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Three Recession-Proof Investments for 2021

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Tough economic times are no barrier to getting rich, unless you believe monetary wealth is the only kind.

Monetary wealth is the only kind of wealth that has no intrinsic value. It only gives easier access to some of the stuff that actually provides well-being: shelter, tools, social status, freedom from certain kinds of stress and toil, pleasures and conveniences, and opportunities to do what’s meaningful for you.  

If piles of money are not forthcoming — or even if they are — why not go directly for the intrinsic value?

Given the hobbled state of the economy, here are three lucrative areas to invest in, requiring no monetary capital. Unlike stocks or mutual funds, they tend to perform better during times of hardship and recession, providing direct gains to well-being in both the short- and long-term.

1. Friendships

Regardless of the era, friendships are a much stronger investment than gold, bitcoin, or even land. They retain their value regardless of market conditions, and return steady dividends. Their value rises when life gets especially tough, when you’re bored or sad, or when you need to move a couch down some stairs.

Strengthening your relationships improves your position in almost every aspect of life. They provide meaning, support, entertainment, and a sense of being valued. Good friends keep our minds sharp, and strengthen our self-respect. Friendships can even open doors to jobs, clients, and other opportunities for economic wealth.

How to invest:

The basic principle is to make regular contact – a call, a text, an invitation – but in ways you know that person would appreciate. Not everyone appreciates late night phone calls, or invites to monster truck rallies (but some do – only a friend would know.) On your own initiative, offer some of what you know the other person gets out of knowing you.  

Along with investing in existing friendships, you can start new ones. It’s a myth that making friends as an adult is virtually impossible. That idea will get its own post, but in the meantime here’s the punchline: you make friends out of acquaintances.

Friendships are born only when one acquaintance takes a certain kind of risk, which is to invite the other person to something. It could be anything – a walk, a poker game, an exchange of soup recipes, whatever. If you both enjoyed it, the precedent for such invitations has been set, and you’ve graduated from acquaintancehood.

Returns and dividends:

Fun. Companionship. A feeling of being valued and even understood. Help and advice. Respite from loneliness. Compelling evidence that humans can be extremely wonderful creatures. Perspective. Knowledge. More friendships.

2. Fitness

I don’t like the word fitness, because the industry going by that name has convinced us that fitness is the pursuit of altering your body’s shape, rather than improving its functionality.

However, I don’t have a better word for the quality I’m referring to, which is the aspect of your health you can improve with physical activity. In this sense, fitness is pure wealth. Everyone already has some fitness, and you can get more.

Regularly doing strenuous things makes your body work better and feel better. When you gain more fitness, walking around feels better. Waking up feels better. Standing at the bus stop feels better. Really, doing anything feels better, and the body malfunctions less.

Looking better is an incidental benefit, which has more to do with how you feel moving around in the world than with any associated shape-changing.

How to invest:

A life-altering investment in fitness doesn’t have to be hard or unpleasant, only consistent.

Since the fitness industry is bizarrely focused on making drastic cosmetic changes, ignore everything they say. Make a short, do-at-home routine made of lifts and movements you like best, and do it the same time every day.

Doing it daily is the secret to serious wealth gains here. It’s easier to work out daily than three or four days a week, and twice as beneficial.

Pick anything for your movements. If you like pushups, do them. If you don’t mind leg raises, do that. Fifteen or twenty minutes’ worth of vigorous work will do. Put on a podcast or TV show if you want. The work should be just enough to challenge but not demoralize you.

Once you start falling in love with feeling great, ramp things up as desired. Maybe you’ll want to run marathons or work toward the one-armed chinup, or maybe not. Let those desires emerge on their own. Feeling great comes long before that level of investment.  

Returns and dividends:

Feel better all the time. Better sleep. Fewer doctor visits. Less health anxiety. Sense of agency and self-reliance. A distinct sense of living with less regret. Confidence, of both the visible and invisible kind.

3. Attentional Skills

I’m starting to avoid the word mindfulness too, because it doesn’t mean what anyone assumes. It does not mean doing things slowly, thinking of yourself as mindful, or stopping to smell roses.

Rather, it refers to specific skills relating to using your attention. Since you’re always using your attention, being able to use it more skillfully can transform a person’s life.

I’m an advocate of Shinzen Young’s way of defining mindfulness, as a combination of three simple attentional skills: concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity.

Concentration is your ability to keep your attention where you want it, the main benefit of which is obvious. Sensory clarity is the ability to discern detail in your sense experience, deepening your enjoyment and understanding of everyday experience. Equanimity is the ability to allow experience to come and go without resistance or clinging.

