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So here I am, on what used to be known as the day after Thanksgiving but is now generally referred to as Black Friday. I’m sitting in my son’s girlfriend’s sweet little house, and we’re chatting, drinking coffee with cream, and marveling at the myriad e-mails stuffing our inboxes—advertisements for deep-discounted this, Black Friday that, and get ‘em before they’re gone whatevers.


I understand—and sympathize with—the fact that many people have a real and serious need in this economy to hit the stores in the wee hours to obtain the best deal possible on Christmas gifts for their families. We’re in that boat, too. But I can’t bring myself to enter a store at midnight. I barely enjoy shopping during normal hours. I suppose this is my age speaking; when I was young, I used to love to shop.

Money is tight. John and I will figure out a creative way to honor our family during the holidays. And we’ve already given each other our Christmas gift: our impromptu trip to New York City. And so I’m just lollygagging, spending time with Jenny while Matt gets ready for work and John catches some extra sleep. I’m drinking coffee and doing something I rarely have time to do: I’m relaxing. This is a free day, and we’re 500 miles from home. We’ll meet some friends for lunch and more friends at dinner—friends that we haven’t seen in more than a year. There will be no shopping involved. And I’m fine with this. I suspect it might even be good for us in ways other than our wallets.

TIME magazine, in its issue for June 24, 2011, published a fascinating series of articles about money. In J.D. Roth’s article, “Money Can’t Buy Happiness—Or Can It?” he writes:

Experiences tend to make us happier than material things. We have different reactions to the money we spend on experiences and the money we spend on material goods: When we spend on experiences, our perceptions are magnified (meaning we feel happier or sadder than when we spend on stuff), and the feelings tend to linger longer. And since most of our experiences are positive, spending on activities instead of things generally makes us happier.

This I believe: Money can’t buy you love, and it can’t buy you happiness. I am programmed to believe this because I grew up never having much of it. I’m inclined to believe this because I did find love and I did find happiness, two critically important factors to a good quality of life. John says that he’s never possessed so little materialistically since the days early in his adulthood when he was teaching elementary school—and he’s never been happier. The same is true for me. We clip coupons, scrimp, and do without things that have turned out to be wholly unnecessary to our well-being. But time spent with our family is vital to our well-being, and so this trip to Ohio will fuel us with happiness far longer than an iPad would for me, or a summer of Sundays playing golf would for John.

Now, if I could no longer afford coffee, then we’d have a real problem …