social activities

I find it confusing when I ask myself how much responsibility I have for my own happiness.

Today, I was perusing some subreddits on some activities I was engaged with in the past, and I was saddened by how I no longer participate in these activities because I no longer have the friends with whom to engage in these activities. It was a reminder of how I moved to a new city, and how some activities were left behind.

I typically try not to reminisce on memories because I find that doing so makes me sad. I try having a distinct separation between activities I do with friends and activities I do alone, as to not remind myself of my past friends when I do things alone. As a result, a lot of the activities I do now are self-guided, not requiring friends with whom to share the experience.

There are social activities and non-social activities. By nature, social activities require friends (although there was a time in my life where I engaged in social activities without friends, and in retrospect that was quite unenjoyable). My current social sphere isn’t as diversified as my social sphere at other periods in my life. There are some friends with whom I can engage in certain activities, but not all my friends want to engage in all the activities in which I want to engage. I am saddened by how certain social activities are relegated to my past because I no longer have the infrastructure to participate in them.

Whenever our environment changes, we have to create new social systems to replace old ones. This, unfortunately, is not a fun process. On one hand, I would like to make some friends as quickly as possible in order to participate in the activities I want to participate in. On the other hand, I find making friends be quite a painful process where compatibility is quite difficult to achieve, and I’m not sure how to make friends in a new city other than to just introduce myself to people on the street, which is quite weird.

The scary part about adulthood is that I’m becoming more and more content with spending time by myself. Activities I previously thought were boring are quite interesting to me now. I spend most of my days either studying finance or working out or making music. I don’t feel the same need to spend every waking moment of my time with someone else, and I think it shows in how little I actively put myself “out there”.

The attitude I have now is simple. If I happen to make friends, I’ll spend time with my friends. If I don’t, then I’ll just get my CFA, finish my album, and do whatever else that requires consistent alone time for a long period in time.

I find engaging in friendship to be an exercise in present-ness. When you are spending time with your friends, you are deriving pleasure from the experience of shared intimacy at a particular moment of time. The experience resides in the experience itself, whereas activities derived from internal motivation have an intertemporal nature to them. Knowledge sourced in one period of time can still be accessed in another period of time, subject to depreciation from forgetfulness, of course. Art created in one period of time still exists in all future periods of time. However, experiences shared with friends — via activity — start and end in the same period of time as they are experienced.

You could make the argument that although experiences are temporary, friendship can exist in multiple periods of time. Friendship could be conceived as an investment, but I doubt that is the primary motivation for engaging in friendship. Friendship exists and continues to exist as long as there is a desirable quality found within the interactions of friendship. There is an element of creation, but creation in friendship isn’t exactly tangible in the same way that it is in art. Creation, in friendship, seems more like an afterthought to experiences experienced in friendship. The motivation for pursuing friendship is still derived from the activities engaged in friendship and not from the creation of friendship itself.

I miss the time in my life when I had the option to choose how I want to spend my time. Optimizing my life is so much more interesting when I have choices, when social activities are a compelling substitute to non-social activities. I’m sure I’ll have that again in my life at some point in the future, but I wish I didn’t have to wait through this cycle to get there.

this is society

There is so much trust that goes on in the modern economy, something of which I do not have a lot of. I just think it’s a bit outrageous how we trust that our data servers are going to adequately encrypt and store our passwords and we trust banks that there is a record we stored money with them in the first place. As I’m writing this, I am having faith that WordPress doesn’t blow up and all of my writing doesn’t get lost. For the most part, this trust has worked out. My money is exactly where I remembered it to be, and my identity hasn’t been compromised, yet. I have not been victim to any serious hacks or scams, yet.

I don’t like that aspect of contemporary existence — that we need to trust people in order to function in our society. In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari pointed to our collective ability to believe in myths to be the source of modern civizilation. The collective belief of what has value and what does not have value underpins the entirety of economics. Believing in the same myths, like paper and electronic currency, allow us to make transactions with individuals who we have never met, and I don’t like that very much. I would much rather revert back to a hunter-gatherer society where I develop trust more organically, where I don’t need to trust people if I don’t want to.

