Whether it's a package topped with a bow or a memory created with family and friends, the gifts we receive come in all shapes and sizes.
But experts say one kind of gift is more valuable to our long-term happiness than the other. Though physical possessions may outlive one-time experiences, recent research says experiences and the memories that remain lead to greater contentment.
In short, an amazing one-week vacation is more likely to bring happiness than a new car or iPad. Psychologists and scholars cite several reasons behind why experiences, though they happen only once, often make the kinds of gifts you and your family will treasure forever.
New things don't feel new for long. Our human ability to adapt usually serves us well—except, perhaps, when it comes to that new TV we ran out and purchased. Research says buying new things brings us happiness, but only for a short time; once we've adjusted to having them around, our satisfaction with them begins to steadily decline. Conversely, our satisfaction with "experiential purchases"—a family trip to the beach, a concert, a cooking class—only increase as time passes.
Experiences shape our identity. It's not so much the things we own but the things we experience together that make us who we are. Traveling to a new place brings us perspective. Learning a new skill or trade helps us discover where our passions and talents lie. Scholars say our material possessions can certainly point to what is unique about us—our huge music collection, our clothes, our furniture—but they literally cannot be a part of us. Experiences, though intangible, can and do inform our identity and give us purpose.
They come with stories that connect us. Even if that hiking trip through the Smokies was a complete and utter disaster, researchers say our attitude toward the experience becomes more positive over time—if only because we're able to share funny or reflective stories about it with others. When we invest in shared experiences with family and friends—or bond with others over things we've done—we're more likely to connect on a deeper level.
Give the Gift of Experiences
Need ideas for a fun, memorable experience you can give (and maybe even enjoy together) this holiday season? Here are some of our favorites.
- Keep the gift going: Snag annual passes to a zoo or museum, or season passes for a sports team.
- Learn something new: Purchase spots in a class on cooking, photography, or some other skill.
- See a show: Experience culture with a concert or traveling Broadway play.
- Hit the road: Take a day or weekend trip to an unfamiliar city.
- Have an adventure: Explore local options for hot air balloon or plane rides, or stay grounded and travel by train.
- Promote healthy living: Okay, we're a little bias on this super idea! (Can you blame us?) Consider giving yourself or someone you love the gift of better health with a Y membership. To learn more about the benefits our members experience every day at the Y—and to join in just a few easy steps—click here.
Establish Healthy Habits with the Y
At the Y, it's our mission to provide our members and communities with the resources and support they need to be healthy in spirit, mind and body. Look to our blog for fresh recipes, fitness tips and advice on maintaining a better balance in life. You can also learn more about our health and fitness resources. Let us partner with you to reach your goals!