How to have fun (when you can’t buy it)

They say money can’t buy happiness. I think everyone kind of knows that’s not entirely true. It might not continue to work forever, but nothing works like that. Truth is, given enough money, you can buy happiness, if only for a few moments.

But what happens when you can’t? What happens when you don’t have the money? Or what happens when nothing’s available to buy?

Welcome to life in Saudi Arabia. They say spending on entertainment anywhere really only comes down to three categories: “buying tickets, going to restaurants, and shopping.” In Saudi, at least where I live, we don’t really have those options.

In Jubail, we’re not allowed to buy tickets for much – theaters and concerts aren’t allowed in the Kingdom. Restaurants consist of cheap Indian and Pakistani food, which is nice unless you get tired of eating the same thing or spending most of your time walking to and from the restaurants. And lastly, shopping can be okay, if that’s your thing, but you have to account for how you’re going to take what you buy out of here once you leave. Most guys don’t want to accumulate too much stuff here.

So, what to do then? The three main categories don’t feel as appealing. It’s probably why so many guys struggle to live here: we’re used to buying happiness.

Instead of trying to buy it, here are 20 ideas for having fun without always spending money:

  1. Hiking hills or mountains or walking along a beach or river or just down the road
  2. Playing chess or backgammon
  3. Studying a language
  4. Playing cards
  5. Playing video or computer games online
  6. Watching movies or TV series (downloaded from friends or the Internet)
  7. Chatting with friends in person or skyping
  8. Reading novels (yeah, this can be free if you know where to look)
  9. Exercising and working out
  10. Playing an instrument
  11. Browsing the Internet
  12. Watching videos online
  13. Listening to music, online also
  14. Writing, anything from friendly postcards to that novel you’ve always wanted to finish
  15. Drawing or painting
  16. Learning new tech skills, like coding or Photoshop or something like that
  17. Following a sports team (or more than one) or participating in fantasy leagues
  18. Taking a course online (check Khan Academy or any of the open courses from universities like MIT)
  19. Playing a sport: basketball, tennis, football, cricket, whatever
  20. Giving things to people: poems, stuff you don’t need anymore, crafts, so many options here

And these are just some I came up with quickly.

Granted, some of these require initial investments. You might want to buy a new lens for your camera, hunt down some new pastels for your art, or pick up a new gaming system to keep up with your friends. But many of these costs can be fairly low when you figure how much value you can get in exchange.

Frankly – and yeah, this certainly isn’t what everyone wants to hear – but I think most people, in Saudi or not, just aren’t good at cultivating unique ways to have fun. Most of us, myself included sometimes, just look around at what everyone else is doing and try to do more of the same. And more of the same almost always means more consumption and monotony, less creation and exploration.

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