It’s both a cliche and a scientific fact that experiences bring greater happiness than material possessions. But new research adds weight to this idea as it applies to gift-giving: According to one study, receiving an experience really is more meaningful.
While material things might provide a boost of pleasure in the moment, they’re unlikely to do much for your happiness or well-being over time. So instead of buying sweaters and iPads for everyone on your list this year, consider giving something less tangible but potentially more impactful.
In a study published this month in the journal Emotion, psychologists found that experiential consumption fosters gratitude and giving, and that thinking about experiences promotes more altruistic behavior than thinking about possessions.
“We have found that people tend to be happier when they invest in experiences, because experiential purchases connect people to one another, enhance their sense of self, and, relative to material consumption, tend to be appreciated for their intrinsic value rather than how they compare to what others have,” study authors Amit Kumar, Jesse Walker and Thomas Gilovich wrote in Scientific American.
Material gifts might physically last longer, but experiential gifts leave a more lasting mark psychologically, the researchers found. People tend to feel stronger and more lasting gratitude for the experiences they’ve had than the things they’ve acquired.
“Feelings of gratitude are sparked more by trips people have taken, events they’ve attended, and meals they’ve eaten than by the ‘stuff’ they’ve bought,” the researchers added. “In other words, people are often more grateful for what they’ve done than for what they have.”
Feeling inspired? Try applying this to your holiday shopping and see how the people in your life respond. You might even find that you feel extra warm and fuzzy after giving the gift of a meaningful or fun experience. Here are a few experiential gift ideas to get you started.
1. Tickets for a concert or play
We tend to overlook these types of gifts because they can’t be wrapped up in a big, shiny box. But even if the big reveal isn’t as dramatic, tickets for Neil Diamond’s 50th anniversary tour might do more to boost Dad’s happiness both in the moment and for the year to come.
2. Donation to a nonprofit made in their name
Donating money to charities has been proven to boost happiness ― and there’s a good chance that giving a donation as a gift will make you feel just as good as the person who receives it. The feminist in your life is sure to be thrilled about a donation to Planned Parenthood in his or her name (perhaps accompanied by this handmade crochet vulva ornament).
3. A cooking or crafting class
If you have a friend who loves to DIY, sign them up for a local class where they can try a new creative activity. Bonus points for something unusual like a kokedama class, macrame workshop or at-home fermenting.
4. Subscription to a meditation or yoga service
There’s a ton of research to back up the stress-relieving, happiness-boosting benefits of meditation and yoga. If you have a friend who’s gearing up to start a mindfulness practice in 2017, give them a one-year subscription to meditation app Headspace or online yoga resource YogaGlo. It’s an experience that they can enjoy throughout the year.
5. A mini-vacation
If you have a big budget to pamper your significant other this holiday season, a weekend away (it doesn’t have to be far) is the perfect blowout holiday gift. Vacations carry huge benefits for well-being, and even just anticipating an upcoming trip can boost happiness for up to two months.