The science is clear. Experiences make us happier than things. Research shows that with experiential gifts, unlike material gifts, there are more opportunities for happiness. Merely looking forward to or anticipating an experience brings happiness, as well as the experience itself. For example, waiting for a concert or a sporting event evokes more happiness and excitement than waiting for a material gift like a new watch or big screen TV. And after the experience, memories and the stories we share with others about it keep the happiness alive.
Research suggests another reason that experiences make us happier than material gifts is because we are less likely to compare them to the experiences of others. With material gifts, there is a greater tendency to compare to others that can reduce their value and the happiness they bring. Additionally, the happiness of material gifts is fleeting because of hedonic adaptation—we get used to them with constant exposure and stop appreciating them. In other words, the thrill of the new watch or car can fade fast.
So, if you’re racing around trying to find the perfect gift for that special someone, think about giving the gift of an experience instead.
Dr. Lisa Napolitano is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other mindfulness-based treatments. A licensed psychologist in New York and Florida, she is the Founder and Director of CBT/DBT Associates, a boutique psychology practice group. Dr. Napolitano is an expert in the treatment of stress, anxiety, worry, and emotion regulation problems. She has specifically designed her treatment approach for executives, attorneys, and other high-functioning individuals whom she believes shouldn’t have to sacrifice their careers to manage their stress and work on developing their potential.