If the economic downturn has clouded your countenance, then this column is for you. Real Simple readers, a resourceful bunch, have come up with dozens of examples of things that make them happy and don’t cost a dime. So ignore the gloomy forecast and get your bliss on. For free.
Money can’t buy the butterflies I still get when I lock eyes with my husband across a crowded room.
My six-year-old son, Noah, is a happy, beautiful little boy with special needs. The doctors said they didn’t know if he would ever talk. Just before his fifth birthday, he uttered his first word, and his language has grown and grown since then. Every time I hear “I love you, Mommy,” I know how lucky I am.
Palm Harbor, Florida
The feeling you get when you make someone’s day a little brighter or easier. Doing something for somebody else doesn’t always require money―and often has more meaning when it doesn’t.
Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania
The life lessons learned from reading the classics. To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’s Francie Nolan, and Little Women’s March sisters impart wisdom that crosses generations and still rings so true. If you haven’t read a classic in a while, pick up one of these books again. It will make you happy and remind you of what’s important (and right) in life.
Hightstown, New Jersey
A shoulder to cry on. Without the help of my close friends, I would be lost in a world of emotion, stress, and worry.
New York, New York
Time. Last May, my husband of 35 years was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given three to six months to live if he didn’t respond to treatment. Well, we loved, prayed, and laughed, and he responded incredibly well. Now, nearly 10 months later, we are still savoring every smile, every kiss, every breath. We know these moments will end sooner rather than later, but we are so grateful for the time that we do have.
A dirty little hand on my cheek. A toothless grin. A simple “Momma, I love you.” Money can’t buy these things.
Integrity. At the end of each day, I want to be able to say I did the right thing, even if it was difficult. I believe that in the long run, the “return on your investment” is serenity and self-respect.
North Caldwell, New Jersey
The relationship I have with my mother. She is 88, and I am so fortunate to still have her wisdom, guidance, and love.
The side-aching laughs you and your high school girlfriends have when you conjure up memories of feathered hair, leg warmers, stirrup pants, and baby-oil sunbathing.
San Mateo, California
Money can’t buy you the truth of who you are within yourself. When you wake up in the middle of the night and it is just you and God, that is when there are no lies―just your truth.
I know everyone is going to say love, but I think it’s confidence. Sure, a new killer top can make you feel better about how you look, but real confidence is earned every time you master a new skill, overcome a challenge, or just survive a bad day. Once you start believing in yourself, you can do anything you set your mind to―and that feels much more satisfying than a new top.
Rock Island, Illinois
There is nothing better than napping peacefully on the couch with my cat, Morris, when he’s curled snugly around my head.
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Thoughtful love is the best thing money can’t buy. My husband and I don’t make a lot of money, so for the past few gift-giving occasions I’ve asked for things that require not money but time and thought. For example, one Valentine’s Day I asked him to write me an old-fashioned love note, and another time I asked him to make me dinner. I cherished these gifts more than any expensive present. I keep the note in my nightstand and read it every so often and fall madly in love with him all over again.
Many people feel that if they had more money, they would be happier, especially in our present economic state, but money can’t buy happiness. I feel we have choices every day. For example, you can wake up happy or you can wake up sad. You can enjoy your day to its fullest or choose not to. I choose to wake up happy every day and enjoy that happiness. Life is too short not to. I try to spread happiness to others whom I meet and everyone I speak with. Money is a temporary fix. It comes and it goes. Happiness can last forever; it’s your choice.
Empathy. A person who has empathy can give someone the benefit of the doubt without having any concrete reason to do so.
The proud look on my daughter’s face when she has discovered something new.
The first sightings of daffodils poking through the snow after a hard winter.
Concord, New Hampshire
The kind of gut-busting, tears-streaming-down-your-face, bordering-on-hysteria laughter that still makes you giggle when you think of it days later.
Jennifer Lewis Meyer
A good photograph. It transforms a special time into a tangible keepsake and makes that memory last forever.
A grilled cheese sandwich made by my husband after I’ve had a long week. Nothing beats sitting at home in my pajamas eating good comfort food, made by the person I love, with the person I love.
Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota
A husband who truly listens. I wouldn’t trade him for any amount of money. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t even trade him to get my 20-year-old body back, and that’s really saying something.
When my teenage sons walk across a room just to give me a loving hug.
