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Giving the Gift of Experiences

Posted on October 24, 2019 by Susan Robinson

Last week, as I was visiting with family members, we began discussing plans for the holidays. My niece informed us that her family intends to get gifts for their children that create experiences, rather than buying toys that they briefly play with before tossing them into the toy box. The idea was intriguing, so I looked for research on the concept of giving experiences versus material items as gifts.

I was surprised to find a 20-year study conducted by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University. His compelling and candid conclusion was that we should not spend money on things because the happiness they provide fades quickly. Here are the reasons Gilovich felt were critical to this finding:

  • We get used to new possessions. What once seemed novel and exciting quickly becomes the norm
  • We keep raising the bar. New purchases lead to new expectations. As soon as we get used to a new possession, we look for an even better one.
  • The Joneses are always lurking nearby. By nature, possessions foster comparisons. There is usually a friend who ends up buying something better than you bought.

Gilovich and other researchers found that experiences, though short-lived, deliver more lasting happiness than material items because they are a more significant part of you than your material possessions.

“You can think material stuff is part of your identity, but they remain separate from you,” he said. “Your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

For example, you can buy an Apple Watch, but it isn’t going to change who you are. However, taking a break from work to hike the Appalachian Trail from start to finish most certainly will.

There are several things you can do that provide experiences with family or friends that are affordable. I once took my mother to Bricktown for her birthday and the boat rides were free at the time. She enjoyed herself tremendously; she still remembers and talks about it.

So, when shopping for gifts this holiday season, consider giving your loved ones an experience that could create life-long memories instead of the usual presents. It might take time and a little creativity, but I think it could be well worth it.



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Susan Robinson

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Susan Robinson is a co-program coordinator for “Thrive," and has been with the program since 2007. She earned a Bachelor and Master’s degrees from Southern Nazarene University and a Doctorate of Education in Health Promotion from Oklahoma State University. Prior to her time with OMES, Susan worked in higher education and taught at Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Central Oklahoma and Emporia State University. Susan's hobbies include singing in her church and community choirs, traveling and spending time with her daughter and grand dog, Georgi.