There is Literally no Difference Between Emotional and Financial Investments
Before we get into this article that is as provocative as it is brave and cute, I must address the elephant in the room.
Also, I feel like I should paint a picture of why we are here today. Many months ago I engaged in one of those timeless discussions about how if only poor millennials and zoomers would stop buying coffee or eating avocado toast, they too could enjoy the fruits of capital. However, by this point the younger generation was so inundated with poverty they also had to give up their Netflix subscription. One wonders a few years from now what will be added to this magical schema of capitalistic promise. Of course zoomers are poor, they are forgoing their government supplied rice and gruel bars for fruits and vegetables. Spending your extra income on such luxury? What’s next, tampons? Maybe live in your means, losers.
During this discussion there was also math about how much money you could make if you simply didn’t spend approximately 200 dollars a month on anything resembling joy. And a person suggested that the savings would be in the hundreds of thousands. I did the quick math and came to $72,000 and told the dude he was wrong. He then told me that I was a fool, because obviously all that saved money would be put into a compound interest account!? And like, I never felt so foolish. Every day, I sit around with my closest poor friends talking about stock market trends and compound interest yields, drinking 5 dollar coffee, and thinking about how rich we could all be if we had just five dollar a day to spare. And none us made that connection? Can you believe it? And, yes, the math is sound.
And look, even a child could invest in the stock market. I did as a child. Look at the growth of my company over the last ten years. And let me tell you that I made 10 Million Neopoints over my 6 year investment period. That’s with a capital M. I know what I’m talking about.
Anyways, that random person online has lived not only rent free in my head ever since, they’ve been increasing in value at a remarkable and somewhat scary rate of return. While they were absolutely correct in a pedantic sense of the word, it just ignored so many real life factors and presented an overly complex problem as simple and maybe even obvious. You know when someone has a problem with alcohol, you just tell them to stop drinking. It is that easy to solve problems! Depressed? Stop feeling sad! Holy shit. I should write a book. Poor? Just start renting your second home out!
But since I’m now cursed, I may as well do something with this horse that made me go to college. So, let’s parallel two things that don’t seem like they should be related at all. That’s my brand a lot of the time if you haven’t picked up on that. (I also then sling that into a headline title that should make you feel indignant in a way that you’ll click on the article.)
But, if we understand investment within the realm of finance capital we can start to make some interesting observations about human behavior.
Hear me out. We make investments in people and are in turn invested in on an emotional level. As you spend more time with individuals, as you share more intimate moments or experiences, as you depend on them — these are continual investments in them. And these are things that are in a metaphysical sense banked, get interest on investment, and are withdrawn from.
What is asking a favor if not making some kind of emotional loan or withdrawal? Who do you ask to help you move? It often isn’t strangers — it’s family, friends, people who are close to you or people you have to actually pay. Whether through emotional capital, financial capital, or both through the offer of pizza to semi-close friends.
And with making these comparisons, I really don’t want folks to dehumanize people into units of capitalistic emotional value. That isn’t the goal here. I’m not a robot. What I want you to do with this information is consider it from the lens of the random dude online who cursed me. And think about how easy the answer was to him to tell someone experiencing poverty to spend 30 years forgoing coffee and Netflix because you’ll be rich a few years before you die. How thrilling. And think about how we tell people they just need to go makes friends. Like it is that easy. We tell them just go to therapy, take medication, and then smile big™. And having friends, going to therapy, and taking medication are all great things and if a person can pursue them they should — but so many people are completely discounted with these obvious ass solutions when expressing struggle. A lot of times a person doesn’t need to be told where to invest themselves, they just need a little investing in. And after that — then it can be worth it to do all the things you need to do. Including saving the world from alien invasions.
The difference between a kid growing up in abusive household or one they aren’t particularly loved, with a kid growing up with loving parents is similar to a kid who has a $10,000 dollar compound interest account started in their name. Experiencing love from a young age has a compound interest structure for the emotional security it gives you, in the same way wealthy folks have the financial security to take risks. It is easier to make friends, to find partners, and otherwise be in a good place when the stakes for losing a friend or breaking up don’t mean you lose a significant portion of your support network with them.
