Are There Prerequisite Courses for Living?

Prerequisite courses are the subjects you need to learn before you can learn more advanced topics. Before you learn calculus, you need to understand algebra. Before you can learn algebra you must have been taught arithmetic. Are there prerequisite courses for living on this planet?

Are there any subjects that are so fundamental to understanding how the world, your body and your mind work, that you can’t ignore them? I feel there are more than a few subjects which any self-actualizing person should invest in learning.

I’ve only been deliberately educating myself in life-prerequisites for a few years. But even in such a short time I’ve found having a basic understanding to be extremely helpful. Here are a few of my picks of prerequisites for life:

1) Economics

No subject opened my eyes up more to how the world worked than studying economics. But if the only education you’ve had in the subject is from Freakonomics or news broadcasts, you’re probably missing the fundamentals. I don’t think a PhD in economics is necessary to fully understand basic questions like:

  • Why to we use money?
  • Why do some careers pay more than others?
  • How are interest rates, inflation and unemployment linked?

I’ve been striving to educate myself in this subject over the last few years. Economics in One Lesson is a great book for getting started. Right now I’m reading The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, often regarded as the basis of economics today.

2) Nutrition

I don’t mean diet books. Do you know what the glycemic index of foods means? Do you know of the different scales used for evaluating the quality of protein? Do you know how many calories are in a gram of carbohydrates, protein and fat? Your health and energy levels are founded on nutrition, so it pays to know these facts.

The reason I switched to a vegetarian diet over two years ago wasn’t out of an outpouring sympathy to the animal world. Instead I simply learned more about nutrition and began to see how the Standard American Diet didn’t make sense. Learning about nutrition won’t force you to become a vegetarian, but it will make you more aware of what you put in your body.

3) World Religions

Understanding world religions is important to me for two reasons. The first is that it in order to understand world events, you need to understand world religions. It is hard to interpret the path different cultures have followed unless you understand the forces religion play in shaping culture.

The second reason is highly personal. I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean that I feel religious works are devoid of all significance. Reading about Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism has helped me reorganize my philosophy towards life. On my to-read list for this subject is the Bible and the Tao Te Ching.

4) Politics

Not just current affairs, but the underlying political theories. What is capitalism, communism and socialism? How do different political theories work? How do governments form and what are the forces that keep or remove them from power?

This is a subject I’m afraid I’ve studied too little on. Aside from some online reading on the subject, I’ve only read a few books. The Communist Manifesto and a few books on different political theory are on my to-read list for this topic.

5) Investing and Personal Finance

Money isn’t everything. But it’s hard to say that if your poor. Increasing your financial IQ should mean understanding how stocks, bonds and mutual funds work. You should also know how to save money, budget your income and cut expenses.

6) Psychology

Know why you do what you do. Habits, productivity, motivation and quality of life are all built on your understanding of your own mind. A few subjects I’ve found useful within psychology include:

  • Heuristics and Biases. Know your blindspots when it comes to thinking.
  • Conditioning/Habits. Understanding classical and operant conditioning were essential for me in changing my own habits.
  • Happiness. What makes you happy, what doesn’t. Science has just begun to turn up interesting results.

7) Communication

Know how to write, speak and listen. Understand how to have a healthy debate with someone without it becoming an argument. Know how to communicate yourself from the perspective of another person. Communication is a skill, but there are still many great guides for improving your interactions with other people.

I’ve just covered seven ideas of life-prerequisites. Are there any categories you feel should be up here as well? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.


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