As the gift-giving season approaches at the end of the year, many of us find ourselves contemplating the age-old question: should we give experiences or possessions? While a shiny new gadget or a piece of jewellery may offer immediate gratification, the allure of gifting an unforgettable experience – whether a hot-air balloon ride, a gourmet cooking class, or an impromptu trip to a vineyard – seems equally appealing. This conundrum is particularly prevalent now, as our consumerist culture is being questioned more than ever.
In an increasingly cluttered world, it’s not surprising that the trend of “experience gifts” has gained traction in recent years. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, people derive greater happiness from experiences than from material possessions. The study suggests that experiences, such as those offered by WonderDays, like dining at a gourmet restaurant or attending a music festival, tend to meet more of our underlying psychological needs, such as connection, vitality, and being present in the moment.
Another study in Psychological Science found that material purchases offer a ‘hedonic adaptation’; our excitement with a new possession wanes over time. On the contrary, experiences, particularly those shared with others, create lasting memories that can be enjoyed indefinitely, and often become more precious with time.
Moreover, experiences, unlike objects, are less likely to incite comparison and envy. When your friend boasts about her luxury cruise to the Greek Isles, you may feel less envy than if she flaunted an exclusive designer handbag. This sentiment speaks volumes about the social value we place on experiences, which are perceived as unique and personal, whereas possessions can be subject to comparison and competition.
That being said, it would be naive to discount the appeal and practicality of physical gifts entirely. In an age defined by technology, material possessions like a cutting-edge smartphone or a state-of-the-art gaming console can provide an immersive experience in themselves. Furthermore, physical gifts can often serve practical needs and may last longer than a one-off experience.
Importantly, the ‘right’ gift can greatly depend on the recipient’s personality, circumstances, and preferences. Introverts may appreciate a thoughtfully selected book, while a travel enthusiast might be thrilled by a weekend getaway. A fitness fanatic may benefit more from a new yoga mat, while a wine connoisseur would relish a wine-tasting experience. Ultimately, the best gifts are those that are tailored to the recipient’s individual tastes and passions, whether they are tangible or not.
The age-old adage, ‘it’s the thought that counts’, has never been more pertinent. Perhaps, instead of categorising gifts into experiences and possessions, we should focus on the emotions, memories, and value that they bring to the recipient. In this light, a well-chosen book could be just as meaningful as a romantic weekend in Paris, and a coveted piece of technology could offer as much joy as a skydiving experience. However you need to look at what will last longer in terms of thought provoking gifts.
So, when you’re agonising over what to gift your loved ones, remember that there is no universal answer to the experience vs possession debate. It’s all about knowing the person you’re gifting and making the choice that most resonates with them. After all, the true beauty of gift-giving lies not in the price tag, but in the thought, love and understanding that it represents.