Forget useless “stuff” and give the gift of a life experience

Christmas is just around the corner and the shopping centres are getting busier by the minute. Thousands of consumers are looking for the perfect gift to give that special someone.

But let’s face it, much of the stuff in the malls are just that: stuff. Material things that you’ll someday toss away and never remember. We give gifts at special occasions to celebrate and to make people happy, but how long does it last?

Many of us are in hot pursuit of happiness but will the latest device or another DVD box set really provide that happiness for more than a couple hours?

We’re a society drowning in material things and starving for authentic, soul- enriching life experiences. In this post, we talk about why experiences make the best gifts for any occasion.


Lasting Effect

Dr Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornwall University has been studying the correlation of money and happiness for more than 20 years. He says,  although we think material things make us happy for long periods of time, we’re wrong.

The problem is that we adapt too quickly. The new, shiny item that had made us so chuffed, soon causes us to be forlorn and bored. Dr Gilovoch suggests learning new skills, travelling or spending time outdoors as better ways to prolong happiness. This is great advice when choosing a gift for someone.

Wendy, a Busselton grandmother clued into this years ago when she noticed her granddaughters got bored easily. “These girls were showered with gifts that were casually cast aside when they became bored with them,” she says. “So we decided to give them experiential gifts instead of material ones.”

Wendy and her husband began to take the girls on small trips: fishing and crabbing, instead of buying them more stuff. “They still remember those experiential gifts today but the material gifts have long since been discarded and forgotten,” Wendy says.

Wendy has also received non-material presents that she will always remember. “I don’t remember the [material] gifts but I remember going to dinner for my 40th anniversary and seeing musicals in Perth,” she says.

Experience gifts have been given widely through Wendy’s family. She even bought her sons skydiving vouchers for their 21st birthdays and says they loved it. “You take in all your senses when you have an experience,” Wendy says.

Wendy’s right. It’s our life experiences that create our character; they shape our body, mind, spirit and emotions. A study at the San Francisco State University found that people don’t mind spending money on life experiences because they expect it to  enhance their wellbeing (and it does).


Ripple Effect

Another great thing about giving an experiential gift is it’s often something that can be shared with others. Giving a voucher for a tandem skydive is a popular birthday gift and more often than not, the receiver brings an entourage of people to watch and cheer them on. The excitement and adrenalin before, during and after a jump is palpable and the friends and family members observing have just as much fun as the one doing the jump. The adventure lives on in everyone’s memory.

These gifts of experience may even change your life. When Melanie was given a tandem skydive as a present, she had no idea how much it would influence her wellbeing.

“Skydiving saved my life by showing me how to live in the moment. It gave me a new sense of belonging to a community and a family of friends who I truly appreciate and know they care for me,” Melanie says.

Melanie has completed the Accelerated Free Fall program and is working towards her skydiving license.


Thinking outside the (gift) box

What thought process do you go through when choosing a gift? We’re conditioned to think that gifts are an exchange of physical items but they’re really a way of communicating. A carefully chosen gift says ‘I see you, I understand you, I know you’.

The key to picking the best experience or adventure gift is to listen for clues, take note of dreams and jump at the opportunity to show that special person just how much you care.  If your friend has been talking about a wine tour in Margaret River, take her on one for her next birthday. If your brother dreams of seeing his favourite band in concert, buy tickets to their next local gig. Parents having a milestone wedding anniversary? A second honeymoon would surprise and spoil them.

Adventure gifts are not in everyone’s budget but if a group of people can pitch in towards one awesome, adventurous gift, it could amplify the experience and meaning even more.

Twenty years ago, Aussie Mumpreneur Peace Mitchell received a hot air balloon flight as an engagement present and it still holds the “best gift ever” title.

“A group of friends and family chipped in together. I think it was the combination of receiving such a beautiful, romantic, unique experience as well as knowing that so many people had been involved in the planning. It was so lovely,” Peace says.

We’re a collection of our life experiences, not our possessions. Next time you’re searching for the perfect gift for someone special, or yourself, consider a gift that will contribute to the recipient’s long-term happiness.

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