What happens if our experience with trust results in a betrayal of trust? Then we are presented with two options: we could either shrug it off and move on, or we could choose not to trust anymore. The problem with option B is that not trusting equates to rejecting civilization altogether and all the comforts that come with it. Eventually, we are going to have to trust that doctors have our best interests at heart when we pay them to perform a surgery or take a drug that might result in our death. When we move into a new apartment, we have to trust that our landlord won’t increase the rent twofold when our lease renews in a year or two.

Trust is the cost of accessing civilization. Trust also operates as a random variable. Although we have become better at identifying what is trustworthy and what is not, there are always some leaps of faith that we need to take in particularly less transparent markets to adequately obtain the goods and services that we need. While the internet has made businesses and individuals more accountable in many regards, there are still areas that the internet has not touched yet and may never touch. We are pushed back to pre-internet levels of trust, where we have to rely on our instincts. That is the cost of wanting something that we cannot create ourselves.

return on existence and cost of vitality

In finance, cost of capital represents the required rate of return to justify investment in a company’s securities. If a company does not generate the necessary return in its debt or equity, an investor might take their investment into other securities.

I think the purpose of life, broadly, is to live a happy and meaningful life. Let’s call the amount of happiness and meaning you generate from your life return on existence. Similar to investments, life also has a cost of capital, although it probably won’t be called cost of capital. Let’s just call it cost of vitality, which includes the time, money, and energy required to do the things that make your life happy and meaningful. Also life is boring and painful, and convincing myself to live is already a hassle, which I also factor into my cost of vitality. For life to be worth living, your return on existence must be greater than your cost of vitality.

Right now, there are a series of conditions for my happiness, not limited to:

  1. Job security and satisfaction
  2. Quality of friendships and relationships
  3. Disposable income
  4. Health of family members
  5. Quality of living arrangements
  6. Physical health
  7. Number of Lululemon joggers

For my life to be worth living, these conditions, among others, must be satisfied. If one of these conditions is not satisfied, then I would be sad, but it would be manageable. If multiple of these conditions is not met, then my return on existence would be less than the cost of vitality, and then I would contemplate the possibility of suicide.

We perceive our life in periods of time. We are happy during certain periods, and sad during others. During periods in which I feel profound sadness, the only reason I wouldn’t act on suicide is if I still think my life can still generate happiness in the future. In finance, the equity value of a company is defined by the net present value of all future free cash flows. Living is only feasible if the sum of happiness generated in future periods discounted to present value exceeds the cost of capital required to sustain live towards future periods. However, future happiness is hard to visualize in the present, so there would be a heavy discount rate applied to perceive happiness generated in future periods.

Right now, conveniently, I happen to have money, time, and energy to do the things that make me happy. I have existential capital. Friends require time, energy, and money. Relationships require time, energy, and money. Art requires time, energy, and money. All activities require time, energy, and money except your job, which requires a lot of time and energy but in turn generates money to fuel other activities that require money. Also, the vibes are good, I guess, so I don’t think living on a day-to-day basis is absolutely horrible, I guess.

However, if there’s ever going to be a period where I don’t have time, energy, and money, then I will be sad. The only thing I could look forwards to is future periods where I would have time, energy, and money. If those future periods don’t exist, then suicide is the natural solution.

nothing better to do

I think one of the reasons people “settle down” is because they realize that it is becoming harder and harder to connect with people as they age. There are only so few people with whom we are capable of connecting to the level of intimacy we want. Dating is like just drawing cards over and over again, hoping something sticks, and we are unlikely to turn down a winning hand when we draw a winning card.

In elementary school, it was quite easy to connect to others. But then as we accumulate more experience, the lives of others become more unrelatable. I think that’s something I noticed as an adult. I remember in high school, getting brunch with people was sufficient. I was happy getting brunch with people. It was enough. I didn’t have much social interaction in high school, so any social interaction was better than no social interaction.

Lately, as an adult, I’ve realized that getting brunch is no longer sufficient. Over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten a lot of brunches with a lot of people. Conversation over food used to be exciting as an activity to share with friends. There was a point in my life where I thought I would never get tired of brunch, but here I am, tired of brunch.

