Friday, December 10, 2010
Things versus experiences
PHOTO: Experiences trump things, even as kids. (This is 1960 photo of me playing football with my brother, sister watching, Dad’s shadow in lower left)
Think back over Christmases past. Can you really remember the trinkets, gewgaws and tchotchkes you unwrapped?
This holiday season, would you rather give things, or create experiences?
I thought about this during a recent visit to my homeplace. As do many people with grown children, mom is starting to give things away. She is sorting all the gifts we gave her over a lifetime - from plaques with sappy sayings to lopsided ashtrays made in shop class. A visit to mom’s house means you will find a box with your name on it.
At the same time, my secretary Emily told about an innovative gift her daughter gave her for her birthday. It was a lobster cooking class. Mother and daughter took it together. What memories and fun it created. A shared experience, a new skill - not another trinket to set on an already overcrowded shelf.
Research confirms this phenomenon of experiences trumping things. A recent Cornell study showed that buzz you get buying your big screen TV fades, while the satisfaction from a vacation or new hobby starts high and keeps growing.
Why does this happen? Researchers showed that no matter how fancy or expensive the material gift, the buyer knows that someone else will always have something newer, better, bigger. But your trip to the Bahamas? While others may travel to the same place, no one will enjoy the exact same experience in the same way you did. While next year’s TV might be two inches bigger, those vacation memories are yours alone and always will be.
Studies at the University of Colorado also found that people received more pleasure and satisfaction from a life experience than material possessions. This held true even if the experience was not all that positive. For example, if a family went hiking, and it rained, they lost their gear, and someone walked into poison ivy, it might not be deemed a pleasurable experience as it happens. But over time, people tend to remember the positive aspects, or bond over the memories of how they overcame the challenges. (We’ve all sat through tales of family adventures during “vacations gone bad.”)
That example also highlights another reason experiences outrank “things.” Sharing, remembering, and talking about experiences foster social relationships, which are associated with higher levels of happiness.
I remember reminiscing with my brother soon after our father died. We were remembering the incidents of growing up, both the good and the bad. Making homemade ice cream, building fence, sliding on the frozen pond, pulling my brother around in a Flyer wagon when he broke his leg. Watch 10-sec home movie of this
Not once did we speak of a toy we got or a present from a store. It was always experiences.
“Dad gave us memories,” my brother said.
So this Christmas (or anniversary or birthday or “no reason” day) how about giving the proverbial gift that keeps on giving? Take a class, learn a hobby, pursue a passion.
It’s one gift your mom can’t shove into a cardboard box.