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What Will You Give This Holiday Season? Experiences or Things?

December 4, 2012

This idea of giving experiences rather than things is evergreen, and especially relevant this time of year when so many of us honor the spirit of gift giving.

On a recent flight I sat next to an interesting, energetic woman, Sue Ann.  She and her husband were headed off to explore another location on their bucket list:  the beaches and vistas of St. Thomas.

“Seeing all of our beautiful country is a goal we set a long time ago,” she said.

Easy to talk with, we conversed the entire flight from Miami to St. Thomas.  Sue Ann told me about her early life growing up in rural Arkansas; her career as an ICU nurse; they way she and her husband partnered to build his business and financial security; the way they raised their son; the pleasure they take in their two grandchildren; and the way they spend their lives today, including the upcoming holiday.  She lit up when she told me the story of her family’s Christmas tradition.

She began by explaining, “We always gave Joe everything he needed – lots of love, a comfortable home where he could bring his friends, clothes, a few toys, a good education and our time and attention.  But, from the time he was little, at Christmas, on his birthday and other important occasions, we didn’t give him toys or more clothes, we tried to do things with him – things that would create memories and stories he could tell.  A lot of what we did didn’t even cost much.”

Sue Ann and her husband, Tom, gave Joe experiences instead of things.  They chose the longer lasting, more enduring option of shared time and involvement that makes memories that can last a lifetime.

She talked about trips to the city, the zoo, historical sites and museums.  Camping trips to beautiful locations.  Plays and concerts.  County fairs and carnivals.  Fishing trips.  Amusement parks.  Botanical gardens.  Skating, skiing, hiking.  Sporting events – community and professional.  Touring other cities.  Visiting national monuments.  As an added treat, on many occasions they allowed Joe to bring along friends.

Her family tradition fits perfectly with my belief that gifts of experiences are more memorable and impactful than things, particularly things that don’t fulfill a specific need.  I’ve written about this giving gifts vs. things before. I was even interviewed on TV about it.

This long-held view – that experiences are better than things – was validated by research published in a Psychology Today article that suggested we get greater satisfaction out of “experiences” than “things.”  It referred to a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that said people have an easier time choosing between experiences than they do choosing from a variety of material items.

If giving experience is not a part of your holiday and birthday tradition, consider adding it.  You can give experiences instead of things or do both.  Experiences create shared memories and give people stories to tell.  They live longer in the minds and emotions of recipients than things do.

This is the season of love, hope, peace and generosity.  I hope yours is safe and joyous.

Enjoy!

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