The Benefits of Gifting an Experience

Jul 13 · 6 min read

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

There are certain times of year you may find yourself scrounging the depths of your knowledge trying to come up with gift ideas for friends, family, loved ones, or perhaps even co-workers. The variety of taste we all derive pleasure from in the world is so different from one another, that you may find yourself needing to come up with different ideas for different people, which takes time, energy, and effort.

Some people are great gift-givers, but they seem to be in the minority. Many of these holidays come around and the same gifts seem to be passed: Candy and flowers for Valentine's Day and a round of novelty kitchen gadgets for Christmas that may or may not get used.

There is another way to give gifts though, that gives your giftee a sense of satisfaction that lasts for long after the gift has been given, that improves the relationship you two have in a greater way than just giving them an object, and that is to gift them an experience.

Many studies have been done on gift-giving in general. It is an important part of many cultures. Here in the United States, it’s an important aspect of many holidays. In China, pupils will give gifts to their teachers to show appreciation and respect. In many other countries and cultures across the globe, gift-giving is a way to show gratitude, friendship, love, and hospitality. As an exchange student host sister growing up, my family received cultural presents from nearly all of our exchange students at some point or another, from jewelry from China to cheese from Switzerland.

Gift-giving across cultures is a way to share and experience those different cultures together, and has a greater benefit in itself, even beyond the scope of what the physical gift itself actually is.

In the US, it’s thought most people spend about 2% of their annual income on gifts, and when it comes to holidays like Christmas, the excessive pressure to give a bunch of presents is actually thought to deteriorate economic value.

I know, it sounds counter-intuitive.

We always think Christmas “boosts” the economy every year, but it is actually an illusioned and economically inefficient “boost.”

Joel Waldfogel is an economist with the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and author of Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents For The Holidays. He explains in his book that the “inefficiency” comes from the gap between what the gift giver spent on a gift (say a $100 sweater from your grandma) and what you would have spent on it yourself ($10, maybe, if it was on sale and you had an ugly sweater party to attend). That $90 difference actually takes away from the overall value of our economy.

There is a better way to give gifts though. As gift-giving is such an ingrained part of our society, it’s hard to think about Christmas or Valentine's Day, and not showing your loved one you care in that time-honored traditional way.

Gift them an EXPERIENCE instead.

There are many science-backed reasons that gifting an experience is superior to gifting a thing...

1. It improves your relationship with the giftee.

Cindy Chan, an assistant professor at U of T Scarborough, co-authored a body of research with associate professor Cassie Mogilner from UCLA Anderson School of Management for the Journal of Consumer Research on how gifting experience is actually better at improving relationships between the gift-giver and the giftee.

Chan explains, "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."

Experience gifts are also more likely to be enjoyed in groups. A thing you may use on your own at home but tickets to a concert can be shared with your significant other or best friend. It improves the social connectedness we feel with those we care about, to be able to go out and spend time with them and share a special experience. Even passes to the zoo or aquarium can give you a day out with your bestie in which you spend time catching up, talking about life, and bonding with those you care most about.

2. The value of a thing will diminish over time while the value of an experience will stay with you forever.

Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University has been studying the science of happiness for years, in particular, its relationship to money.

He explains that the enemy of happiness is adaption, or adapting to a thing or a circumstance. When you receive a material gift, don’t get me wrong, it is exciting for a bit. You may love it and you may feel gratitude towards the person who bought you that thing. But eventually, we adapt to it. You look at a new pair of shoes day in and day out and at some point, they are just another part of your wardrobe.

Things are not a part of us, they are separate from us. Even the things that hold sentimental value we may really love and feel connected with, but they are still a separate entity from ourselves. If that thing went away, we would still live on.

Experiences, however, are felt like more a part of ourselves. Who we are is a sum of our total experiences. The lessons you learned from traveling the world, the friendships you made with those that you met along the way, and the in-depth conversations you had about the state of the world from different eyes become a part of you that can never be taken away.

Through gifting an experience, you are giving that person a piece of themselves that they will hold on to and cherish forever, and the value of that can never diminish with time nor adaption.

3. Experiences are a better use of money, many people believe.

From a monetary perspective, people actually value experiences a lot more than they value material things. This study found that people enjoy greater well-being from experiences and find them to be a better use of money.

We only have so much money to spend, no matter what your income. Money is the energetic creation of humans to assign value to things and to exchange that value for goods or services that we need or desire. It takes money to live in the world, to have a roof over your head and food in the fridge, to get to work, and to be able to do what you need to and love to do.

In a sense, money is an exchange for what you care about. The more you care about something, the more you’re willing to spend on it. The less you care, the less you’ll spend, if any at all. As we only have so much money to spend, we only have so many f*cks to give, as the saying goes.

If we are going to be spending 2% of our income on gift-giving, do you want to give something that’s value will deteriorate as time goes on, or do you want to give them something that will become a part of them, help them grow, and stay with them forever?

Think about gifting an experience of WELLNESS.

The importance of self-care is on the rise, and wellness practices that help you feel good, stay well and improve your quality of life have become priceless.

There are many experiences out there that improve one’s wellness, can contribute to good health, and still foster the relationship between you and your giftee.

Here are a few unique ideas of wellness-related gifts you can gift someone this next gift-giving holiday, whether it be Christmas, Valentine's Day, a birthday, or just a day you want to show them how much you care:

1. A gift card for a massage or to a spa

Massage decreases stress while increasing serotonin production in the body, a.k.a. the happy chemical. It also relieves tension and pain in the body, an experience that many people face from time to time.

Many massage therapists can vary in style, so depending upon what it is your giftee needs, a good MT can adapt their massage to meet their desired outcome.

A gift card to a bigger spa could also be beneficial, as many spas offer multiple services such as massage, facials, body wraps, manicures, pedicures, and more. A specified dollar amount on a gift card means your giftee can spend it on whatever service they may need at that particular moment.

2. An hour in a float tank

If you haven’t heard of this new wellness experience, I highly recommend you find a good "two-for" deal, as you're going to want to try this one out yourself.

Float therapy is spending an hour in a dark, soundproof room filled with about a foot of water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt. The buoyancy created by that much salt allows you to float seamlessly at the surface, devoid of stimulus, with only the peace and quiet of water and space.

Float therapy is known to help reduce stress, reduce physical pain in the body, reduce tension, and improve things like sleep, relaxation, and mindfulness.

(If you’re in Minnesota, I highly recommend checking out Sanctuary Float Spa in Minnetonka. They’ve got an amazing massage therapist there, as well.)

3. A visit to a salt cave

Salt caves are man-made rooms built out entirely with either Himalayan salt or dead sea salt, from the salt on the ground that you can dig your toes into to the smell of salt in the air, reminiscent of sitting on a beach near the ocean.

Salt therapy, or halotherapy, has many benefits, including being very good for your respiratory system. A visit to a salt cave can be great during cold and flu season, as they may help reduce inflammation and break up mucus in your airways. Halotherapy has also been used by those who are quitting smoking or those suffering from asthma or other respiratory issues. They also have mental health benefits as well, as it’s said an hour in a salt cave can be like two days on the beach, and if you live in a cold or dreary climate, it may be the perfect short afternoon getaway you need this winter. (Hey, Minnesota, check this place out.)

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