Updated on 08.01.08

The Things That Make You Feel Good – And What That Has To Do With Your Money

Trent Hamm

Just try this little experiment tomorrow.

From the very start of the day, keep a little notepad with you and jot down everything that makes you feel genuinely happy inside. Don’t worry about whether it’s something big or something small – if you feel a twinge of happiness, jot it down.

Then, a day or two later, do it again. Make four or five little lists of the things that made you feel happiness during a given day – the things that made you feel good.

By now, you’ll have a few nice little lists. Go through them and eliminate any good feelings that make you feel bad when you look back on them, like silly frivolous purchases that were a rush when you made them but now feel like a waste to you.

The items remaining are a collection of the good things in your life. These are the things that bring you joy on a regular basis and provide the fuel for you to keep going.

Here’s my list, for a recent day:

+ The shouts of my son and daughter through the baby monitor in the morning as I lay next to my wife listening to them
+ Three minutes of wonderful stretching
+ The taste of a really fresh bagel with cream cheese on it
+ The success of finishing a very long article
+ A warm and unexpected hug from my wife
+ An hour of uninterrupted reading of a book I love very much
+ Dancing around in my office (with the door shut) to “Let There Be Rock”
+ The pleasure of making a loaf of bread
+ Cheering up an old friend
+ Playing tee ball in the yard with my son
+ A lengthy babble conversation with my daughter
+ Watching a movie while sitting nest to my wife as she rests her head on my shoulders

What’s to note here? The only ones that directly involve purchases are the bagel, the book, the bread ingredients, the tee ball equipment, the movie, and the music – everything else was either completely free or only involved purchases on an indirect level. Even those purchases are a little bit fuzzy – the tee ball equipment was a gift for my son from his grandparents, the movie came to us from SwapADVD, and the book came from the library.

To put it simply, the things that day that brought me lasting happiness didn’t cost much money at all. These are the spices of my life – the things that make my day to day life enjoyable – and they don’t have much to do with spending money at all.

The next step is to learn to focus on these things. Obviously, from this list, one can tell I’m passionate about my family and close friends, reading, writing, and food – they bring joy into my life on a daily basis. What things can I do that give me the most opportunity to really enjoy those things?

Organize your time to maximize those experiences. If you really get enjoyment from reading a great book but feel indifference from television, turn off the television and read a book. If you truly enjoy time with your family, spend times when they’re not available busting your tail to get your other chores and tasks done so you can spend more time with them when they are available. If you enjoy food, spend time learning how to make great food at home – it’s really not as hard as it seems and it’s pretty cost-effective, too.

What if one of the things I deeply love is quite expensive? It’s likely counterbalanced by simple things that aren’t nearly as expensive. Just keep it in balance – don’t focus on the expensive passion. Mix up your life a little – mix golf with walking around in nature. Mix clothes shopping with exercise. Also, find ways to channel that love into something less expensive. If you’re passionate about golf, don’t buy new clubs and go golfing at the local community course – you can still get the rush of the tee shot to the green with your old clubs at the community course. If you’re passionate about clothes, be more careful and well-researched about your clothing picks and shop for the big bargains at lower end stores – you can get a huge rush out of finding an amazing item in an unexpected place.

For me, it’s all about finding time to read and maximizing my time with my kids instead of doing more expensive things that I’m less passionate about. That’s done more than anything to keep my spending in check.

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  1. Great idea. Off the top of my head I can list these things:

    My morning cup of tea
    Working in the garden
    Sitting in the shade and admiring the garden
    Harvesting from the garden
    Canning or freezing stuff from the garden
    Knowing that I’ve got food socked away for later on
    Gathering eggs from my hens
    Reading a good book
    Cooking for myself and my husband
    Eating real food
    Strolling in the nearby fish hatchery
    Making things with my hands
    Acquiring new practical skills

    I may have to keep an actual list, and get my husband to do the same.

  2. Angie says:

    You know, I really do like this blog a lot, but sometimes the sappiness factor of some articles makes me gag just a little.

    Reading this article, I totally imagine you running and twirling in the hills a la Maria in the opening credits of “The Sound of Music.”

    “This hills are alive… with the sound of compound interest…”

  3. Solomon says:

    Playing with my dog makes me way way happier than spending money.

  4. BonzoGal says:

    I enjoy the “sappiness factor” myself- it shows there’s a real human being behind a blog about a pretty dry subject (finance).

    My list for today, so far:
    -Having my cat roll around at my feet during breakfast.
    -My coworkers laughing at a joke I made.
    -Finishing a long-term project and sending it off to the manager, and realizing I brought it in under-budget! (Woohoo!)

  5. Kevin says:

    -sitting next to my son this morning on the bed while he finished his bottle wondering how he got so big and where the year went (he turns 1 on Monday)
    -kissing him and my wife goodbye this morning when I dropped them off at preschool (she works there, he attends for free!)
    -waking up and stepping over my dogs on the way to the bathroom to take a shower – for some reason having them between us and the front door adds some sort of “protective feeling” for me
    -getting close to finishing a huge project at work
    -thinking about a long weekend (off Monday) that includes going out to eat tonight and my son’s 1st birthday party tomorrow

  6. Luis says:

    Trent, how about passions that are practically the meaning of your life? I live for photography and I will die doing it. Those are expensive in both traditional (rolls, development and prints) or digital (more expensive cameras that last less, prints).

