Which Are Better Gifts: Things Or Experiences?

It's a perenially relevant question, but there's no doubt that it's especially notable during the gift-giving season: Are experiences better than things? Can a family ski trip lead to more happiness than a hover board? Can a trip to the galapagos generate more smiles than a brand-new car? Can the joy from a new coffee-maker out-do the joy you might feel seeing your favorite band live? What kinds of gifts will give the recipient the most joy? Well, research done at the University of British Columbia set out to see whether experiences really do make better gifts than things — and the results are actually pretty surprising.

In the past, conventional wisdom has always favored the experience over the possession because the memories of experiences are supposed to last forever and the thing is supposed to be temporary; however, researchers Aaron C. Weidman and Elizabeth W. Dunn are questioning this commonly-held belief. They hypothesized that while experiences would lead to happiness that's reflective in nature, material goods would actually lead to more happiness — just of a different sort, arriving in the form of momentary bursts instead. In order to test their theory, they recruited a gorup of undergraduate college students as participants. Here's how the research breaks down:

The Experiment

Weidman and Dunn asked their pool of undergrads about gifts they had recieved starting on Christmas Day 2014 and continuing until the middle of February 2015. Some of the students were asked to describe a physical object they had received, while others had to describe an experience they were given, like tickets to a concert or a restaurant gift card. In the following weeks, the students were asked to answer the questions, “How much is your gift contributing to your happiness in life right now?” and “Are you [experiencing/using] your gift right now?” Then, two months later in mid-February, they had to answer two final questions: “When you think about this purchase, how happy does it make you?” and “How much does this purchase contribute to your overall happiness in life?" Using the results to these questions, Weidman and Dunn were able to see if their hypothesis held true or not.

Happiness From Things

The researchers found that, just as they had hypothesized, people reported getting more frequent happiness from material presents. It makes sense, right? Every time you use that hover board, it's going to make you happy. This kind of happiness is described as "momentary" happiness, which basically occurs when you experience happy things in your life due to a thing or a moment. In comparison to other kinds of happiness, momentary happiness is felt very frequently.

Happiness From Experiences

The researchers were correct in their hypothesis here, too. While people reported feeling more frequent happiness from material presents, they reported feeling more nostalgic happiness from the presents that allowed them to have experiences. This kind of happiness is called "afterglow" happiness; instead of happiness in your life, it's happiness about your life. Though afterglow happiness occurs less frequently, it is usually experienced more intensely.

So How Can We Use This Information For The Powers Of Good?

The experiment found that, in fact, both types of presents can give us happiness, just different types. One type is not necessarily superior to the other, and it totally depends on the person receiving the present to accurately determine which type your loved one will like more. So, what can we do with the findings? Tailor our gift-giving for each recipient even more, of course!

If you're looking to give someone a "happiness from things" kind of present, try things like makeup, stationary, or sketchbooks in case you're trying to keep it under 25 dollars, or a clip-on iPhone lens, Beats headphones, or leather wallet if you're willing to spend a little more. Your giftee will likely use these objects regularly, allowing them to exprience momentary happiness every time they use them. If you want to give someone the gift of happiness from experience, try gifts like books, concert tickets, a gift card for a spa day, or a weekend getaway; these will all give them lots of residual afterglow happiness.

Happy gifting, everyone!

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