The pithy aphorism that “the best things in life are free,” while no doubt well-intentioned, is simply false. It’s slightly more accurate to suggest that the best things in life can’t be bought, but even this claim can be quickly debunked when you attempt to concoct a scenario in which nary a single penny was spent to craft a seemingly “free” moment or experience.
And that’s where these sayings evoke a profound tangential truth—that the best things in life are not things. Indeed, findings in behavioral economics suggest that we derive more joy from spending money on experiences than on stuff. Furthermore, the intangible memories from these experiences tend to compound our joy over time, while most tangible objects depreciate in value.
So here are three reasons why the best things in life may be quite costly, although entirely worth it.
First, if nothing else, the best things in life usually require you to trade your scarcest, and therefore most valuable, commodity—your time. How much is your time worth? A rough approximation might be to determine what you are paid hourly, so if you’re not paid hourly, divide your annual income by 2,080 (40 hours per week for 52 weeks in a year). So, how much did it actually cost you to binge the entirety of Southern Charm? (I know someone’s asking themselves right now, “Before or after tax?” 😊)
But not all hours are equal, are they? That extra hour of sleep Saturday morning? Date night? Sunday evenings? The moment you drop your first child off at college? How about your youngest? You get the idea. Our time is more valuable than we think; it expires instantaneously, and there’s also a substantial amount of “surge pricing” in our time .
Second, while there is a very real value that we can attach to your time, there’s another economic factor at play here: the tradeoffs we make with our time—our opportunity cost. Since time, unlike money, is a “zero-sum” commodity, when we choose to do one thing, we can’t do another. Therefore, in addition to the value of your time and whatever surge pricing you apply, its value is further compounded by the fact that you couldn’t spend that time doing something else.
Here’s a crazy example: Daniil Medvedev is a really good men’s tennis player, currently ranked number three in the world. By one estimate, he’s made $7,411,834 so far in 2023, just in prize money, earning at least another $10 million in endorsements for the year. According to our calculation above, that puts his hourly rate at about $8,370. Per hour.
During the broadcast for the recent U.S. Open, where Medvedev was the runner-up, it was announced that he is a huge online gamer—and further that he has logged more than 3,000 hours playing one particular game, Rainbow Six Siege. So, in essence, Medvedev has “spent” $25 million worth of his time playing a single video game.
And I can’t help but wonder: What ELSE could someone who makes $17.4 million a year be doing with his time other than playing video games? Uh, just about anything? No judgement here, Daniil, but that’s a lot of opportunity cost, my friend.
Lastly, time isn’t the only non-financial resource we regularly expend, nor perhaps the most valuable. How about your influence and your energy?
How much energy did you spend crafting that snarky text or email response? Frustrated in traffic? Coming up with the perfect song and caption for your most recent Instagram post? Fretting over others’ perception of you?
Are you aligning your expenditures of energy proportionately with your priorities in life? Or are the most important people (and your most important work) getting whatever’s leftover when your energy tank is almost on E?
Furthermore, what about your investments in your personal energy? A good night’s sleep, a nutrient-dense whole-food diet, a serious exercise regimen—these cost real time and real money, and if you’re not making those investments, it’s altogether likely that you’re unable to give your best to anyone. It’s also not a stretch to suggest that you’re not maximizing your income potential either because it’s very hard to do your best work when you’re not adequately investing in your energy.
Yet of all the resources at your disposal, your influence may be the most valuable—and vulnerable. Your influence is dependent on your reputation, and as has never been more evident than in the age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a millisecond to destroy one. What are you doing to cultivate your influence—and what are you doing to protect it?
Indeed, the best things in life are far from free. Both financially and otherwise, they are surprisingly costly, but let us not forget that they are the best things in life—and totally worth it.