The first Christmas that I had my dog Washburn, I bought all of the coolest puppy toys you could find!


On the twelfth day of Christmas, my puppy got from me:

12 Bones for Burying

11 Shoes for Shredding

10 Balls a Bouncing

9 Ropes for Tugging

8 Friends a Chasing

7 Toys a Squeaking

6 Kongs for Chewing

5 Scooby Snacks

4 Laser Pointers

3 Doggie Outfits

2 Plush Piggies

And a Squirrel to Chase up the Pine Trees

And yet within two weeks, all his toys laid scattered and forgotten. He hardly played with them unless I picked them up first! Talking with friends and family, I’ve heard that human children forget about their toys almost as quickly – if not faster than Washburn did!

Christmas is just around the corner, and your bank account is probably already looking battered and bruised.  Even if shopping is your self-care practice, this time of year can be a bit excessive.  The sales began on Black Friday and have continued non-stop through the highest consumerism month of the year.  But in the midst of the hustle and bustle, stop and answer two questions:

1. What are 5 gifts that you gave to people last year?

2. Can you name 5 presents that you remember receiving last Christmas?

Can you answer the questions? To be honest, I struggled to name 5 in either category.  Every December, Americans feel torn between our need to buy the biggest, coolest gifts and balancing our dwindling bank accounts.  


Buying Experiences makes you Happier than Buying Stuff

Researchers have found that purchasing items can actually be a big blow to our happiness.  Initially the excitement of the purchase gives your mood a boost, and watching someone unwrap the gift can be rewarding.  But that boost quickly wears off, especially when the credit-card payment comes due.

Gilovich and his colleague’s learned through their studies that spending money on experiences (rather than material items) will make you happier!  Their studies found 3 reasons:

1. The first finding is that we are actually more happy just imagining purchasing an experience than we are buying something physical.  So not even buying, but just imagining getting an experience, makes you happier! Awesome!

2. The researchers also learned that experiences are better for our happiness because they impact our identities. Things are just things.  They have little to no effect on our identity.  But who we are as a person, that’s created by the sum of all our past experiences. An experience becomes part of who you are.  

3. And finally, their last finding was that experiences lead to more successful social relationships.  As very social beings (even us introverts!), our relationships have an enormous impact on our happiness.  For good or bad.

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Ways to Benefit this Christmas from Experience Gifting

So imagine if, instead of buying a remote-control car for your grandson, you took him out to the zoo?  Or rather than getting your husband a new wallet, you took him on a date to play laser tag?  

Experiences can be as pricey or affordable as you make them.  When I moved to Iowa for college, I began taking my sisters on sister-dates for their birthdays instead of getting them stuff.  One of my sisters and I spent an amazing Saturday morning walking around an outdoor mall, trying on ugly dresses and laughing. The only money I spent was about $15 for lunch, and we still reminiscence about that Saturday sometimes!

Another way to buy an experience is to buy a game rather than a toy. Games give you endless opportunities for experiences with that person.  Just make sure you take the time to play those games! (Also, don’t get Monopoly! Unless your goal is to end your friendship with that person.  Then, by all means, Monopoly is your best bet. *wink*)

What if you need a gift for someone in a land far, far away that you can’t go see?  While you may not be able to join them, you can benefit from knowing that you provided a creative and fun experience for that loved one.  Buy them an experience with their friends or other family!  

“You’re a sum of all your experiences.” Tom Thibodeau

I love using Groupon to buy less expensive events for my family. My sisters and I chipped in and got our parents a horse-drawn mountain sleigh ride for more than 50% off last Christmas.  Mom and Dad loved it! It was something my mom had been talking about for years.  We all felt amazing seeing the pictures our parents took and hearing their story of the ride.

So have fun this Christmas season and consider giving your loved ones an adventure!  Share below a unique and creative gift you’ve given or received before – it’s always fun hearing new ideas!  And make sure to check back in next week, just a couple days before Christmas, for a blog on navigating awkward or frustrating family encounters over the holidays.