31 Simple Family Pleasures and Why They’re All That Matter

“That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.” - Henry David Thoreau

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

There’s a feeling a lot of people get that in order to enjoy life, they have to *do something*.

Go to the movies, go shopping, go drinking or dancing or clubbing, go to a concert, drive, eat and spend. The list could go on, but think of anything involves dressing up or spending money, and you get the picture.

Unfortunately, this view forgets some of the best pleasures in life: the simple ones. It also costs a lot, which means we must spend much of our lives earning the money to support having all this expensive fun.

Our family lives don’t need the pressure of doing something exciting. We don’t need to go to amusement parks or events or spend a lot of money in order to spend time with our loved ones.

Instead, focus on the simple pleasures with your family. These are the best moments anyway — and they cost almost nothing.

This takes a switch in mindset — any moment is an opportunity to spend time with someone you love — your spouse, your child, or the whole family. Any activity, no matter how simple, can be a joy, if you truly focus on being in the moment and fully experience that moment.

Once you have the right mindset, there’s no limit on the kinds of pleasures you can find with your family. Just a few examples to get you started:

  1. Take a walk and have a nice talk.
  2. Pack a simple picnic and go outdoors.
  3. Get outside and toss around a ball or Frisbee.
  4. Ride bikes or jog.
  5. Rent a movie (or get out one of your old DVDs) and make some popcorn.
  6. Bake cookies.
  7. Play boardgames.
  8. Make tents out of blankets.
  9. Read a book together.
  10. Tell stories.
  11. Look for bugs outside.
  12. Make paper airplanes.
  13. Go to the library.
  14. Take a hike.
  15. Camp in your backyard.
  16. Go to the beach or a lake or river.
  17. Take a stroll in the park or go to a playground.
  18. Read a book of tongue twisters and make up your own.
  19. Play loud music and dance.
  20. Just snuggle.
  21. Hide, and go seek.
  22. Thumb wrestle.
  23. Watch a sunrise.
  24. Count the stars and find constellations (or make up your own).
  25. Have a good hug.
  26. Eat chocolate. Slowly.
  27. Banana split.
  28. Root beer float.
  29. Make pancakes for dinner.
  30. Tell jokes.
  31. Be lazy together.

59 Responses to “31 Simple Family Pleasures and Why They’re All That Matter”

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  1. Baker says:

    The mindset shift that you outlined is exactly why we need to stop and take time to do these things on a daily basis. I do have one to add, though:

    Wrestle

    Yeah, not just thumb wrestling, but actually roll around and wrestle. Milligan goes absolutely bonkers when we do this! See runs around, bounces back and forth, try to find ways to sneak around the action, all the while giggling until she’s red in the face. :-)

  2. Sudeep says:

    In Ontario from last two years or so we are getting a family day off for all .. Well it is a nice off from work .. but this should be the things that you have mention that should be also mention to all Ontario citizens to do .
    Thanks for this wonderful message .

  3. Thanks for the reminder Leo. As a child, I loved thumb wrestling but I don’t remember ever doing it with my children. I’m a big fan of the walk and talk. Especially since my daughter just started middle school and there seems to be a lot to talk about. We can solve almost any problem while we are walking. And of course chocolate is sipped and eaten as slow as possible always!

  4. BeAGoodDad says:

    Great list. I have to agree with Baker that wrestling/tickling is one of the best ways to get the kids in a good mood in our house. Whenever I do it with one of the kids, the other two always end up piling on.

  5. Lisis says:

    So true. Almost any activity you pay for is bound to distract our focus from each other onto whatever the activity is. After all, we want to get our money’s worth, right? But when we just hang out together, our focus is on each other, and THOSE moments are the ones we will remember, the ones that warm our soul.

  6. Jeffrey Tang says:

    In the summer, my brother and I loved to make a giant tent out of our dining room table, some big blankets, and sleeping bags. We’d stash some snacks and toys in there and spend entire afternoons (and, of course, nights) just playing in and around our tent.

    Every year, our tents would get bigger and better (or so we thought) as we added new “architectural elements.”

