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Gifts of experiences make people happier and are remembered longer than gifts of objects

by respaced on December 16, 2011

Desperately trying to figure out what to buy those last few people on your Christmas list? Here’s a thought: Research over the last 30 years has shown that experiences (eg. going to concerts, on hikes or on outings to the zoo) make people happier than owning material possessions. And if you want to give a gift that will be remembered for a long, long time, give the gift of an experience, not of an object. People tend to get bored with objects and forget about them as time goes by.

There are three reasons for this, according to Colorado University-Boulder Assistant Professor Psychology Leaf Van Boven:

1. With experiences, we tend to remember the “good times” more and more, and the “bad times” less and less over the years. Material objects, on the other hand, stay the same, so they don’t get recalled more fondly over time.

2. We tend to incorporate experiences more positively into our self-identity than we do with possessions. That’s a lot of mumble-jumble that simply means we feel better about saying we have climbed Mt. Hood than saying we own a 10,000 square foot house.

3. Experiences strengthen our relationships more than possessions do. This is because experiences are usually done with somebody else. Anyone who has  ever gone to a concert with their friends knows there is much more enjoyment in experiencing the music together rather than sitting at home listening to an album of the concert by yourself. Furthermore, friends will reminisce about that concert experience again and again, which further increases our happiness about that event. The same can’t be said about some object you bought at Best Buy.

So this Christmas, consider giving movie tickets, zoo passes, a gift certificate for a mani/pedi or arrange for your loved one to go to some other fun event rather than hastily buying something on the sale table at the mall. It’s the gift your loved one will cherish the most and remember much longer.

Have you ever received or given a gift of an experience? Let us know what that was like for you by responding in the comments below.

Research courtesy of Image courtesy of Flickr.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer December 21, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Thanks so much for sharing this with us, MaryJo! Really enjoyed the research you included, too. Happy Holidays!


respaced December 29, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Thanks for the thanks, Jennifer. The science behind our possessions simply fascinates me, and I imagine there will be even more research into this field in the future as more people start to take a critical look at what they own and why. Thanks for reading and commenting.


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