There are very few conversations I actively want to have these days. I much rather prefer shared experience to conversation, but shared experience requires trust, and trust takes time to build. It would be great if we had an AI that matched me up with someone with whom I am perfectly compatible, then go through some sort of accelerated friendship simulator to achieve the level of trust needed to share experiences together.

Whenever you hang out with people, you can never be sure if they are hanging out with you because they want to spend time with you or if they’re just hanging out with you because there’s nothing better to do. It’s hard to actually perceive which camp your interactions fall into because it’s a thought that is by nature paranoid. The closest thing we can gather is evaluating how our interactions make us feel. If an interaction doesn’t seem particularly engaging, it probably wasn’t that engaging. The real dilemma lies, however, in evaluating our feelings about our interactions are valid or not.

The natural response to feeling unwanted is just to go back into seclusion. In times when the world genuinely wants nothing to do with you, this maneuver could be therapeutic. There are very few times, however, when the world genuinely wants nothing to do with you. Most of the time, we just project how we see the world as the reality of things. By hiding, we could potentially be wasting time engaging in needless therapy. There’s the possibility of friendship out there that exists, and by hiding from the world we forgo the opportunity to create additional friendship in the name of emotional fragility.

The scary part of friendship is when you feel like a conversation mattered a lot more to you than it did to someone else. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a conversation and deriving more meaning from it than the other party, but it’s a position of vulnerability. Putting a lot of value on a conversation is acknowledging that someone has a more interesting perspective than you, and wanting to be friends with them opens up the possibility of getting hurt when the sentiment is not reciprocated.

In college, I thought a lot about what constitutes a relationship being real. When experience becomes memory, we tend to romanticize it (or catastrophize it), and it’s very hard to isolate the experience from the connotations of experience derived from memory. So, how do you know something is real when you are in the middle of experiencing it?

The nice thing about dating is that it, for the most part, confirms that your shared experience is actually quite similar. Interactions are not one-sided, and you can confirm that you matter as much to them as they matter to you. There’s a calming quality to knowing that your feelings aren’t there for no reason. Otherwise, you just exist in a constant state of paranoia of pouring in more emotional labor than you are extracting, which is not a good feeling.

I like listening to sad songs because there’s always ambiguity in regards to who the singer is singing about. In some sense, you can imagine they are singing about you, and that makes your life slightly more beautiful than it was before. Relationships are not like that. They are about themselves, about you and someone else, and not you individually. The relationship only exists between two points but does not touch its sources. It requires intention on both parts. It is an act of creation, and an act of creation takes two.

intimacy as a depreciating asset

I woke up this morning feeling extremely sad and lonely. In other news, water is wet.

I’m starting to wonder if I feel lonely all the time because I just have a higher baseline requirement for intimacy than others. This is neither a positive nor a negative thing. It’s just a statement of fact, like my blood type or my hair color. I remember reading a research paper saying that the difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts just have a higher baseline level of stimulation, so they don’t feel as much of a need to spend time with others to achieve an optimal level of stimulation. Similarly, do I just need to maintain more friendships than most people to feel not lonely?

The problem is that my capabilities of feeling intimate with others come and go like the waves. Last month, when I was still in Philly, I went to an event with some friends. It was only three weeks ago, but it seems so long ago. Moving to somewhere new tends to have that effect on my time perception. At the time, I hadn’t told my friends that I would be moving to New York shortly, but I had an apprehension that that night might be the last time I was happy for a while. It was the last time I was happy for a while, but the transition occurred long before that night. I’m running towards the end of my intimacy cycle, and I expect that it’s going to be a while before I could feel intimate with others again.

I tend to think of intimacy as a depreciating asset. Like depreciating assets, I have to mark intimacy to market every quarter to make an accurate assessment of how close I feel to the people around me. It is quite unfair to assume that our present feelings of intimacy seamlessly transition from one time period to the next without loss. When I was in high school, I no longer felt close to the same people from elementary school. When I graduated college, everything that happened before college seems like another life I never lived.

Most assets use straight-line depreciation over a set useful life. The rate of straight-line depreciation is dependent solely on the useful life of an asset.