Like fitness and friendships, attentional skills are another asset you already have some of, but you can have way more, and the quality-of-life improvements one can make are astounding. These skills lead directly to less suffering and more fulfillment, no matter what happens.

How to invest:

Daily meditation, even just a few minutes’ worth. Meditation is just time dedicated to strengthening attentional skills, and discovering how your relationship to the world changes as a result. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

As with fitness, start with a modest practice you enjoy enough to do consistently, before you try to be an Olympian at it. Virtually all meditation methods strengthen all three skills, but the instruction styles vary immensely, from technical and explicit (John Yates, Shinzen Young) to obtuse and mystical (traditional Zen).

All you have to do is pick one that appeals to you, try it for a while, and don’t forget to ask questions. [There are plenty of suggestions in this post if you would like a starting point.]

The dividends:

Emotional stability. Meaning. Connection to others and the environment. Keener intuition. Growing freedom from vice and reactivity. Frequent moments of peace and gratitude. A world that seems quieter. An easier time being yourself.


Photo by Daniel Öberg (cropped from original)

Ron November 23, 2020 at 2:42 am

Excellent treatment of attention, David. And I also got a lot out of Shinzen Young’s precision and insights on attention development.

David Cain November 23, 2020 at 10:00 am

Shinzen’s approach changed my life. He gets right to the point in concrete terms like nobody else. It’s been such a gift to learn from him.

Huw Davies November 23, 2020 at 3:55 am

Thank you for sharing David. There’s so much value to be had in each of these three. We can also achieve ‘exponential returns’ when we combine them – Exercising with friends, dance/martial arts, walking in nature, playing chess/poker/board games etc.

It’s no surprise that the combination of ‘investments’ are some of the most enjoyable and satisfying things I do.

David Cain November 23, 2020 at 10:06 am

Ironically, the dividends of these investments are often what we are after in our pursuit of money. We want social activity and approval, we want physical health well-being, and we want to be clear minded and relatively free of stress.

Christine November 23, 2020 at 4:07 am

I am stuck in a circle of overwhelming chaos where everything is untidy or dirty in my surroundings. And my list of jobs that need doing is endless. Some days I do nothing to address this, sometimes I chip away, never making any appreciable progress. I keep the curtains closed so nobody will see. The shame negates potential friendships, fitness practice seems a waste of time better spent and meditation is impossible without a calm spot.

Elizabeth M. November 23, 2020 at 9:31 am

A big hug for you, Christine. You sound depressed, so maybe it is time to get some relief from that with some online or phone counselling with someone who can help you sort things out. For some very practical advice on how to get out of household chaos, the expert is at http://www.flylady.net. She’s the very best at this. You start at the beginning, though, and then take one step at a time towards where you want to be.

David Cain November 23, 2020 at 10:13 am

I hear you. I’ve been through many cycles like this, and in fact I have never been on top of my to-do list ever in my life. Maintenance and cleaning is very difficult. And everything is connected — you fall behind in one place, and it makes everything else harder, and so on.

What I’ve discovered is that the same effect works the other way. If you invest in just one part of the equation (getting the place clean for example), even at the expense of something else, it frees up mental space that can be used on another part. I can’t tell you how to get on top of everything, because I never have been, but changing one piece changes the complexion of the whole thing. Wishing you the best.

Carole November 23, 2020 at 6:19 am

A great reminder of how important self care is. If we can’t take care of ourselves, how can we possibly continue to take care of anything else?

David Cain November 23, 2020 at 10:14 am

Totally. Our own well-being is the gate through which everything else happens. But it’s easy to adopt a self-sacrifice-first mindset, where the well-being is the icing, rather than the foundation, of a well-lived life.

Fran November 23, 2020 at 7:29 am

Wow…..you always hit the nail on the head, David . This one went out of the ballpark….mixed metaphor….forgive me. Thanks for today.

David Cain November 23, 2020 at 10:15 am

Mixed metaphors are the best kind. Two images for the price of one.

Brian November 23, 2020 at 9:48 am

Perfect timing! Practice doesn’t make perfect here: it is perfect from the start. Practice makes habitual. Thanks!

David Cain November 24, 2020 at 11:09 am

A guitar teacher of mine once said “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. So practice doing things the right way”

Brian November 23, 2020 at 11:58 am

Brilliant. Forwarding to my closest 100 friends and family. When you say “sensory clarity” I immediately think of wonderment and awe at the world around us. Look at your hands for a minute. Al the things they let us do: grasp, type, point in the most intricate combination of movements, the instant we choose to do something. An orchestra of bones, muscles, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels, all maintained with virtually no attention on our part. Wonderment. Awe. Miracles are everywhere, we only have to look.

