Why do you invest?

Alvin Chow
Alvin Chow

I am a fan of Derek Sivers’s writings because he gets me thinking. His post on Happy, Smart, and Useful is one such example;

  • Happy is the easiest to understand – does it make you happy doing it.
  • Smart is defined as to whether it benefits you long term, usually financially.
  • Useful basically means you are providing value to the others.

For maximum satisfaction, you’ll need to check all three.

In fact, more often than not, if we find ourselves feeling unsatisfied for doing something, it is likely to have checked only two of the three attributes above.

In this article, I explore the possible scenarios and how they may affect your perspective as an investor.

1 – Happy and Smart (but not Useful)

Investors or folks looking for passive income tend to fall under this category.

Think about it, investing is a very selfish endeavour. The main reason for investing is to make yourself richer and not about making the world a better place.

Moreover, retail investors are not putting money into the companies the way angel investors or venture capitalists do. We are merely buying and selling stocks and bonds from other investors in the secondary market.

In fact, we only contribute ‘useful’ capital during rights issue or IPOs. Most of the time, retail investors provide little value to society.

Well, you can say ‘every man for himself’. It depends on where you stand on the moral scale and how badly you want to be of value to others. Of course, you can also contribute in other ways like mentoring others or donating part of the wealth or help out in charities.

2 -Smart and Useful (but not Happy)

I believe most Singaporeans are smart and useful. We follow the mantra of ‘study hard and get a good job’.

It is thus, common to choose fields where you get paid the most, which is smart. Unless one has a rich inheritance or starts a business that eventually become successful, you would make most of your money from a job.

This group is being Useful when they are employed. Every job exists for a reason, of course some are more useful than the others. But fulfilling a job role would provide value to others one way or another, directly or indirectly.

The only downside is that some of us may not be happy working in our jobs. You may find it stressful or it isn’t work that you enjoy. You are simply stuck to the job because it pays you well enough to tolerate the unhappiness.

The tendency for this group is to seek happiness outside of your jobs through hobbies and entertainment. It is a form of escapism where you can feel ‘alive’ during the weekends but still find yourself dreading the Monday blues that come after that.

If you’re in this group, you may dream of achieving financial freedom so that you can stop working, just enjoy life and be happy. But you may also feel helpless when you do not know how to get out of the rat race.

I think investing is an important side activity and could eventually become a get-out-of-job ticket, if done right. However, you should set clear goals or find yourself in scenario 1 and still dissatisfied.

3 – Happy and Useful (not Smart)

Lastly, the happy and useful people are those who are pursuing their passions in life. The downside may be that their jobs do not pay well.

More often than not, the artists and musicians come to mind. It is difficult for these creative types to make good income in today’s society. Only a very small group would eventually be successful and end up with outrageous fortunes.

Art and music were more valued in the past because they have patrons to sponsor them. However, in today’s context, even if they can feed themselves, they are unlikely to be able to save much.

Investing, which requires capital, may be out of the question for them.

Derek included highly qualified individuals who end up devoting their time to volunteering in this group. Quoting him;

“This is the stereotype of charity volunteers. After getting expensive university degrees, they spend years flying to exotic impoverished places to dig wells and thatch roofs.

But if a graduate’s time could be worth $200 per hour, yet they’re doing work that locals could do better for $10 per hour (and without airfare and hotels), then they’re actually doing a disservice to others.”

That sounds harsh but is true on an economic sense (Smart).

Whether you agree or not, really depends on where you stand – is economics or living your ideals more important to you?

I don’t think there is a single right answer for everyone.

There are always something to pick about the other party. Some would say this group is financially irresponsible when they are are utilizing their potentials. To counter, this group would not want to be unhappy like the Smart and Useful or the meaningless Happy and Smart.

Why not be Happy, Smart and Useful?

You might find the above sounds like the concept of Ikigai.

The pursue of that thing which you love doing, you are good at, which allows you to contribute to others and get paid in the process.

Sounds good right?

So why do we not look for that special space where we can be Happy, Smart and Useful? My view is that while it is not impossible, it is very challenging to achieve all three attributes.

It is akin to the fast, good, and cheap philosophy. You can only have a service that is:

  • fast and good but it is not going to be cheap
  • good and cheap but it is not going to be fast
  • fast and cheap but don’t expect it to be good

Similarly, most of us will often end up with two of the three Happy, Smart and Useful attributes.


No matter the life stage you’re in now, if you’re feeling dissatisfied, you’re probably missing one of three attributes – Happy, Useful or Smart.

We explored the various scenarios and how each group of people would approach investing.

Which group do you belong to?

How does it affect why and how you invest?

Or are you part of the few who have already identified the role in society whereby you can be Happy, Smart and Useful at the same time?

Alvin Chow
Alvin Chow
CEO of Dr Wealth. Built a business to empower DIY investors to make better investments. A believer of the Factor-based Investing approach and runs a Multi-Factor Portfolio that taps on the Value, Size, and Profitability Factors. Conducts the flagship Intelligent Investor Immersive program under Dr Wealth. An author of Secrets of Singapore Trading Gurus and Singapore Permanent Portfolio. Featured on various media such as MoneyFM 89.3, Kiss92, Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao. Given talks at events organised by SGX, DBS, CPF and many others.
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