Knox College psychology professor Tim Kasser recently published a study (Motivation and Emotion) that suggests when people become more materialistic, their sense of well-being declines. An article by James Hamlin published in October’s The Atlantic (Buy Experiences, Not Things) states that in the last ten years many psychology studies revealed that experiences make people happier than material objects. While there’s overwhelming evidence that stuff doesn’t make us happy, the Christmas holiday season is notoriously all about stuff. And, when gift giving, most of us are trying to make the people we love happier by buying them stuff—even though science shows that that strategy doesn’t work, no matter the intentions or how much money we spend. If you’re interested in a different approach to gift giving, try this list of alternative gifts guaranteed to put a smile on any recipient’s face:
A Year of Happy Hours
If you find you’ve gotten too busy to keep in touch with a family member or a good friend, gift them a year of Happy Hours. Your gift is two hours once a month to hang out over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. No kids, no cell phones, no excuses. The two hour increment is important; the first one is for catching up, the second is pure luxury.
My mom’s favorite Christmas memory is sharing one candy bar, served on the fanciest plate in the house, between six siblings on a Christmas Eve when there was no money for gifts. On a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, Amy revived Sheldon’s best childhood memory when she made his Mee-Maw’s cookies from her recipe. If your loved one has shared a treasured ritual or memory with you, revive or recreate it for a gift they’ll never forget.
Spending money is allowed as long as you do it right. Whether you get tickets to an event, book a weekend at a bed & breakfast or a give a handwritten coupon for dinner, a hike and a picnic or a learning workshop, make your gift about an experience. Experience gifts are triple wins: The recipient gets the gift of anticipation, the gift of the experience and the gift of a happy memory.
Kindness by Proxy
You don’t get to sponsor a whale or a bee colony for this gift. First you have to think of one way that the recipient has inspired you to be a better person, then give that to your community. If your dad gave you a love of reading, volunteer to read at a retirement home or record books for the sight impaired. If your grandma taught you to cook, share that gift at your local community kitchen or by hosting a for-charity dinner at home. For many older people, there’s no better gift than knowing their lives continue to have impact.
Do What You Do
Chances are your recipient likes you for you, which means they value what makes you unique. Don’t be afraid to turn your special talents into handmade gifts. It’s okay if you’re no good at making soup kits in mason jars or if you’re not a quilter or world-class artist. Whether you build, create, knit, organize, sing, write, work, repair or just listen, if you offer a gift that plays to what makes you you, your recipients will love it.