Some assets have long useful lives. Some assets do not have long useful lives. Friendships also have a useful life measured by a specific period in which the majority of memories are formed. I made a lot of memories with some high school friends, but they are no longer a significant presence in my life. Some of my college friends are still in my life, but in a few years I suspect I won’t be talking to my college friends either. It’s the natural progression of things. Friendships do not last forever, and it’s unfair to expect that they do. Friendships run through a predictable course of getting to know each other, spending a little time together, spending significant amounts of time together, and then moving on to other friends.

Some assets have salvage values. Some assets do not have salvage values. Friendships have salvage values. Relationships do not have salvage values. If I reach the end of the line with a friendship, I could pick things back up later, granted at a lesser intensity. The promise of Saturday brunch at 1 PM, once a year or two, is still there, and this ending equilibrium is hard to break. Relationships, on the other hand, cannot be picked back up once broken. There is no such thing as keeping in contact with your exes. There is no room in the present for doing so. Keeping in contact with an ex is just keeping something alive that doesn’t have any future. Doing so would be living in the past.

The metric I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the average useful life of a friendship. Unlike friendship itself, this is largely dependent person to person. People who are good at keeping in contact with their friends tend to have longer average useful lives. People who are not too attached to their friends tend to have shorter average useful lives. People who prefer quality over quantity have longer average useful lives. People who prefer quantity over quality have shorter average useful lives. I’m not sure where I end up on this spectrum. I tend to think that my friendships have shorter average useful lives, but that could just be because my standards for what I consider to be an ideal average useful life is longer than what I currently perceive having.

How do you make friends in a new city? Who knows. I didn’t really make friends in college, so the bar for comparison is quite low. I think I big problem I have is that I like getting close to people quickly. I think I expect too much from meeting people. I just want to reach the point in a friendship where memories start to get formed, but it’s hard to truly understand that this process takes a very long time. I understand that the average useful life of my friendships is not long, so I want to cram as many memories into my friendships as possible before I would have to salvage it and move onto another friendship.

To be honest, if I saw someone else with my obsessive desire to be close to others, I would consider it to be a red flag. From my observations (and experience), the desire for accelerated closeness is usually the product of emotional trauma, and it often results in some pretty horrible friendships. It’s weird to know I am the red flag in this case.

the next coping mechanism

Life is quite long. It is the time of life that isn’t continuously filled with pain that is short.

The average life expectancy in the US goes up every year. In 1960, it was roughly 70. Now, it is roughly 80. By the time I will be nearing “dying” time, it’ll probably be around 90 or 100. Since I’m fortunate enough to have health insurance, I’ll probably be on the high-end of the normal distribution. It is quite a long time before I die. What do I do before then?

It is unfortunate that life gets quite boring after I would say… 23? There was a lot of novelty in life before then. Now, it’s more-or-less the same life every day. I thought it was the product of being a student that made life more vibrant. But upon talking with my friends who are doing master’s and PhD programs, it seems like they are also in the same boat as me. I guess it wasn’t being a student. I think it’s just after a certain age there are less new experiences, regardless of whether we experience those experiences in school or not.

I think the first time I took a walk around the city at 2 AM, it was a unique and interesting experience. Now, when I take a walk at 2 AM, it’s just like every other walk I take at 2 AM.

When I wrote for therapeutic purposes for the first time — I think it was when I was deferred from Penn early decision — it was super effective. I was super sad, then I wrote, and I wasn’t as sad anymore. I took a nap. When I woke up, it was fine. Since then, I’ve written for therapy so many times. Each time, it doesn’t hit the same, so I have to find new ways to cope. Lately, I’ve been singing a lot, which was effective at first, but eventually, even singing gets old. Everything gets old. Now, I’ve been running a lot. I’m figuring out what is going to be my next coping mechanism after running gets old.

I think life effectively ends when you reach age 30. I plan on moving to a gated community in Greenwich then, and hopefully, I would have enough income to pay off my mortgage and send my kids to boarding school. That’ll give me something to do for the next 20 years of my life. Kids are always up to something. I haven’t been “up to something” for a long time. Maybe my kids will teach my the latest Tik Tok dance and make life meaningful. I think there’s a 70% chance that people just have kids because they’re bored.

I wonder if people commit suicide because they just run out of coping mechanisms. There are only so many things to do before every hobby is exhausted. Then, what’s next?

altruism and disconnection

Fundamentally, I think I don’t really care about what goes on in the world at large because I don’t really feel connected to the world.

