How to Be a Better Gift Giver
Stuff is out, things to do are in
Americans are gearing up for some serious gift giving before year-end. A Gallup survey reports consumers expect to shell out an average of $942 this holiday season. That’s up from the $885 recorded a year ago, and the first time spending is expected to surpass outlays since before the financial crisis.
Whether you’re expecting to spend $94.20, $942 or $9,420, a trove of academic research comes down on the side of gifting experiences, not stuff.
That’s not to say the sweater, books and whatever are this season’s breakout toys won’t be appreciated. But in terms of generating happiness, it’s experiences that make us light up more.
The gift certificate for a special dinner out, tickets to a game, play or concert, for example, have the extra oomph of creating memories in a way that the latest video game can’t compete with. Experiences also conveniently aren’t tactile possessions that we end up comparing to what other people have.
Material gifts have long been the popular default. A small study a few years ago found that nearly 80% of participants said their most recent gift giving was material not experiential. But recipients seem to be itching for experiences, not more stuff. A recent survey of 2,000 adults between the ages of 18 to 65 says that more than six in 10 are hoping for a gift of an experience. Some may be disappointed, as only 50% of adults surveyed said they plan to gift an experience.
If you’re not sure which way to lean, consider what the academics have unearthed:
A 2004 research paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology established that purchases of experiences resonated more strongly than material purchases. In one of the experiments in the study, more than 1,200 adults were asked to reflect on a material purchase and an experiential purchase they had made in their lifetime with “the aim of increasing your happiness.” Then they were asked to choose which purchase (or neither) ended up making them happier. Nearly six in 10 participants said the experience they had bought made them happier than the material purchase they had made. Only 34% rated the material purchase best.
Even participants with low incomes (below $25,000 in 2004) were just as likely to rate experiences in line with material purchases in terms of the happiness they generated.
Another study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2017 found that gifting an experience has the added benefit of tightening the bond between giver and recipient. When parents received experiential gifts from their children, and when friends were gifted an experience (for example, a barre class or movie tickets) all recipients reported feeling closer to the gift giver than when they received a material gift.
An added benefit if you intend to be part of the experience — taking the grandkids for a special day out, inviting a friend for a spa day — is that you end up with a lasting memory too.