If the pressure to buy, buy, buy for the holidays is creeping up on you, put down your purse. Here’s some good news. Research from Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has studied happiness for the past two decades, found that people have longer lasting happiness from spending money on experiences than from things.
The studies show that our happiness with material things we’ve acquired is strong at first, but fades quickly as we get used to the presence of the item in our daily life. On the other hand, our happiness from experiences actually increases as time passes. Those toys the kids love on Christmas morning will get tossed in a corner and often forgotten. However, happiness from recalling a special vacation or even a simple outing will likely get stronger for years to come. Gilovich’s research also points to shared experiences as something that creates a connection with others in a way that shared consumption does not.
Experiences don’t have to cost a lot to have an impact. Check out the Calendar of Events on page 47 for free or low-cost ideas, or start one of these holiday traditions with family and friends:
- Bake cookies. Try a traditional recipe from your heritage, or prepare a fun meal together.
- Go caroling around your neighborhood with other families.
- Start a special holiday movie night.
- Drive around to see holiday lights, or visit a light parade or light event.
- Plan an overnight or weekend trip to the mountains or a downtown hotel.
- Instead of buying gifts for your mom squad and besties, plan a festive holiday party. Make it simple by asking each person to contribute a dish or a special drink. Don’t forget to secure a sitter.
- Consider giving gift cards for experiences, such as movies, favorite attractions, or dinner out, to teachers and other people on your gift list.
- Print photos from past experiences, vacations, and outings and hang them on the fridge, or scroll through photos on the computer. Take time to recall the memories as you look at the photos together. Gilovich’s research also found that talking about experiences brings greater happiness than talking about material possessions.