    It’s things like this that we remember about childhood when we get older.

  7. steve says:

    Don’t forget how much kids love doing the unexpected. When we were kids, sometimes Mom would just decide to pack up dinner and we would take that to eat at a drive-in movie instead of the usual popcorn and snack bar stuff.
    There was also the times our parents would yell out at us on a Friday evening,”Come grab your stuff, we’re going camping”. These last minute camping trips, often involving our neighbors, are some of my happiest childhood memories. It seemed more like an adventure when you hit the campground after dark and had to set up a tent by campfire light.
    Spontaneity seems to be a dying art. My daughter and I would sometimes drive over to another state where fireworks are legal just to celebrate a weekend visitation. The unexpected excursions seem to make the most impact on our children. Maybe we all need more of them.

  8. Not surprising, most of the listed items are free or very cheap to do. I think that is key to developing a great bond within a family. The more artificial stuff is involved, the less personal it all feels. Just think about letters and how awesome it is to get a personal letter from a friend or family member compared to an email.

    I think that getting outside and experiencing life with your family is healthy in many ways; It is simple enough to work together on, it develops a sense of fitness, and it creates an appreciation for the wonders that are priceless all around us. I hate that a credit card company coined ‘The Best Things in Life are Free’ because their goal isn’t freedom despite that quote being completely true.

    I try to live a simple life and experience the simple things. I think I am able to enjoy nature and the relationships around me. That lifestyle has allowed me to realize what is important and what can be left behind. One of the ways I try to live a simpler life, I explained at my blog http://theminimalistpath.com/2009/09/3-ways-to-live-simpler/

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and simple pleasures Leo.

    Dave Damron
    The Minimalist Path

  9. Great post Leo. I am all about doing things that are inexpensive with my family. I think we make the most memories doing these things. Over the summer I came up with a list of things for us to do with the kids that were either free or cheap. We had so much fun and did things we’ve never done before. You can explore your city, and find activities that are free all the time, or on special days. We have so much fun when we just turn on some music and dance in the living room. Those are the times our kids will remember. And they don’t cost a thing. This was a great reminder, thanks!

  10. Michael says:

    I like no 14 Take a hike. I’m sure you don’t mean it in a bad way.
    Also most of the local libraries near me (Sydney, Aust) don’t just have books they have DVD’s and other cool stuff. So you can loan DVD’s for free rather than rent at a video store.

    Leo, I noticed that volunteering wasn’t on the list. I understand that the list isn’t exhaustive but was wondering how that was going?

    Keep up the good work!

  11. Neal says:

    This resonates with me too. And my guess is that most people, in this day and age, would agree.

    So here’s my question.

    Why do we forget?

    Sure, we “know” the real value comes from getting down on the carpet and playing together. But we forget. Our eyes tempt us with meaningless junk – and the crazy thing is….we often go for it. At least it happens to me….

    Why?

  12. jdp says:

    Love the list, great quote. Have 3 activities to add:

    1) do a puzzle
    2) dance to the radio
    3) put on a play for family

    (just our latest fun)

  13. amanda rose says:

    what a lovely list. it’s a great reminder to start etta (my baby) off on the right foot in terms of enjoying the simple things!

  14. Chelsea says:

    I’ll add:

    Play cards
    Do a puzzle
    Sing while someone plays an instrument

  15. steadymom says:

    Just made Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with my three this morning, and it was simply perfect.

    Jamie

  16. Andrew says:

    I second [or was it third] the wrestling bit. My daughter Em loves to wrestle.
    How do you finger wrestle? Never heard of that one.
    Regards, Andrew

  17. Coach J says:

    I think we spend too much time trying to “wow” our kisd with excitement and the “next best thing” that we forget about the simple pleasures. My kid could spend hours reading books. Or wrestling on the floor. Or bouncing a ball, for goodness sake. No need to wow the kids. The world is amazing enough.

