Maybe Money Can Buy Happiness

Sometimes we buy things, and we realize it didn’t meet expectations. We get Buyer’s Remorse. Regret fills us with groans each time we come across the thing.

I once bought a waterproof bag for my laptop. Mostly, though, I ended up just using an old plastic grocery bag. More significantly, we once bought a used pickup truck. It was nothing but bills and headaches, eventually stranding us in the middle of a desert.

But we also make purchases that go the other way. A couple times recently, I’ve thought, “The joy I get from this is way out of whack for what I paid or it.”

Here are 10 of mine from recent memory:


I just found fresh, ripe guavas for the first time in years. I bought four. We stretched them over two nights for the whole family. Their smell was rich, and we all raved about them.


Our second week here, we got library cards, and thus the ability to check out seven books each. Talk about a high happiness to expense ratio! The library is not particularly well-stocked, but I love reading so much that every time I walk in, I am happy.


Ok, here I also mean yeast and salt and water—ingredients for bread. I bake a couple times a week. The bread is beautiful and healthy, and would cost a ton to get hot at a bakery.


Since I transitioned to office life, I’ve gone through a few pairs of dress shoes. But last year, I got a pair while from Jim Green, a South African company. Having shoes at all is a privilege, but having comfortable ones that are a good value and style makes me feel like a million bucks.


I know this sounds stupid. Here, I mean cheap, tall, skinny ones that are actually used to light homes here in South Africa. We bought a couple flimsy metal candleholders (think Ebenezer Scrooge in his pajamas peering out the window with his finger looped through a candle holder). I light them before sunrise. We light them for dinner. We light them after the kids go to bed. I’m not sure why, but an open flame is calming to me.


We eat a lot of beans of all sorts. So when I spend a few bucks on the flesh of another creature, it brings a lot of joy. (If I was eating meat all the time, this wouldn’t be the case.)


We borrowed a stovetop espresso pot from friends and learned to foam milk by hand by spinning a whisk in it between our hands. Now every day is a coffee shop day.


Having a few good pens and an unlined sketchbook offer the world to me—room to imagine, plan, and reflect. That’s worth a lot more than what they cost.


OK, this is a little more expensive. But ours is barely above a scooter, small enough of an engine that there are no motorcycles of this size sold for U.S. roads anymore. I grin every time I ride it, even on my commute.

Dish Scrubbie

I don’t know what you call these things, really. I mean the light green sponge that has an abrasive section on one side. We used one for the last two months and just replaced it. A disproportionate amount of happiness and satisfaction resulted the next time I washed dishes.

We tend to live simply and pride ourselves (sometimes too much) on living on little at various points in our life. But I love these things—they’re simple, cheap, and are like an investment in joy.

What gives you a ton of happiness for what it costs?


  • Michael Boyink

    My Swiss Army knife (not a cheap one but years later and almost-daily use has made per-usage happiness to cost factor favorable).

    Ikea Poang chairs – so comfy for the price. Somedays I’m sitting in one nearly all day – I couldn’t even do that with our high $$ Eames chair.

    My truck – I know a vehicle isn’t cheap overall but when I look at the fact that we have had this truck for 4+ years, have put 80K on it mostly towing a fifth wheel, that it’s taken us to 39 states, and how few issues we’ve had with it during that time it’s easily the best vehicle I’ve owned (and that number is in the dozens..;)

    Bluetooth receiver for our home stereo – to be able to sit with Pandora running on my phone but hearing it through the house speakers is awesome.

    Digital picture frame – like you I take LOTs of photos and before having the photo frame it took effort to go back and see them. The photo frame is a daily reminder of our shared family experiences. So often it starts conversations (“where was that again, oh yea, we did this and met those people).

    • Adam Jeske

      I love it, Mike! I could put my Leatherman on the list, too, and our current car, and a Bluetooth speaker that roves with us. Thanks!

  • Michael Boyink

    Another: We bought a wooden/antique 10″ square by 14″ tall..plant stand maybe? It serves as coffee table, footrest, kitchen stool, extra seating and piano stool. All for $12. Anything that keeps my coffee within reach…priceless…;)