For those of you who were able to come celebrate my birthday with me, thank you. And for those of you who couldn't make it, you were missed, but not loved the less for it.
On the topic of presents – while none will be turned away, I’m fortunate to mostly have enough things in my life. If you’d like to do something for me to celebrate my birthday, I’m going to ask you to take an action instead. I’m going to ask you to take an action to help others.
(This is optional. If you don’t want to do anything at all except wish me a happy birthday, that’s fine too. If you can’t do that, then thanks anyway for being my friend. And of course I am grateful to those of you who gave me something already, are already working on something, or have picked out something for me; I’m sure I’ll love it.)
Now since I’m a weirdo, I’m not going in for the conventional “small, random acts of kindness” thing – I want you to do a small, targeted, nonrandom act of goodness. This means that the same action will not be the right one for all people. I’ll give you a few examples, but it’s up to you to decide what the best thing is. If I tell you to do A, but after thinking about it you decide that the best thing to do is B, then the best present you can give me is to do B instead.
Part 1: If you are already motivated to use some significant part of your life to help others. Or, if you want to save the world, because you live here.
1a) If you are early in your career/life, especially if you're uncertain what you want to do. If you're rich in future hours of your life, but poor in cash.
Spend 15 minutes, by the clock, thinking about your future career. Actually 15 minutes, by the clock. But thinking something different than you’ve thought before. If you’ve never heard of http://80000hours.org you could just look through some of their material - they specialize in helping people who want to use their careers to help as many people as possible.
If you’re already familiar with the basic concepts of replaceability, earning to give, basic research, etc., maybe try and calculate the value of different options you’re considering. Not just by gut - if you haven’t actually done a Fermi estimate, go ahead and try one. If you’re not sure how to compare or estimate the relevant quantities, the act of trying is likely to make some things much clearer to you.
1b) If you are late in your career, bound to your current path for some reason, or for any other reason have more cash than future flexibility.
Spend 15 minutes, by the clock, researching the most effective charity. You could look at GiveWell’s top charities page (http://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities). You could take a look at my post on effective giving (http://dc-ea.com/give-smart-help-more/). Or if you’re already familiar with the basics, you could spend that time thinking through something you’re still uncertain about.
Part 2: If you’d rather do something more selfish.
Look into cryonics. You might decide it’s not for you, and that’s fine; but you should take 15 minutes to figure out what you’re actual objections are, and whether they’re valid. I’ve heard things like “that’s just in science fiction” (do a web search for Alcor or Cryonics Institute), “that’s just for the very rich” (many people on middle-class incomes in wealthy countries can afford the life insurance typically used to fund a cryonics policy).
There are lots of valid objections, and if after looking at the evidence, you decide it’s not right for you, then don’t do it. But I’d very much like to see you in the far future, so I’d like it if you considered this as seriously as any other medical decision.
If that’s just too weird for you, and realistically there’s no way you’ll do it no matter what you read - then take that time to look up some positive psychology techniques that will make you happier. You could skim Richard Wiseman’s book 59 Seconds, or you could just decide to keep a gratitude journal every night for a week - or even just a day! Do something that’s scientifically demonstrated to make you happier.
Part 3: If you very much don't want to think hard about this or spend a whole 15 minutes on something, but would like to do me a small favor just because I asked.
Give to one of GiveWell’s top-rated charities (http://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities), or to GiveWell itself (http://www.givewell.org/donate).
Part 4: If you don’t really want to do anything but feel guilty not doing at least one of these things.
I wrote this to help my friends help the world a bit, not to make you feel bad. Try not to worry about it. I like you anyway! I still want to be your friend.