Mount Prospect, Illinois
I recently received an unexpected apology from a friend who had hurt my feelings years ago. Even though I had long forgiven and forgotten, the apology was much appreciated and priceless.
The unconditional love of a dog―or, in my case, three dogs!
Solitude. Taking time out for myself isn’t selfish; it’s good for my soul, refreshing, calming, and essential. I think that everyone needs a moment in the day to regroup, all by herself.
Watching my boyfriend dance his own dance while he’s cooking dinner.
Being born to parents who really loved their children: a dad who took the time to swim with me on hot summer days; a mother who, after the car broke down, giggled with me as we walked more than five miles home in the middle of the night. I remember many, many more moments of delight as a child because I knew I was treasured. I’m now 67 and still so grateful that I had these parents.
The way you feel after a hard-core workout that you didn’t have time for but made yourself do anyway.
The sensation of graduating from nursing school at the age of 40 and finally knowing for sure that this was exactly what I was meant to do.
Cos Cob, Connecticut
Those moments when my six-year-old boy looks up at me from whatever Lego empire he’s building and says something completely unexpected, like “Mom, you’re beautiful,” then goes right back to building, leaving me all warm and fuzzy inside. Nothing can top it.
The peace of mind that comes from knowing you are living within your means. I repeat this to myself over and over whenever I’m feeling all “keeping up with the Joneses”–ish.
Liberty Lake, Washington
Sand. Sand between your toes. The sand on the beaches that stretch for miles and miles. Wet sand. Hot sand. Sand in sand castles. Sand in $1 plastic buckets. Sand under your beach towel. Sand on your beach towel. Sand in your floorboards 1,000 miles from the beach when you make it back home.
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
Friends. I have a group of five ladies who get together for girls’ nights out, movie nights, and birthday ice cream. We ponder hard mommy and wife questions and support one another during good and bad times. This past fall, these ladies supported me when I had a breast biopsy. They were all at the hospital early and prayed with me before I went in, called to check on me afterward, and celebrated with me when I was cancer-free. They are truly amazing, and though we are all very different, we love one another unconditionally.
Forgiveness, given or received.
North Haledon, New Jersey
I think it would have to be the tiny, little kicks and pokes I am feeling daily as I enter the last month of my first pregnancy. Wow, this is amazing!
Surrey, British Columbia
The thing that I treasure the most is memories. The sound of my mother’s voice, my dad’s love of games, the smell of my grandmother’s baking, and family gatherings. In today’s world, where everyone is scattered, I truly treasure my memories and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
Sumter, South Carolina
A smile. From anyone, at any time.
My students. I am a dance teacher who has watched my students go from little girls to beautiful young ladies. I began teaching my first students when I was in college and they were in the fourth grade, so we’ve really grown up together. I feel blessed when I see in them the same passion and love for dance that I have.
A house full of soundly sleeping children.
The best thing that money can’t buy is a gift I received from my husband: the ability to take a step back and appreciate the world around me. He taught me how to say, “Life is good,” and really mean it. It’s incredibly soothing to know that even when money is tight, stress levels are high, and everyone is exhausted, there is nowhere I would rather be than right there, in that moment, with my family.
Karlie Radford Jessop
Victor, New York
Self-confidence is unquestionably one of the best things to remain out of capitalism’s reach.
Frenchtown, New Jersey
One thing you cannot purchase with cash is faith. You can’t touch it or see it, but it can help you survive almost anything. And it’s absolutely free.
The two things that have served me best my whole life: good manners and good grammar. You can’t buy either.
What’s the most priceless thing to me? The sound of my husband’s car in the driveway when he finally returns home from a business trip.
A first kiss. There is nothing sweeter.
New Liskeard, Ontario
A wife who is also your best friend.
The wit of children. I used to think people were lying or, at the very least, ex-aggerating about what their kids said, until I had a child. Now I know the truth. My son has me laughing so frequently that I now keep a notepad and a pen in the kitchen so I can write down those funny things to share with others.
There is no price for the tears of joy that flow when you see your loved one for the first time after a deployment to Iraq. All the months of struggle and loneliness are washed away when he gets off the plane.
The inner peace that comes from spiritual growth along with the wisdom developed through age.
Dalton Gardens, Idaho
The legendary Texas songwriter Guy Clark said it best: “Two things that money can’t buy, that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” I couldn’t possibly agree more.