Why I'm Gifting Experiences This Holiday Season

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Holiday season madness is in full swing ― Christmas music everywhere and everyone obsessing about “what to get” the people in their lives. Meanwhile your poor inbox is getting inundated with flash sales, super sales, once-in-a-lifetime sales, you name it. Yes, I know I can unsubscribe, but I can’t be bothered to, and that’s just not the point.

Last week I got into a tiff with a woman at a store trying to talk me into signing up for a credit card so that I get 5 percent cash back for all the gift shopping I’ll be doing this month. I didn’t like her tone, and I thought she was being presumptive, but admittedly I was also a bit hangry. My point isn’t that I dislike the holidays (in fact I LOVE Christmas Day, and my husband lights a mean Chanukah candle), I just prescribe to a different kind of gift giving.

So this doesn’t mean I’m a grinch or I don’t like giving gifts. But instead of another useless piece of sh*t to add to the pile of clutter, I’m planning on gifting experiences and memories, exclusively.

Things don’t = happiness

This is scientific fact: according to the research of Dr. Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, there’s something called the paradox of possessions, which is a fancy way of saying that the happiness we get from acquiring things fades fast: because we are incredibly adaptive and get used to the new things, making them seem normal; because we keep raising the bar, wanting more things and better things; and because the nature of things is that they are easy to compare and so we envy others’ things.

For example: remember when you bought those amazing jeans that cost a small fortune? The first few times you wore them, they brought you happiness because they were a novelty, and you looked so damn great. Now you put them on this morning without second thought. In the meantime, you saw even better jeans at the store and on top of that your co-worker got ones that are so much more flattering than yours… Have I made my point?

Our things cause clutter and overwhelm

If you are reading this from a computer or a non-flip phone, you probably have too many things as it is. Most of us do. In fact, all these things that you have are certainly causing overwhelm. When we have too many things we start to drown in too many options, even though all are good. Take it from Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg: both subscribe(d) to a signature outfit, wearing the same thing every day. It takes precious time and energy to deal with making decisions between our many things, why not save this energy for other, more creative pursuits?

Instead, I give experiences and memories

So hopefully I’ve made my point clear (maybe too aggressively clear?): things aren’t all that great. That’s why I’m all about gifting in the form of experiences- you know, activities, memories, trips, meals. Essentially the moments that make life worth living. For example, my husband and I are gifting each other a road-trip adventure through Cuba in January. Poor guy has had way too many failed jewelry gift purchases, and I can never seem to pick the right size for him, so this may seem like a cop-out, but we did this last year too with a trip to Thailand, and we got so much immense joy out of it that we want a repeat. Meanwhile, my family is planning a full out extravaganza at a fine-dining restaurant we all have on our in-town bucket list. Other past gifts I’ve given have been cooking classes, brewery tours, winery excursions and even airline gift cards.

The science behind experiences

I could continue to babble on, but again, science here: even if experiences only last a few hours, they become a part of the very fabric of our identities, of who we ARE. We don’t compare experiences like we do things, and in fact even the anticipation of an experience brings us happiness. Experiences also cause a shift in our environment and our day to day paradigm, which in turn spurs creativity. And one last bit of science: there’s research into human rituals that suggest that shared experiences create tight bonds. It’s a concept called Communitas, and it all boils down to the fact that when we’re together and experiencing something that is different from our day to day norm, we make a transition into a new “realm” that then binds us together.

So please, clear your shopping list and delete the holiday sales from your inbox and start making the transition to experiences as gifts ― your memories 20 years from now will thank you for it.

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