It’s a popular maxim that ‘the best things in life are free’.
I’m less than convinced that’s the case.
I’m not sure that there’s much at all in life that’s actually free, let alone the best things.
In fact, so convinced am I that the best things in life aren’t free, that I actually did a bit of research prior to writing this particular diatribe.
Not too much research obviously, I wouldn’t want my usual ill-informed and meaningless stream of consciousness to be overly influenced by ‘facts’.
But a little etymology might well be useful at this point.
Just what is the origin of the phrase “The best things in life are free”?
I don’t really know – if I’m honest, my research only extended to a quick Google search, and I found one website attributing it to a 1927 song of the same name.
Maybe it has earlier origins, but let’s all assume for now that the song is the original use of the phrase. Perhaps it’s worth examining the lyrics of that song.
The moon belongs to everyone
The best things in life are free
The stars belong to everyone
They gleam there for you and me
The moon and the stars?
Are they really the best things in life?
Try staring at the moon and the stars of an evening. Is it really all that magical or is it actually a bit boring?
Also it’s not hard, thanks to the modern world of the internet, to do a quick search and find unscrupulous people who are prepared to sell you both the moon and the stars for the right price.
So they aren’t even free.
Other cursory web searches will tell you about the other ‘best things in life’ that are supposedly free.
Hugs, friendship, and love all seem to be popular choices.
Ok, avoiding any awkward innuendos and other uncomfortable misinterpretations, let’s assume that we’re talking about love in its most innocent and purest sense.
Is it free?
I’m not convinced.
I’d consider myself someone who is quite lucky in the ‘love’ stakes. I have a wife that loves me and I have a wider circle of family and friends who also love me. And I love all of them.
It’s a lovely state of affairs all around.
Technically yes, but see what happens if forget Mrs. Proclaims’ birthday.
Or worse still, she forgets mine…
And that’s ignoring all the implicit costs of a relationship. Yes, our mortgage payments have very little to do with love at face value, but I imagine we’d find it a little harder to love each other without a roof over our heads.
And much as I love my extended circle of friends and family, without the money to put fuel in my car, or buy a train ticket, or to pay for my phone and my internet connection, I probably wouldn’t see them or speak to them very much.
Admittedly I don’t see them or speak to them very much with all of those things in place but I think my argument extends beyond a misanthrope like me.
So I think it’s pretty clear that the best things in life (if indeed love and hugs and the moon and the stars are the best things in life), while hard to attach a monetary value to, are not entirely free.
And in my experience the things in life that are free are generally pretty rubbish.
Take my weekly grocery shop (don’t actually take it, I need all of the stuff I ordered).
Generally, these days I get my groceries delivered. They aren’t free. I pay for them. But it’s convenient and I generally get what I ordered and it’s largely stuff I want, because I chose to order it.
But sometimes, my grocery provider decides to chuck in something that is free.
It’s not a benevolent gesture, it’s a free sample of a product whose manufacturer is trying to promote it.
And for the last few weeks I’ve been getting free dishwasher tablets.
Which is all well and good, but I don’t have a dishwasher.
Well I do, but it’s a person and generally it’s the person that stares back at me when I look in the mirror.
So what good are dishwasher tablets to me?
No good at all.
I don’t order them on my weekly shop because I have no use for them so why am I getting them for free?
Is it some kind of perverse way of mocking me because I’m too poor to buy a dishwasher?
Because I’m not too poor to buy a dishwasher, I’m just currently too poor to pay for the entire redesign and refit my kitchen would need to have in order to accommodate a dishwasher.
Ok it’s just one isolated example and hardly proof of anything but I stand by my argument.
Even though I’ve just booked a self-catering holiday in the Lake District and my holiday cottage comes fitted with a dishwasher and the exact amount of free dishwasher tablets I’ve received just about corresponds with how much I’m likely to use the dishwasher while I’m there.
Even under those circumstances I think it’s absolutely fair to conclude that the best things in life are not free and sometimes free stuff can be a bit rubbish.