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December 07, 2018

‘Tis the season for... shopping? And the struggle is real. In a society where we all have so much, finding the perfect present can be a chore. 

According to a 2017 study by RetailMeNot, parents spend an average of $330 per child on Christmas. Another recent study from Cornell University found that “people get more enduring happiness from their experiences than their possessions.”

So why not this season add some experience based gift giving to the mix?

Why Give Experiences

Let’s face it, most of us have way too much stuff in our lives. If you were to explore your house right now, would you find drawers and cupboards and closets overflowing with too much stuff? Most likely.

Here are some mind-blowing statistics that show just how much stuff modern humans accumulate:

  • Only 3.1% of the world’s children live in the United States but they own 40% of the world’s toys.
  • The average home has more TVs than people in it.
  • In general people consume twice as many material goods as we did just 50 years ago.
  • Americans spend more on jewelry and shoes than they do on higher education.
  • There are more shopping malls in the United States than high schools.

Somewhere along the line a shift happened in our society where gift giving has moved from a few thoughtful, quality items to mass consumption.

Having nice things is a good thing, but the question becomes just how much do we need? And if material items make us so happy, why has antidepressant use soared over the last two decades? And why do most of us feel disorganized and like we can’t get a handle on all of our clutter?

If having loving relationships in our lives that fill our hearts and feed our souls promise happiness then why not give each other happy memories also.

Experiences – The Gifts That Keep on Giving

Cornell researchers concluded that material purchases, over time, make us less happy. They believe this stems from the fact that humans adapt rather quickly to physical objects. That new car, iPhone or flatscreen TV eventually becomes commonplace. We get used to the item and fall out of love quickly.

Experiences, on the other hand, bring us memories, and the same study found that memories tend to get fonder over time. So, quite literally, experiences are gifts that keep on giving.

The study’s lead researcher Thomas Gilovich had this to say about their findings,

Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods … You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

Plus, as the study points out, there is a sort of bonus happiness experienced in the anticipation leading up to the experience. So really, we experience happiness leading up to the event, happiness during the event, and happiness as memories for years after the event. Talk about a return on your investment.

For kids, having a cool, memorable experience as a family is more rewarding and psychologically-healthy for children than accumulating a bunch of toys and gadgets. A child’s well-being and sense of security depends on building and maintaining real connections with family members. Whereas giving piles of gifts can lead to an unearned sense of entitlement and unwanted bratty behavior.

Ideas for Giving Experiences

If you love the idea of giving your entire family experiences this year, here are some ideas to get you started:


For a gift that will really keep on giving, why not get your family a cool membership they can use together all year long? Think of science center memberships, museum memberships, gym memberships, or season tickets to the theater, orchestra, or a sporting event.


Give your family the gift of learning something new. Consider taking a pottery class, painting class, baking, cooking or photography class together as a family.


Why not plan a trip to Europe or Disney Land? Maybe you can buy a tent and sleeping bags and plan some camping trips for the summer. There is also something called an Escape Room where you and your family will work together to figure out how to, well, escape. Talk about memorable!


Giving gifts should be about showing how much we love the people in our lives. There is no better way to do that than by spending quality time with them. Here is hoping you and yours have a very happy and memorable holiday season!