Maximum joy for only $50
Today I bought $50 of joy.
I know, joy isn’t supposed to be something you buy with a price tag. But I happen to know that today I spent $50. And got a lot of joy.
This Christmas, I invented what’s called The $50 Game. I stuck two $50 bills in Adam’s stocking, along with a printout of Game Rules. They include:
- Each player receives $50. All money must be spent in one day or it returns to the boring household budget, never to be seen again.
- No additional money may be spent, unless the entire $50 is spent on one purchase that requires more than $50 (eg. cross country skis, golf cart, or a trip to Bermuda)
- To win, player must extract the maximum amount of joy out of his/her $50
- Both players may, and should, win
So what did we do with those $50 bills?
There’s no pious answer coming. We didn’t give it all away or buy presents for the guy who sleeps under the highway overpass by our house. We pretty much spent it on ourselves (aside from the $4 I spent on a fish for Phoebe’s new aquarium).
Our purchases included a Wisconsin artist’s signed painting we found at Goodwill, heaps of new shirts and ties for Adam from Goodwill, and a pair of shorts for me (since last summer Phoebe told me I wore the same pair every day, and I think that pair is actually supposed to be swimwear).
I got a new hat from REI that makes me feel good about my appearance while I’m growing my hair out. Adam likes me hair long and I like it short, so every few years I force myself to grow it longer. The hat reminds me I’m beautiful no matter what I think of my hair.
We went to movies. We couldn’t decide between The Hobbit and Les Miserables, so we each went to one and compared notes afterward. My eyeballs leaked all the way through Les Miserables. What a fabulous dunking in grace. Everyone should see it.
While I waited for The Hobbit to let out, I stepped next door to the theater and stumbled upon a friend working. We had a fabulous conversation without a price tag.
And finally we went out to our favorite little Mexican taco restaurant to debrief.
We assessed: Did we find joy?
Joy is a puzzle I’m working over lately. At the ginormous missions conference, Urbana, last week, I overheard that a workshop called “Reading the Bible with Joy” was packed to overflowing. I don’t know what the presenter had to say about finding joy in the Bible, but I did learn one thing—people are searching for joy. There’s a craving out there. And why haven’t more of us found the joy we’re looking for?
One thing Adam and I talked about after the $50 day was that joy requires us to know our feelings. We have to be able to look inside ourselves and ask, “When am I really happy?” If we can’t look inside for answers to that question, we depend on the answers thrown at us. One main job of marketing is to create a feeling of dissatisfaction and then quickly shove a product in your face with a claim that this, and only this, will satisfy that dissatisfaction. That’s a schizophrenic insatiable way to look for joy.
Before we left for our $50 game, we spent a long time talking about what it was we really wanted. Adam quoted a coworker who recently admitted, “I’m slow to feel.” Often we don’t know how we feel. What does make us happy? What doesn’t? Just asking the question opened doors for joy.
Joy came both in having and in not having.
Adam also noticed that one of the best parts of his day was realizing how many things he didn’t need. Prioritizing his top goals with $50 allowed him to see how he could do without the stuff on the list that didn’t fit.
There was plenty we didn’t get with our $50. I had hoped to look for a new necklace (those of you who spend time with me have seen the one I got in Thailand seven years ago that I’ve worn nearly every day since, which is on its last legs). We listed other stuff we could have gotten—fruit tree saplings to arrive in spring, snowboarding time for Adam, biking clothes, coconut oil, music, and jiao zi (our favorite food from our years in China).
There’s joy in restraint. The day gave us pause to “be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5).
At the same time, there’s joy in gratitude for abundance. As I wrote in This Ordinary Adventure, my poor Nicaraguan friends didn’t want me to feel guilty that I had used washing machines back at home, they wanted me to feel grateful.
At the end of the day, I opened my Bible’s concordance and looked through every verse listed with the word “joy.” It doesn’t say you get joy from spending $50 with your spouse, but what a rich list it was! In the coming weeks, some of what I found will turn up in more blog posts.
In the mean time, I hope your day allows space to examine your feelings and notice where joy turns up.