  18. My daughter entered my office yesterday, announcing “now would be a good time for snuggling with family.” I think she got it right. :)

  19. Zengirl says:

    Best things in life are not things and are usually free. Sometimes, we feel we have spend money or talk, while simply being together is so meaningful.

  20. I love the ideas everyone is sharing. I think the idea of volunteering as a family is fantastic, there are organizations that encourage family volunteering (like food banks and animal shelters)

    Sometimes, breaking the rules can be a fun and memorable activity. Last week, my husband lit a fire on a school night, and the kids stayed up late and made s’mores. Amazingly, nothing bad happened :) They’ve been begging us for a repeat ever since.

  21. Shawn says:

    There is a great out of book print you younger readers may want to check out called the Tightwad Gazette. This woman was an inspiration to my young family and helped us avoid debt and enjoy of life. Check it out – at one time Consumer Reports wanted to buy her business… but she refused!

    Cheers

  22. Leo Babauta says:

    Great additions, everyone!

    @Michael: Unfortunately we haven’t been volunteering as much as we used to, but it’s something we want to do again. And I completely agree: it’s definitely a simple pleasure!

  23. A fabulous list. The simplest pleasures are surely the best.

  24. Nice reminder, Leo. Here’s another good idea to add:

    Surprise your kids at school with a brown bag lunch. There is little more joyful than a child who just received one of these special visits.

  25. Dr. Jenn says:

    Thanks Leo- we all need to be reminded it’s the little, simple, beauty filled moments that matter. We don’t have children so our family consists of cats, dogs, and horses. And the same goes for them.

    I was reminded the other day that the horses don’t care if I have time to ride them, but they DO care if I ignore them! Taking them out for a brushing and a bite of grass, stopping to pick up a kitty and pet them, and taking a moment to give the dogs bedtime hugs- makes a huge difference to ALL of us- we feel so much more connected and the love flows more naturally!

  26. Leo, I love this list. Of all the things we do together as a family, you’ve just called out all my favorites.

  27. Glad to see you have hide and seek in there and making a den out of sheets. Real favourites. Kids love jokes and joke books are a great way to get them reading. Sometimes you just can’t take any more knock knock jokes any longer and that’s when hide and seek comes in.

    If I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the noise and activity of family life I instigate a game of hide and seek and run to hide in my bed under the covers. Two nice quiet minutes until they find me are all I need to recover and listening to the kids rattling round the house as a team looking for me always makes me giggle.

    Sardines is fun too where one person hide and when you find them you just pile in with them until everyone is squashed into the same cupboard.

    OK, got to go wrestle with my husband now while I wait for the kids to come back from school:)

  28. Zeina Gabriel says:

    Dear Leo,

    Thank you very much for this great simple straightforward post.
    A few weeks ago, when I subscribed to receive the latest post on Zen Family Habits, I told myself that I won’t probably read the posts since they will be dealing mostly with family and kids. But your posts are magnificient and they make me realize how simple and easy life is.
    Looking forward for the next post. Have a great day and regards to all your family.
    Zeina :)

  29. I’m all for eating chocolate, Leo, but ‘slowly’? I don’t know. Not sure the words ‘chocolate’ and ‘slowly’ belong on the same sentence :) I do love renting a movie and making popcorn, even more than I enjoy going out to the movies. People are always shocked to find out how infrequently we go out socially, but I’d rather invite people around than meet up at some crowded venue.

  30. My daughter (16 months old) loves the piano. Just hitting all those keys. I’ll sit next to her and enjoy every minute of it. To me it sounds great.

    Klaus Tol

  31. I’d also have to agree with the wrestling! When my husband and I were getting married we asked some of our married friends for their tips for a happy marriage and wrestling was one of them! Lots of great ideas for simple, fun pleasures in your list and many that we enjoy doing together as a family and that work well for us.

  32. I love your list! As I read through those entries, I was filled with many great memories of both my own childhood (despite its overall negativity) and the best memories spent with my own children…and wife!

    My son still talks about the great time we had last winter when we just chased each other around in the snow and then came in to drink hot cocoa. He remembers that my boot “broke” and he knows which hat he had on. Obviously, this simple time together has left and indelible memory with him (and me).

