The Things Money Can’t Buy

To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

The quote and video above are from a speech given by Jim Valvano at the 1993 ESPY Awards. He passed away from cancer less than two months after giving this speech.

On my computer, I have a startup page that has this quote on it front and center. I see that quote every day when I start my work day and often several times throughout my day, and it regularly inspires me. I spend so much time focusing on money issues when I write on The Simple Dollar that it’s often easy for me to lose sight of all of the things that money can’t buy. Money can’t buy back a moment with a loved one that’s passed away. Money can’t buy back an afternoon at the park with your son when he’s grown up and moved away. Money can’t buy back a chance to repair a broken relationship – or the fleeting chance to build a new one.

I keep a list of things that I try to do every week – or roughly so often. These are things that don’t cost me anything, but they’re things that fill my life with so much value and joy that I can’t put a mere price tag on them.

Valvano’s three are on there.

This one’s easy for me – a half an hour with my two year old son almost always ends in laughter. This is almost a reminder to just spend some quality time with him each day.

I have a collection of “tear jerkers” that bring a tear to my eye every time I hear them or see them. They include the last five minutes of the film Field of Dreams (partially because I can relate so well to the connection that baseball has made with my father and grandfather), a handful of sentimental songs, and a small pile of old photographs. I try to look at a few of these every day, and almost always one of them does the trick. It keeps me in touch with what I value most.

I try to read something every day that pushes me intellectually – an essay in a well-written magazine, a journal article, a literary short story, or a section of a challenging book. I then spend some time thinking about it – looking up details that I’m unsure about and trying to really understand what’s being said. I almost always feel much better for the effort.

Here are three more. Take a few moments out of your busy week to try doing a few of these things. You won’t regret it.

Connect with your parents.
Right now, just fire up your email program and send a note to your mother and/or your father saying nothing more than “I love you. Thanks for all you’ve done for me.”

If that seems hard, spend some time thinking back to your childhood and think about all of the small but continuous sacrifices your parents made for you. The evenings spent at home instead of going out. The pennies pinched to make sure you had food on the table and a present under the Christmas tree. The time spent preparing meals and cleaning the house. Watch a toddler or a young child sometime and remember that you were once that age for years and your parents did countless little things to feed you, help you, and clean up after you.

Most of the mistakes that are made that seemingly damage or destroy a relationship are pretty minor when they’re looked at through that sort of reflection.

The thirty seconds you spend touching base with that relationship, even if it means swallowing a bit of pride or getting past some indignation, are thirty seconds that you’ll never regret.

Tell someone that they inspire you.
Again, a phone call or an email are perfect for this kind of thing. But I’ll be more public about it – I’ll tell you about my oldest brother, Al. I’ll quote something I wrote about him recently.

Al is about thirteen years older than I am – old enough such that we didn’t have much of a direct relationship at all when I was little. He was in high school when I was still in training pants, and he moved out when I was in first grade – not exactly a relationship of peers.

Instead, I looked up to him in the way that a little brother might in that situation. I watched him do a lot of things, for better and for worse, often when he didn’t even realize I was watching. And he inspired me to do a lot of things.

Al is outgoing – an extrovert while I’m an introvert. He had self-confidence that I’ve never felt. When I was in high school and in college, for example, my natural tendency would be not to talk to girls – any time I would try to build up the courage to talk to someone, my gut would try to talk me out of it. It was often at those moments I’d think about Al – and I’d realize that he’d have the courage to simply go do it, no matter what, and more than once that was enough to give me the kick in the pants I needed to stop being a wallflower.

In fact, it was that very motivation that got me to call my wife-to-be back and ask her for a second date Al happened to be there just when I made that phone call. He probably doesn’t remember it in the least, but I sure do – he basically said stop being a wimp and call that girl. I did, and now she’s my wife.

His self-confidence inspires me in other ways. It comes out as intense passion for things, and that passion drives him to get better at these things and – even better – teach others about them. He’s a passionate hunter, and he taught both me and my wife how to fire a rifle.

Al inspires me quite often to be less analytic about things and more passionate instead. I might sometimes think that his passion and zest for life goes too far, but without that inspiration, I might simply look at my hands a lot and simply not speak at all.

Al likely has no idea that I think this way and he’ll probably never read this posting – he’d rather be out in a tree stand than reading a blog. But I’ll find some way to tell him very soon.

Is there someone in your life that would be shocked to find out that they inspire you or that you think quite highly of them? What’s holding you back from telling them? Speaking up about it does nothing more than add some positive vibe to your relationship.

Spend time with a child – and with an elderly person.
There are two periods in a person’s life that you can be sure are fleeting: childhood and old age. Every day that passes for a child is another day that they move from being a child towards being an adult. Every day that passes for an elderly person is one less day you have to tell them how you feel.

There’s also another reason why it’s valuable to spend time with children and with elderly people: they’re both often willing to put aside the layers of social norms that we build up around ourselves and reach out in a deeply authentic way. Because of that, they can touch your soul in a way that’s very difficult for younger adults to do in a social situation.

Seek out the young people and the old people in your life and reach out to them. You may get much more than you bargain for.

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