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Experiences Make Us Happier Than Things, Research Says

December 19th, 2009 by Alison · 6 Comments · lifestyle, money, simplicity

Time for last-minute but blessedly low-stress Christmas shopping. This is a guest post from fellow Portlander Katy Wolk-Stanley of The Non-Consumer Advocate, a blog I highly recommend. More support for a joyful, low-cost Christmas here.

Katy writing:

One part of this article on shopping that struck me as quite insightful was the subject of how experiences differ from things:

“Over the past decade, social psychologists have conducted numerous studies that find we’re happiest when, instead of shelling out for stuff, we spend money on things that provide social and personal engagement.

Shared experiences, researchers find over and over again, offer greater value than material buys. Pleasant memories don’t fade in the wash or go out of fashion. Just think back on that family trip out West. Sure, everyone returned home with assorted souvenirs that proved you were actually there. But now, what do you remember as the most meaningful part of the trip? Maybe it was the look you saw on your kids’ faces, their eyes wide as saucers, as they peered into infinite chasms that offered up a spectacle beyond anything they’d experienced before—including, even, the first time they fired up their PlayStation.”

My mother’s birthday was last week, and instead of buying her more stuff, I took her out on the town to see a play with dessert afterwards. We started this tradition a few years back when a showing of Sing-Along Sound of Music was in town and I decided that I had found the perfect gift for her. Not only would we get to spend a child-free evening together, (a rarity at the time, as my kids were still small) but the combination of singing and making smart-ass remarks at the screen was right up her alley.  My instinct was right on the money, and we still laugh about how fun that night was.

My mother already owns a lifetime of possessions and there’s nothing I can buy her that she doesn’t already have. Nothing.

I would suggest that you consider the things vs. experiences issue when making your gift giving choices for this year’s holiday season. Not only are you providing an experiential gift, but are not contributing to the excessive clutter that so many of us struggle with. Plus there’s none of that pesky packaging!

Have you received or given experience gifts such as theater or movie tickets; massages or homemade gift certificates in the past? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Crafty Green poet

    I agree! I have more than enough stuff and I love the idea of giving experiences as gifts.

  • Jen Bennett

    I have 4 boys, now ages 22,21,18 and 8. A couple of years ago, the older boys said that “(we) never get any toys! (the little guy) gets all the fun toys…” So I bought them toys. Toys they’d loved and lost - Discontinued legos, that I scoured ebay and yard sales and craigs list for; toys their cousin had that we’d never been able to afford - the Star Wars ship, the Darth Mal sword that had been twice the price as the regular sound and lights sword, and thus not justifable, and antique wind-up toys that made me laugh, and I knew they’d like. Sure enough, the memories of the fun they’d had with the toys (whether at our house or friends’) brought joy and fun to Christmas Day, and now those things have a place of honor in their homes and rooms, and await the day their own (still in the future) boys can play with them.

  • Jen Bennett

    Another year I made memories with memorabilia.. My oldest son, now 22, had loved Simon and Garfunkle when he was about 10 or 11. The next one was a Beatles guy, and the third an Eagles fan. The baby loved the Wallace and Grommit shorts. I got a signed S&G album - yes, and album - on ebay, and framed it up. I got buttons that were all the Beatles album covers, and put those in a shadow box together with a pick-guard signed by Paul and Ringo. A signed drum head by the Eagles, and the pack and go W&G with all the figures completed the list. I don’t know or care whether the signatures are authentic or not; the boys simply love that they can look at these things, and keep the memories. Another year I got Elton John tickets for all of us plus dates - a huge expense for one evening, but 5 years later, when EG comes on in the grocery store or whatnot, the smiles and memories of that evening begin anew. None of us were even huge EG fans - I just thought that they should experience a concert by a legend verses a newbie, and it was, indeed, a cut above and an amazing night.

  • Jen Bennett

    My cousin one year planned a trip for her family. They woke up Christmas morning, and under the tree was one present each - a suitcase packed for a Florida vacation. They put the suitcases in the car and headed for the airport and Disney World. They still talk about that Christmas as the best ever. No stuff. Only memories.

  • MM

    My wife and I considered giving our 12-yr-old gift certificates to the bowling alley, the zoo, fun park, etc. for Christmas, stuff he could do all year. I kind of wish we would have now.

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