David Cain November 24, 2020 at 11:13 am

I forget the context, but I remember Sam Harris giving a monologue on the fundamental mysteriousness and miracle of your own hand. When you look at what it does, and forget what its name is, or what it’s supposed to be conceptually, it is the most amazing thing in the universe. Somehow you are able to control it without having to expend any effort. It just channels your innermost will, changing shape as needed.

Sensory clarity arises when you begin to see that there is nothing but sensory experience. The hand is not actually a thing called “Hand” — that’s a concept — it is an ever-changing, complex combination of visual, somatic, and even auditory experience. Anything looked at that way, as just ephemeral sense experience, is miraculous.

And thanks for sharing the post Brian.

Philomena November 23, 2020 at 11:59 am

Hello David,
Thank you for your investment advice. I will re-read it often.
For me, in the section How to invest, “abstruse” works better than “obtuse”.
Thank you again.
Philomena de Andrade

David Cain November 24, 2020 at 11:14 am

Thanks. Abstruse is better here, yes.

justonepercentbetter November 23, 2020 at 4:08 pm

This is the best investment advice I’ve ever read! I admittedly spent years focusing on monetary investments while neglecting the most important areas of my life: physical and mental health, friends and family.

A great reminder of what the most important things in life really are, and that money is simply a means to invest in what’s really important. Thank you for sharing.

David Cain November 24, 2020 at 11:19 am

Thanks JOPB. Non-monetary wealth does operate very much like the other kind, it just doesn’t have the incredible versatility of money. But money is relatively useless if it doesn’t maintain your physical and mental well-being.

Terence Wall November 24, 2020 at 5:04 pm

Scrolled though this again as if I were a new reader:

Friendships: good: I need no instruction just a reminder, I rang a very old friend (couple) and spoke at length – brilliant, thanks;

Fitness: okay, I have my routine but it’s not quite routine enough. Must use my own programme of exercises more often and just get out there walking, and playing golf, cycling;

Attentional Skills: Excuse me! You cannot expect a label like that to motivate anyone, surely? “Awareness” is the key.

David Cain November 25, 2020 at 2:59 pm

There is definitely a problem with what to call the last entry. Awareness is way too general. Mindfulness is still too general, and connotes a lot of new agey stuff I am emphatically not referring to. I think the word skills is important.

Many things sound boring until you’re immersed in them (e.g. education, fitness)

Mark December 19, 2020 at 8:15 am

How about “Awakening”?

Living in the moment, focused on what is going on around us right now.

I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness and Buddhism this year. Thich Naht Hanh is a Great teacher. “The Art of Living” is an insightful introductory read.

Buddha means “the awakened one”. ;)

Joey Torkildson November 25, 2020 at 7:26 am

This is such an incredible post that just hit me at the right time!! It’s ironic as we just revamped our core values within my company and the first core value we have is “Move the Couch”. It’s based around the concept of helping your fellow human out even though it might mean a strained back every once in a while. HAHAHAHAHAHAAH! We encourage everyone in our company to specifically look for opportunities to help your friends and family out versus shy away from those dreaded couches. This post is so freaking good….I’m going to send it to my team and make sure to remind them to be investing in the right things everyday. Investing in those 3 things will bring dividends like no other. As always David…..THANK YOU!

David Cain November 25, 2020 at 3:03 pm

Hi Joey. I really like idiom-based names for values because they capture the spirit of it better than abstract descriptive ones.

Last night a friend told me about idioms he had learned from his study of Mandarin. My favorite was “eat ink,” as in “it’s time to bury your nose in a book and study hard.”

Toma November 26, 2020 at 6:23 pm

Hey David.
Just wanted to say thanks for the content you’ve written on this website. Your insights have helped me go through challenging moments, and appreciate all the blessings of this life. I get a smile every time I get the notification for a new article on Raptitude.
All the best.
Sydney, Australia.

David Cain November 27, 2020 at 12:38 pm

It is my pleasure Toma. Thank you for reading!

Dividend Power December 2, 2020 at 8:21 am

The pandemic has reinforced my friendships but adversely affected my fitness level. I have not been to the gym since early-March.

itgheymat December 29, 2020 at 2:27 am

A great reminder of what the most important things in life really are, and that money is simply a means to invest in what’s really important. Thank you for sharing.

proclick December 29, 2020 at 2:30 am

Look at your hands for a minute. Al the things they let us do: grasp, type, point in the most intricate combination of movements, the instant we choose to do something.

Gladys Shumbambiri February 10, 2021 at 9:40 am

Thanks so much for this article. It has really helped me to cope well during this 2021 where the pandemic hit my country with the second wave.The points you touched on are very important and will help me in my well being in 2021 and beyond.Thanks once again

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