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This holiday season, do you want those beautiful Jimmy Choo’s you have been eyeing for a while, or would you like to be surprised with the front row seats for a concert of your favorite band? In other words, would you like more ‘stuff’ or would you like to go for memorable experiences that you can tell your children about? (I still remember my first Queen concert!)
Believe it or not, researchers have found that people who spent on experiences were far happier, more satisfied, and for longer than those who spent on material purchases.
Everything from ad campaigns to fashion magazines, from coupon culture to brand frenzy, tells us that happiness lies in the ‘stuff’—the house, car, clothes, and gadgets, among other things. But be it from overdosing on consumption or reaching material saturation, people are now looking to spend on experiences instead of goods.
In a study by the University of Texas published in Science Daily, 2635 adults were divided into two groups, material and experiential. “The participants were sent random daily texts to monitor their emotions and purchasing behavior. Material purchasers bought things such as jewelry, clothing, or furniture, while experiential shoppers attended sporting events, dined at restaurants, or engaged in other experiences.”
The study showed that participants who spent on experiences felt a much higher degree of happiness compared to ones who spent on things—across categories and prices. Not just more happiness but the experience of it was found to last longer with higher satisfaction levels, despite people spending more time with material goods. Spending on experiences increases what researchers call moment-to-moment happiness.
“If you want to be happier, it might be wise to shift some of your consumption away from material goods and a bit more toward experiences,” says Amit Kumar, lead author of the study, “That would likely lead to greater well-being.”
This begs the question—why is it a good idea to buy our loved ones more experiences instead of stuff?
1. There is no expiry date for experiences.
You probably remember your first Guns N’ Roses concert or the weekend you took your partner to a spa retreat! How many years has it been? The thing is, there is no expiry date on the joy you feel from experiences that have become part of your core memory now. Even after all these years, experiences—a concert, dining out on your first date, the first time you went bungee jumping or paragliding, backpacking through the Andes—remain indelible and exhilarating blips in your memory of when you felt free, happy, or in love, and life felt complete at the moment.
When you spend on adventures or events, always new and thrilling, you do not fall prey to the law of diminishing marginal utility, which states that as we consume more of the same, we enjoy less and less from every incremental good we buy.
2. More satisfaction.
Researchers in the study mentioned above share that it wasn’t just that those who spent on experiences were happier; they were also more satisfied with their spending. One possible explanation was that the pleasantness of the experience lasted longer in their memory compared to the perceived decrease in the value of the items purchased with time.
3. Support their passions.
Instead of just bringing them flowers or mugs or some other generic gifts, when you gift experiences—keeping in mind the likings and preferences of your loved ones—you show them that you support their passions and interests in life. This can be an incredible way of making them feel loved and heard.
4. The gift of perspectives.
For those of us who love to travel, we know it is a big-ticket item. So, nothing makes us happier than receiving a chance to do more of it! Imagine their faces lighting up when you gift them tickets or book their stays.
Gifting adventures for those who have never traveled introduces them to new vistas, people, and connections they will never forget. What is better than a gift of perspectives on the diversity this world has in terms of landscapes, food, languages, and cultures?
5. They are exciting and can be inexpensive!
What do you think your favorite person would prefer between an expensive fragrance and front-row tickets to an NBA game?
Well, you are best to know the answer to that one, but it is pretty obvious which would make a more exciting and thrilling gift! It doesn’t have to be a big-ticket gift to be memorable. Thinking outside the box can be fun and just as appreciated. Think a day of baking cookies together, donating to an animal sanctuary or sponsoring an animal, national park passes, art classes, memorable day trips, camping, family game nights—the list is endless, and the Internet is a great place to get more and more ideas.
Given how tough and isolating the last couple of years have been for everyone, people are more likely to appreciate an opportunity to do something exciting and fun with their family and friends instead of getting gifts that may gather dust in a cupboard soon after. Shared experiences make great memories that keep giving long after the gift-giving season ends.