Ten lords a-leaping? $4,414. Making yourself happy for less? Priceless

If you can afford to spend $87,403 to buy the gifts of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" -- that's the Associated Press's calculation for the full tab, from the 12 drummers drumming down to the partridge in a pear tree -- then more power to you. But it might be a lot cheaper to make yourself happy.

A variety of spiritual and religious groups will help consumers throw off the shackles of their unhappiness for far less cash than hiring 10 lords a-leaping. My own unscientific survey calculates the cost of being your own best friend as far cheaper than being a true love. Adopting a pet from a shelter for $100 is a great stress-reliever, as is a massage ($80) or a Prozac prescription ($15 with insurance).
And there are plenty of other ways to soothe your mind and body. Retreat centers at many Catholic religious communities suggest donations of between $40 and $80 per day, including accommodations and some meals, according to Father Bernard McCoy, Superior of Cistercian Abbey Our Lady of Spring Bank. His abbey, which sits on 550 acres in Sparta, Wisconsin, plans to build a four-bedroom guest cottage by next year, McCoy says.

Cut-rate enlightenment can be found in the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York, where Sunday programs start at $5, according to Yukon, one of the community's monks. Retreats run between $175 and $250, including accommodation and meals, and can last as long as a week.

All this stuff together adds up to $2,450. That's a tiny fraction of the cost of "The 12 Days of Christmas."

"The 12 Days" is an ode to holiday gluttony; most of the items in the song are ridiculous or impractical. With the price of gold up 43% this year, even Ringo Starr might balk at giving five golden rings. And don't get me started on the nine ladies dancing ($5,473 per performance), 10 lords a-leaping ($4,414), 11 pipers piping ($2,285), or 12 drummers drumming ($2,475). That's nearly $15,000 for 42 performers -- and the net result? A Renaissance Faire gone horribly wrong.

Money, as we all know, does not buy happiness. Rich people can be just as miserable as average folks. LiveScience.com argued that case succinctly in 2006: "Although most people imagine that if they had more money they could do more fun things and perhaps be happier, the reality seems to be that those with higher incomes tend to be tenser, and spend less time on simple leisurely activities."

As people worry more about money, they tend to become less spiritual. Though common sense may indicate otherwise, the decline in the stock market did not lead to an increase in church attendance, according to a survey this year by the Pew Forum on Religious Life.

Good thing we haven't all found spiritual enlightenment, or the economy would go off a cliff. Buying stuff we don't need at prices we can't afford is as American as apple pie.

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