I remember I really wanted to work for some health or education NGO for a really long time in my life. I don’t think I felt connected to the world back then, but at least I told myself did I did. I felt a need to dedicate my life to something more because I don’t really know what I would otherwise do with my life. The problem with trying to achieve a position of real influence in the social impact space is that it’s quite difficult. It’s only possible to reach that level of influence with a lot of grinding, not to mention complete uncertainty whether your hard work will be rewarded at the end. For someone like me who is at best ambivalent about dedicating my life to the abstract idea of “helping people,” this life did not appeal to me. I think in the private sector, your success is a lot more correlated to how hard you work. More often than not, you are adequately compensated for your contributions to your company.

I find it harder to care about the world when I’m unhappy. I used to really care about making the world a less fucked-up place, but now I just want to be happy. I’ve noticed that the magnitude in which the world is fucked up doesn’t have an effect on my happiness. I’ve read that people supposedly find helping people to be fulfilling, but I’m not sure I feel this feeling. I help people when asked for help because I recognize that I’ve received a lot of help over the years, but I certainly don’t go out of my way to find new ways to help people. I don’t really feel that sense of fulfillment a lot of people discover when helping people. It’s hard to rationalize making other people happy when it doesn’t do anything to alleviate your own unhappiness in the process. I’m could do all of this, but I would still be so unhappy, so what’s the point?

I believe that my happiness is solely a product of how close I feel to my friends. I would happily trade my career prospects for friends. I would probably be more interested in making the world a better place if I felt at all connected to it, or so I tell myself. The problem is that that is not a choice that I have in my life. There’s a difference between choices and options. I have the options to make friends or make money. However, I can choose how much money I make. I cannot choose how many friends I have. Choices imply free will, but options don’t. I could focus on my career and try to be a millionaire by age 30, or I could make a friend and get on with some other missions in life other than to make money. These are my two options. However, considering hard difficult I find it to make friends, there is realistically only one choice. At this point, I think it’s much more likely to be a millionaire by age 30 than it is to make a friend. There’s not much of a decision involved.

The thing is — I would always prefer making friends to making money. The problem is that this option is always presented to me. I wish I had the opportunity to shoot the shit with some friends, but instead, I just work in Excel all day and listen to some emo trap album on repeat while wondering why I am unable to have the level of intimacy I want with people. I work because there isn’t much of an alternative. All I want is to do something else.

past happiness is not indicative of future happiness

Investment research always ends with the phrase: “Past performance is not indicative of future results.” This is to indicate that performance during different time periods is not correlated.

I’ve begun to think about my happiness in a similar light. Just because I was happy in one period does not necessitate that I will be happy in a future period. Just like investing, there is some skill involved in being happy, but performance is also dependent on the state of the economy and aggregate investor sentiment, which we cannot control. We can do certain things to be better at being happy like eating healthy or yoga, but at the end of the day, it is also largely subject to a variety of forces that are hard to control. Just as it’s hard to invest well during a depression, it’s hard to be happy when you are depressed.

I was reflecting on the instances in which I was happy in the past. There aren’t that many, so this train of thought didn’t take long. I remembered that during each of these periods, I thought that my happiness would last forever. When I was happy, I thought that I would be finally free from feeling sad. I thought that my hard work in developing a more positive mindset had paid off, and I would be able to be happy for the rest of my life.

There’s something about happiness that seems to wear off. Happiness can be intense at first, but then happiness also wears off because it’s hard to sustain happiness for prolonged periods of time. I don’t know if there is a neurochemical explanation for this or if I’m just speaking purely out of experience. I suspect that this cycle won’t change. I’ll be sad for the next couple of months. If I’m lucky, then I’ll feel happy next summer. If I’m not, then I’ll still be sad next summer. This just might be the way things are.

up or out

A big part of finance culture is that if you don’t get promoted, you usually are asked to leave the firm. This is known as “up or out.” I’m not quite sure why this is a thing since a third-year analyst almost always has more value-add than a first-year analyst, but that’s just the way things are. I suppose this culls each level of the hierarchy to fit the desired ratio between analysts and associates or associates and VPs or VPs and directors. Either way, some people stay, some people leave voluntarily, and some people are forced to leave.

