4 Reasons You Should Gift Experiences – Not Objects – This Holiday Season

Posted on: December 15, 2016 at 4:36 pm, in

Holiday Season

This time of year, most of us are scouring the Web in search of the perfect gift for every person on our list. Some people fully embrace the “thrill of the hunt”, yet for others, holiday shopping can be a frustrating and stressful chore.

If you feel stumped by someone on your gift list or want to shake things up this year, consider giving an experiential gift rather than a material possession. An abundance of research proves that experiences elicit more happiness than do possessions. One such study by a group of psychologists at Cornell University expands on the notion of happiness from experiences, and why it’s more substantial and lasting than the happiness from material things. In this blog post, we’ve condensed and summarized the Cornell research into a quick read about why you may want to stuff stockings with an experience rather than the latest gadget.

1. Experiences enhance social relationships more than material goods.
 It’s no secret that humans are highly social creatures, and one way we build social capital is through experiences. Experiences tend to be more social in nature than material purchases: we take vacations with family, attend concerts with friends and go on dates to restaurants. We bond over shared experiences, and we feel closer to someone who made the same experiential purchase than someone who made the same material purchase as we did. Sure, we share our material possessions with our friends, but not consistently and not with equal enjoyment.

Further, experiences advance our social connection because they prompt conversation and storytelling when we’re around other people. The Cornell study indicates that people derive higher satisfaction from talking about experience purchases than material purchases. Talking about an experience allows us to relive the pleasure of it time and time again, like a dividend on an investment. This is true for negative experiences as well. Most would agree that the worse the experience, the more entertaining the story!

2. Experiences form a large portion of a person’s identity; possessions do not.
 If you were asked to write your memoir, would you write about all the material possessions you acquired over the years, or rather the experiences that made up your life? No matter how important our possessions may be to our sense of self, they are still separate from us. Conversely, our experiences play a significant role in shaping the person we become. In a sense, we are the sum of our experiences: they remain with us wherever we go for the rest of our lives, and they influence our perception of every future experience.

3. People enjoy greater positive emotions leading up to – and after – an experience.
 From the moment you start planning a trip or event, you’re already accruing the benefits of excitement and anticipation. You craft an optimal itinerary, research restaurants and things to see, scroll through Instagram photos and daydream about your upcoming plan on particularly mundane days at the office. All of these actions elicit happiness long before the event actually begins.

Similarly, once the trip is over and you’re back in your routine, you’ll often look back at the highlights and relive them in your mind. The best memories will stand the test of time, and even improve with age.

According to the Cornell study, people are usually fraught with impatience leading up to the purchase of a material object, not pleasure as with an experiential purchase.

4. Objects lose their luster, but an experience is a gift that keeps on giving.
 The human ability to adapt is both a blessing and a curse. When something tragic happens, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating illness – no matter how devastating initially – we eventually learn to rise above it and go on in quest of a happy, fulfilling life.

We also adapt to the possessions we acquire (the Cornell study calls this phenomenon ‘hedonic adaptation’). No matter how illustrious something seems at first, there will come a time when you are so used to seeing it/wearing it/driving it that it fades into the background of everyday life and becomes obsolete. Even something that you coveted for years will fail to impress you when it’s been sitting on a shelf in your closet for five years. That new Porsche will eventually lose its “new car” smell, and when you pull up next to the newer model at a stoplight, you’ll inevitably feel a slight pang of envy. In contrast, experiences are often times better in retrospect than they were in reality. We tend to erase from our memory the negative aspects of a trip and retain – and even inflate – the positive aspects.

So, if you’re still struggling to cross someone off your list, consider weekend destinations, upcoming concerts, golf outings, whatever experience you think would elicit the most joy and excitement for that person. The further away the event, the higher its anticipation value. And if you really want to go the extra mile, a private flight with Whooshfly would make an extraordinary gift!

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