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Holiday Gift Guide: 10 Ways to Give Experiences Instead of Things

Who doesn’t love getting gifts during the holidays? The anticipation of the surprise, the thrill you get when tearing apart the wrapping paper, all while being surrounded by friends and family — these are all central to the holiday gift-giving experience. But if holiday gifts are such a key part of our traditions, why do they often result in the accumulation of stuff that doesn’t make us happy (at least not for long)? Perhaps the culprit is the stuff itself. Years of research have revealed that people who spend their money on experiences rather than things achieve more, longer-lasting happiness as a result. So, before you hit up Amazon or head to your nearby shopping mall for the latest holiday “must-haves,” consider the following ways you can give the gift of experiences this year.

Why Experiences Are Better Than Things, According to Science

Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has spent years studying the effects that experiences have on happiness, compared to material possessions. According to his findings, there are three primary reasons experiences trump things.

1. Anticipation is half the fun. It goes without saying that experiences are meant for our enjoyment, but a lot of the enjoyment we derive from experiences comes from the anticipation leading up to them. And while you may feel excited waiting for your Amazon Prime order to arrive on your doorstep, that feeling is even stronger when waiting for an experience to take place.

2. Things get old, experiences last. Isn’t it funny how something brand new makes you feel great when you get it, but before long, it’s old news? That’s because the happiness that comes from material possessions is fleeting. People get used to them quickly, causing us to always want the next best thing. On the other hand, experiences produce longer-lasting happiness, making them more worth our time and money.

3. Experiences shape who we are. A lot of people fall into the habit of associating what they own with who they are, but your designer shoes, shiny car, or new iPhone don’t define you — your experiences do. In his report, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Gilovich aptly states, “We are the sum total of our experiences.” If you really want to give a meaningful gift, give something that will add to a person’s life instead of collect dust.

10 Experiences That Make Great Gifts

To help get you started, below are 10 experiences you can give to your family and friends this holiday season.

1. Tickets to a sports game (or season tickets if you want to splurge)

2. Museum membership or tickets to a special exhibit

3. Concert, live theater, or movie tickets

4. Cooking or mixology class

5. The gift of travel (pre-booked trip, airline miles, hotel gift card)

6. Spa day

7. Lessons to learn a new skill (language, music, painting, etc.)

8. Day pass for indoor rock climbing

9. Winery or brewery tour

10. Horseback riding

Can’t decide what experience to give? Try something like Tinggly, which allows the recipient to choose their own experience. Or check out gifts that give back: FEED provides school meals for every bag you buy, and at the Doll Kind, each doll sold is matched by a doll donated to a less fortunate child.

When it comes to giving experiences, the possibilities are endless. Think about what the people in your life will find meaningful, and don’t be afraid to get creative.

Here’s to unforgettable experiences and truly happy holidays!

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