And when we lose something incredibly important to us, it can be similar to effectively going bankrupt — just within the emotional landscape. When we experience trauma or abuse, these can be huge fees deducted from our emotional bank of mental health. They can put us into the negative or incur emotional overdraft fees with helpings of executive dysfunction.
The point of these comparisons isn’t to devalue the importance of emotions or how we relate to other people. In fact, the point is to show how significant they really are. When we spend money on coffee or Netflix, what does that do for emotional investments? Coffee is a stimulant that helps us just squeak out another day of being overworked and exhausted. It helps us feel alert, it helps us cope, and can bring us more energy to engage in those things that we love to do. That can be hanging out with friends, as the default friend date is ‘let’s go grab a coffee and talk about stock market trends’. Netflix is entertainment and that entertainment is shows that help you relax and ultimately feel things. Yes, you could make 200,000 some more dollars a few years before you die, but what are you giving up in emotional investments today?
I think understanding this is understanding just how disingenuous these thought experiments are that suggests capitalism is fine and the problem is you are the one doing it wrong. Capitalism is a flawless system so long as we ignore mental health and people are robots. Beep, fucking boop — just give up things you love or work two jobs and you too can one day have the money to spend time with loved ones! I had a friend argue that there is nothing wrong with companies making you work holidays. And, no, that isn’t illegal or consider unethical on paper. Everything is fair in the Runescape Wilderness. However, you do only live once. You only typically have 40 good years of being an adult if you’re lucky. If you celebrate things like Christmas, which is often very focused on family and loved ones — chosen or given — you’re losing something very important so a company and you can make some dollars. It just isn’t equal. We are constantly told to under-invest on emotional investments in favor of capital — and for what?
Well, to pay medical bills, shelter, and food. Most of us need money to survive in the very real sense of the word, but there isn’t a whole lot of meaning to simply existing as a cog of met base needs. We don’t actually need to structure our society in a way that the line must always go up. Like what is even the point of profit and wealth if we’re all just miserable anyways? Why put all our effort into building a windmill if we’re just going to turn our horse friend into glue and let a bunch of pigs shit on us? (This is an Animal Farm reference.)
The more time we sacrifice to earn income, the less time we’re investing in emotional connections. The less we invest in those connections, the less return on investments we get. Over time we can become effectively emotionally bankrupt with a ton of financial capital and try to feel better about ourselves by sending a dick rocket into space or buy twitter…as a random example I’m just now making up.
The point of this thought experiment is effectively the broad concept of the work-life balance equation. It is understanding that the connections we have in other people are something we do need to invest in. There is obviously a big difference between our emotional connections to friends, the impact that has on our mental health, and the money we have in a bank. And comparing them in this article is mostly done in jest, because in the grand scheme of things compound banking is a lot easier to understand than navigating the complexity of friendships, emotional connections, and mental health.
I do think some people try to approach friendships like actual financial investments. You put in time and you want some reward or return on capital. I don’t think it’s great to try to gamify relationships like this. I think a more apt metaphor isn’t looking at it like the value of money, but more the value we see in things like community gardening.
The investment you have with others or groups of friends is like growing something together that you can all share. A fruit tree, a vase of flowers, a pumpkin patch — whatever. The more both parties nurture connections, the more you can grow something healthy and productive. Some things wither, sometimes one person has to do majority of the gardening for a while, some times it’s okay to walk away, sometimes you start different gardens or try growing different things.
And I feel it can be helpful for folks who feel alone or don’t have a lot of emotional investments to reframe relationships like this, because there are a ton of community gardens to start making connections in. Discord servers, reddit subgroups, speedrunning communities, game shop board nights, and so on. Places where you can feel like you’re part of a community, build up a sense of belonging and security, then start making more personal connections. And if you treat those spaces like participating in a garden and not some stock market exchange of value and validation — that tends to go a lot further.