17 January, 2011

Life as investment: the stock of shortsightedness

Life - a long and fuzzy thing. Something, that most of us feel is quite important. We all want to be happy and satisfied. That's fine by me, but there's something about the viewpoint, the philosophical stance that bugs me. It's the view of investment and return.

With the rise of capitalism and financial security the language of economics and business has invaded into the personal sphere. I've seen countless self-help books and heard many a discussion, where we are investing in quality time, marketing ourselves or developing our assets (eg. skills). Before I could have shrugged and said that sure, it sounds stupid, but they're just words, and calling learning asset development doesn't really change anything. I don't think so anymore.

I've really seen people of my age do ROI calculations about various careers to decide, which line of work to get into. Usually they've been the same way, get the average yearly salary and then calculate, how much the difference in, say, 10 years is. Some have even took into account investing this 10 year surplus into shares and then found out to be loaded at the promising age of 70! Yes, I'm telling the worst examples, but I'm devastated that even a single person would seriously consider the above as a career choice method. Well, maybe I just came across somebody who really values money first and foremost, and I guess there's not much to say if that's a conscious choice.

Money, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. We are investing a lot of other stuff too. Ever heard of the concept of quality time in parenting? Have you ever been told how a PT can make your training so much more effective? Have you ever heard how just that one orange juice makes you so much more energetic in the morning, saving precious time?

All the above things can have a grain of truth, and actually make your life more effective. But to think that it actually increases your happiness, that's the key issue. The belief seems to be that the more time and effort we put into something, the better the results. Sure, it works for a lot of things: if I spend a lot of time studying real good for an exam, my grade is a lot more likely to be at the upper end of the scale. But, seriously, to apply this framework to life?

First of all, there's the problem of not being able to increase the time used. You're alive all the time already! Secondly, what's the return in this context? Why does more effort inescapably make you more happy? What does happiness have to do with effectiveness?

Well, you don't really need to be a philosopher to work it out. More effort makes us more capable and more effective. That in turn makes us do tasks better, which means promotions, a bigger paycheck. That enables glamour and style, which in turn facilitates rise in social status. If one believes that happiness stems from the position in the social scene the right track is in increasing effort. I, however, happen to believe that happiness comes from my disposition to the outside, not the other way round. For me happiness is very closely linked with intrinsic motivation, as a kind of gut feeling of "how much I like doing this", using an example of having a hobby.

There's a lot more to be said about this subject, but I'll let it go for now, lest this post become monstrously long!

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