The debate over whether money can buy happiness probably began around 9000 B.C. when our ancestors were swapping cattle as the first form of currency. Today’s experts offer a more nuanced answer to that question (see Daniel Kahneman and the $75,000 plateau); money can be one tool in finding happiness. This is especially true when we spend our cash on experiences and on things that align with our values.
I’m here to share my own unscientific findings: Sometimes small, incidental purchases can be life-changing—when they banish chaos and anxiety and replace them with serenity and joy. Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent less than $50 solving problems that were leaving me feeling rushed, disorganized and sometimes even at risk.
Here are my providential purchases:
1. Bright cellphone case
2. Cellphone car mount
Having a mount means I’m no longer gripping my phone in one hand and the steering wheel in the other as I check Google Maps for the exit I should take on the highway (my car does not have a built-in GPS). Inserted into the unused CD slot, the TechMatte MagGrip is easy to install, holds the phone securely with a magnet, and, as blogger The WireCutter notes, it provides an ideal position for the screen without obstructing your view of the road. The fact that I feel safer and more confident while driving is almost priceless. Cost: $10.99.
3. Half-dozen pairs of reading glasses
It’s frustrating to reach for a pair of glasses only to find you’ve misplaced them—again. I’ve bought inexpensive readers at my local 99 Cents store and scattered them around my house like breadcrumbs, plus I keep one in my purse and another in my glove compartment. Now, when I need to check a recipe to know how much salt to add to the risotto, a pair of glasses is always handy. Cost: around $17.
I also asked some friends what low-cost happiness hacks they’ve discovered. Here’s what they had to say:
4. Single-cup coffee filter
Clarissa: After drinking terrible office coffee for three years—or going out for expensive Starbucks—I finally bought a plastic single-cup cone filter and some paper filters. Now I bring in my own ground coffee and I’m happy as a clam. Cost: $14.
5. Good travel mug
Joshua: My Contigo travel mug has been a game changer. I used to use up three plastic cups per day at coffee bars. Now I just have baristas fill my screw-top mug. There is no waste. Plus, it keeps hot coffee steaming for hours and cold brew stays ice cold. Cost: $11.99.
6. Subscription to Audible
7. An S bar
Michelle: I work out a lot and my body is always sore. I can’t afford to get massages all the time, so I bought the Body Back Buddy and I love it. It looks weird—like a curved baton with knobs—but it reaches everywhere and works out all my knots and stiffness. It costs a little more than $25, but it’s worth it! Cost: $29.95.
8. Guided meditation app
Brian: The meditation app has really helped me develop a mindfulness practice and it’s always there when you need to take a de-stress break, whether you have three minutes or 30. While meditation itself is free, I don’t think I would do it regularly without the app. Try Calm, Headspace, or Meditation Studio. Cost varies.
9. Subscription to Live Happy!
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Shelley Levitt is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles and editor at large for Live Happy. Her work has appeared in Real Simple, People, SUCCESS and more.