversial pleasure magazine, then getting a girlfriend, forgetting to unsubscribe, and she accidentally is the one home when an issue arrives, and dump you because of it)
Until we figure out some form of immortality, time is a limited resource for all of us, and none of us even know how much we have until we spent it all. Time is basically our only resource, until we convert some of it to money, skills, knowledge, etc. Then we have to convert all that stuff into as much pleasure and pain-avoidance as possible before dying.
So here’s my suggestion. Go online and find a few actuarial tables. Estimate, according to statistics, how much time you have left. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s worth it. Then, decide if you like this amount. If not, invest some of your resources (time, money, knowledge) into sports, healthier food and changing your location to a better one (less crime, less poverty, etc. Anything that improves average lifespan). Do that until you are comfortable with your expected lifespan, and try not to be greedy. Keep in mind that you invest time, so if you get less than 1:1 return on investment, it’s not worth it.
Then, figure out what you like. It might sound obvious, but many people have no clue what they actually like. For example, if when you are done with work and chores for the day, you do not have something you wanted to do, but do not need to do lined up, you are wasting time. Don’t watch tv shows you barely care about, and don’t watch movies you don’t like just because they happened to be playing. Figure out what you actually enjoy doing. The things you start doing, and always run out of time before running out of interest. Make it a written list if you need. Add and remove things as needed over the years.
And every time you spend resources, be it money, time, or anything else, try to figure out why you do it. You go to sleep every night at 10:30, do you value the extra 30 minutes of rest (health, more awareness the next day, etc) more than you’d value 30 extra minutes of whatever you were doing? Would it be better to go to sleep at 10:00 or at 11:00?
Every day, you go to work. Are you investing some time to look for a better job? If not, then can you truly say having more money or a nicer job would not be worth that time? If so, do you expect results that were worth the investment?
You spend money on obviously needed things, like clothes, food, heat, etc. Are your clothes worth the extra money you pay to buy your brand compared to what they sell at wal-mart? If you’re already shopping there, would you get an advantage spending a little extra to get them somewhere else? Would you enjoy slightly more expensive food?
This entire line of reasoning happened because, 3 weeks ago, I bought a video game. It’s called Stardew Valley. It looked pretty okay, and the price went down quite a bit during the Steam Summer Sale, so I figured I’d give it a try. It’s not for everyone, but I really liked it. I literally played 14 hours within the first 24 hours of buying it. I then proceeded to play about 100 hours in the first 14 days. I play video games quite a bit, but I never played that much in such a short timespan. I doubt I ever played 100 hours all games combined within two weeks, let alone only on one game. Then I realised that this game cost me less than 10$. I got more than 100 hours of fun (really fun, or I wouldn’t have been this addicted), for 10$, and I’m not done with the game yet (even though my rate slowed down quite a bit). I realized that this is probably one of my best investment in my entire life yet. Some things, like buying the computer it was running on, obviously got me more than 100 hours of fun, but the cost was significantly higher. like 200x higher. I have never bought anything with such a huge pleasure/cost ratio in my life.
Since the game is a very specific style that wouldn’t please everyone, I can’t really recommend it to you. But I recommend figuring out what you love. I love video games, so sometimes I find a hidden gem that is an incredibly great investment. Figure out what you like, then try to optimize all investments of time and money. You’ll find your hidden gems, and at some point you will most likely get a huge return on investment for all of your dollars and seconds.
If you really love something, all the time you spend doing it is, by definition, time well invested, except if you could invest it to get more time to do that thing in the future. So if you pay very little money for many hours of doing that thing, it is a good investment.
And life is about making good investments.
But there is one exception. Even if reading this blog is not the most efficient or pleasant use of your time, you should keep doing it. I didn’t come up with a credible-sounding reason for that yet, but I’m sure there is one.