Friendships and relationships are different in this regard. Friendships can stagnate, but relationships cannot. If a friendship goes on pause — for example, if one of my friends decided to move to Egypt for a year — I would be able to pick up the friendship whenever we were in the same city together again. If that is not feasible near-term, then there are always options of chatting on Zoom every couple of months. If a relationship does not advance, however, then it must end. There is no such thing as chatting every couple of months in a relationship. The purpose of a relationship is to reach a state where both parties want to marry. If at any point in a relationship it is clear commitment is not mutual and that marriage is not a plausible destination, then there is no purpose to the relationship.

Relationships are like corporations. They are entities with a lot of power over our lives despite having no tangible form in this world. Spending time within a relationship is a lot like a job. We spend a lot of our time in relationships, and we only pursue relationships because there is a mutually beneficial arrangement given our participation. Relationships reduce our feelings of loneliness, but our romantic partners also add value to our personality and networks. Like our jobs, we can choose to leave at any point when we find other opportunities that offer us more value than our current arrangement. In addition, our relationships, like our jobs, eventually become a part of our identity. At a certain point, we stop looking for other opportunities and settle for the job or relationship that has been a part of our identity for so long.

In this regard, there’s quite a substantial transactional nature of relationships. It would be nice to enjoy spending time with your romantic partner, but ultimately there’s a purpose in making each other a priority. I think people were able to “date for the sake of dating” in college because there’s a genuine desire to explore personalities to understand what we value in a romantic partner. However, is there such thing as dating for the sake of dating once we are aware of what we are attracted to and what we seek in a long-term partner? Don’t we, at a certain point, crave permanence?

At a certain point, I think there’s a point in our lives when we discover that there are more important things we want to accomplish than just dating around. When we reach that point, the appeal of dating around becomes a lot less appetitizing, and we devote our attention to finding a long-term partner as opposed to just riding the intimacy wave again.

At a certain point, it becomes very explicitly transactional.

It reminds me of this text exchange between my friend and I:

I think there is a lot more value to MBAs than just the dating scene, but I still think that’s a pretty significant part of it. Dating was a very big part of undergrad, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t be a big part of an MBA. Although, I would say undergrad is quite different because there is a significant process of self-discovery involved in undergrad dating. When you go to an MBA, assuming you have 3-6 years of work experience already, you already went through four years of undergrad and several more years of adult life. When you go to an MBA, you have a clear idea of what you want from a romantic partner, and considering what types of people an MBA attracts, having a six-figure salary is probably a big criterion.

Sometimes, I read some biographies of famous hedge fund managers and tech founders, and I always wonder why they chose to get married at such an early age. Is there something about successful people who settle down at an early age, or is precisely the fact that they chose to settle down at such an early age that they become so successful?

I think when I was an undergrad, I focused too much on chasing girls and too little on figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. When I wasn’t studying, I was always pining over some girl as opposed to thinking what classes I wanted to take or what careers I wanted to pursue. Maybe if I introspected more about what I wanted out of life instead of writing about how I felt when my crush hugged me, I wouldn’t have had to do three unrelated internships to figure out what I wanted to do in life. Alternatively, maybe if I focused more on girls in high school as opposed to school, I wouldn’t feel the need to date as much as possible during undergrad to figure out what I wanted out of relationships.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m not sure if I’m completely convinced at my own thoughts. I’m not entirely sure what drove me to date people during undergrad — I wasn’t thinking about it at all — but it certainly wasn’t transactional. There wasn’t this thought of up or out. It was just taking things one step at a time. Sadly, I’m not sure if I’m able to approach things like that anymore. There’s just so much I want to accomplish before I die, and I don’t know if dating for the sake of dating can offer me the same fulfillment anymore. It probably can offer me the intensity that I want in my life (probably). But lately, I’ve been thinking there’s more to life than just intensity (like making a billion dollars).

I’m not sure if I would be able to accomplish all that I want to accomplish in life, but I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t be able to if I just continued to devote my attention to finding the next person I want to date. At a certain point, I want to accomplish something in life, and there’s more meaning in permanence than intensity.