Science Says: Gifts of Experiences Are More Meaningful Than Things

A timely study on the science of gift-giving points to why parents shouldn't feel so bad if they weren't able to purchase the presents of their kids' dreams this year.

New research out of the University of Toronto, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, offers comfort to parents like me, who couldn't find an all-coveted Hatchimal for Christmas. It turns out that giving your child an experience as a gift instead of a thing—which, let's be honest, will probably eventually end up in a pile with a bunch of other forgotten toys—forges stronger bonds between people.

"The reason experiential gifts are more socially connecting is that they tend to be more emotionally evocative," explains lead researcher Cindy Chan, in a press release adding, "An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it—like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa—and is more intensely emotional than a material possession."

Of course, the research confirms most of us do, in fact, buy material gifts this time of year. And we're spending a lot of money: about 2 percent of our annual income! So it makes sense that we should make the most out of what we buy for family and friends.

Chan offers some great tips for gift-giving this time of year if you can't buy an experience like concert tickets or a trip because those things can get very expensive! A CD that reminds kids of an experience you shared, like the Moana movie soundtrack, can have the same relationship-strengthening effect. A gift that evokes special family memories from a shared experience, like a framed photo from a vacation, also fits within this theme.

Chan adds, "Consider someone's favourite hobby or something new they've always wanted to do. Marketers should also package experiential gifts in a way that makes it easier for recipients to consume them so they don't have to be tied to using the gifts by a particular day or time."

It seems the bottom line is that we should put thought into what we give kids, instead of just loading up on every toy in sight. And consider the lesson we are teaching our little ones when we shower them with mountains of gifts. It certainly isn't to value experiences instead of material possessions!

Unfortunately, for me, this advice may have come too late. As usual, I'm pretty sure I overdid it this Christmas, even though I told myself I wouldn't. But to be honest, one year I got my kids a Disney trip for Christmas, and their responses weren't what I'd imagined. The trip wasn't taking place right away, but rather months from then, and I think for young kids, when immediate gratification is missing, the gift misses, too.

But that was just my experience. Do you prefer to give gifts or experiences to your children at the holidays?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.

1 Comment

  1. Great article Melissa. I believe that most parents want experiences for their children but there are very few sites that give them the option to send those gifts or receive those gifts. A new site based out of Bay Area, CA - allows users to send these gifts conveniently in 3 clicks. There current list of merchants is limited to Bay Area, CA. But it is super convenient site.

    I also believe that experience gifting is dramatic shift for people. Most kids in particular love to open gift boxes in front of their friends. They may not play with the toy after the first touch. I believe it is a slow and graduate process where parents must move their children from material things to more experiential things.

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