  7. KC says:

    Amen to the playing with your dog. That has to bring me the greatest happiness in my life. It is certainly the easiest way to relieve stress. I have a Golden Retriever and he’s just naturally happy go lucky. If only we could all have the happy disposition of a Golden – life would be good. Dogs aren’t cheap, but the return on investment is probably the greatest you’ll find out there.

  8. Bonnie says:

    Hey Trent,
    I have been “lurking” for a long time as I am new to blog reading, but I have finally decided to comment. You always seem to write about things I am thinking about! I was just thinking about this today as I decided to kick off a money free weekend by just hanging out and playing with my 2 year old son enjoying our great yard. We also went to enjoy one of many local playgrounds. As he went to bed tonight I couldn’t help but reflect on all the fun my husband and I had with him today! Keep up the great writing! Thanks!

  9. L says:

    I’ve spent this week dog sitting for my friend and I completely agree with how much they can cheer you up and reduce any stress.
    My list would include baking cupcakes, going for a bike ride along the sea front with my partner, playing board games with my friends.

  10. jan says:

    i’m a german reader of your site and must say that this article is one of my favorites.

    i wrote a lot of lists of things that i like in the past and never used them….until now. the best tip (so simple…why didn’t i do it before??) is to eliminate the the “good” things that make me feel sad a few days later.

    go on my friend, i love your website!

  11. brooke says:

    Agreed about the dogs! I have three- a boxer and two boxer/labs! And, I read from a blog somewhere (maybe here?!) that on average a dog cost around $8,000 a year, I think my $25,000 a year worth of dogs bring my husband and I $100,000 worth of laughter and enjoyment! They and my husband make my free time invaluable! My list would also include Saturday mornings with my cup of coffee and reading my blogs, and playing in the river with my husband and dogs.

  12. clint says:

    The “things” that make me fell happy are very different than what I spend my money on. My kids make me happy and not when I am buying them “things” but when we are doing things together. Not expensive things but fun things. we went and picked apples the other day and spent $20.00 to buy the fruit and spent 3 hours loving my kids and helping them learn how fun it is to work. On the contrary when we do things that cost real money it is not as fun. We went to Disny world last year and spent a ton of money. When we got home we ask the kids what they liked the most and they said . Singing “camp songs” in the car on the way to the park. I could have done theat and saved a lot of money. They just liked hanging out with dad. They don’t care about the money pary.

    Love your kids…teach them about how money really works.

    Clint Lawton


  13. Lisa says:

    Its cute that you wrote “sitting nest to my wife”. Like you are in a little nest together. :)

  14. Alex says:

    Good posting. I really like the simple “priceless” things you listed. I think I’ll start a list like this too.

  15. Mrs. M says:

    On this note, I am reading a fantastic book, “The Utimate Cheapskate”s Guide to True Riches”, by Jeff Yeager.

    The book is hilarious, and is all on this topic- that the things which make us happy are mostly intangible; that happiness does not come from a steadily increasing standard of living. A decided upon standard of living that is met, and kept steady, does more for securty and satisfaction than anything else, and that abandoning the struggle for more all the time leaves you wide open timewise to, gues what? Have a great life!

  16. Trent — What was the book you were reading and enjoying so much?

  17. Shannon says:

    We have discovered the pleasure of resale shopping! I went to Plato’s Closet and spent $40 for 9 tops and a pair of capris. Even though it’s a store for teens and twenties, with care I’m able to find clothes that fit me and that has completely revitalized my wardrobe! My husband was even able to find a suit at Goodwill for $7 plus $14 added for alteration and pressing at the cleaners. It’s one of the nicest suits he’s ever owned. Now clothes shopping is indeed a pleasure when only a few dollars are at stake!! Our dog also give us great pleasure. We take long walks with him on a daily basis. Now that Petco offers annual vaccinations at their stores at a much reduced price, we no longer have to take him to the vet for shots.

  18. KC says:

    wow! $8000/year for a dog?!?! Worthy, my Golden, is 11 years old and isn’t chea because of his age. But vet bills, even during the worst years of hot spots and old dog injuries, are less than $500. Food, treats, vitamins are about $800/year. I have to clean more often and repair the yard more, but that is mostly sweat equity on my part. He stays with a friend and her 2 kids when we leave town (and he loves being around those kids!). Sure there are toys and a few other odds and ends, but $8000/year? That’s extreme.

  19. I LOVE new technology, however this is really expensive (especially if you want to continually update it constantly). When I can budget this in a will spoil myself. However, every other time I will find cheaper things (if not free) things that make me happy and I will do them. This is a great post and eally got me thinking.

  20. Melinda says:

    I love cooking!
    So much so, that when I had a ‘near migraine’ rather than lie in bed and be miserable whilst waiting for the medicine to kick in, I focused on our favourite dessert and whipped that up.(Sticky date pudding with caramel sauce)
    An hour later headache/nausea forgotten as the smell of our dessert wafted all throughout the house!

  21. rob says:

    #2, it’s sappy, but it’s good! I smiled when I read that comment, because the articles do get a bit corny :) But if sappy leads to happiness, I’m all for it!

  22. Laura G says:

    This is such a great list! you inspired me to cook up one of my own. It’s short, but getting longer as I force myself to notice these things. Thanks!

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