    Great stuff!

  33. CNA says:

    I really like that list a lot. I am in complete agreement, I find the more things I do to spend money, the more I need to work. The more you have to go to your 9-5 job the more life we tend to miss out on.

  34. How true this is. Reminds me of when I took my grandkids creek walking. The other grandparents took them to Disneyworld and on massive shopping trips, but the kids always wanted to come to my house and go outside and play — with me. They are all adults now, but still talk about the fun we used to have.

  35. This is a great list. We’ve done everything we can to adopt this mentality. We read The Power of Less shortly before our move to Montevideo, Uruguay in March. Thanks to time zone differences–I have 5 hours each morning through lunch with my daughter (still tied to a work schedule–transition away from that is underway). The home office allows us time to be there for the little milestones.

    Another benefit to location independence–our little 22 month old speaks as much Spanish as she does English. We walk everywhere, no car(s) to deal with anymore, we can take strolls along the coast, play in the park. More than one lunch has been interrupted by a family dance party when our daughter says “música, música” for us to turn on the radio. Life is simple here and we’re loving it.

    Just today, Geneva ran to the bedroom, patted mommy and daddy’s bed and said “sleep.” Follow by gestures and giddy exclamations of “Mommy” “Daddy” that we all should jump in bed for an impromptu family snuggle. Ahhh. The simple joys of being a parent.

  36. Jessica says:

    You can also play Twister! It is always a lot of fun for people of all ages! ;)

  37. I definitely recognise that drive to ‘do something’ to keep my daughter entertained. Easy to forget that it doesn’t have to be that way.

    I’ve found that even regular chores around the apartment can be fun when we do them together – washing up, for example. She has her own brush and sits next to me – gives everything the first scrub and I finish off. Takes longer – but no longer a chore.

  38. Do forget about your pets – Sometimes walking the dog is looked upon as a chore. Next time, get the whole family to walk the dog!

  39. I really like this. This is a reminder that we can find true happiness in the simple things. Many of us are looking outwardly for happiness. We should be looking inwardly for happiness. Everything that we need for this life is on the inside – look within. Great article.

  40. Brenda Large says:

    Bobbing for apples in a big tubof water is fun. Often associated with Halloween, it can be done any time. Or bobbing for peanuts in the shell, pears, anything you can think of. I think there has to be a little prize for the person who catches the most objects with their teeth.

  41. Lani Rosales says:

    CRAFTS! :) Kids love being creative and are always proud to do projects with parents.

    I love the reminders to focus on the family!

  42. Wow. So many great suggestions. The one I would add is “Listen.” I know it sounds kind of passive, but sometimes we get so caught up in “doing”…and looking for the next thing to do, that we forget to slow down and just listen. When we shift our focus to truly listening, it helps us let go of being in charge, even for a few moments. Thank you for starting this great conversation.

  43. Chandi says:

    Absolutely true. U need not do anything either. On weekends when my husband is at home, I cook his favourite dishes. My son will be busy with the laptop in his room and my husband will be busy with his newspapers after some cleaning up and gardening. Just being together means a lot without any disturbances!

  44. Bertie says:

    Hi Leo, I really enjoy your site and look forward to each week. I like this list and I am going to copy it to my desktop for daily activities. My husband and I play with our two boys, 5 and 10 yrs, and more so lately with the purchase of a couple of new board games. The problem we’ve been having lately is our 5yr old gets quite angry and starts to whine when its time to quit or if he doesn’t win. We have tried time limits, 2 min warnings, and prep talks. Any ideas on how we can make it a smooth ending to play time?

  45. Hollee says:

    Really liked the message here — I was sent by a yoga friend who writes a blog called Teacher Goes Back to School.

    I am one of those people who likes to do be “doing” things; I can get restless very easily. I have to focus on having “relaxing” time, especially with my kids. (Without meaning to be, I can become distracted quite easily.)

    I love yoga and have begun introducing it to my kids. I think it is a great thing that we can do together — for free!

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