5 Reasons Why Experiences Make Better Gifts Than Physical Objects
It’s logical to think that a permanent or long-lasting fixture in our lives will provide ongoing happiness, compared to a one-off experience that quickly fades into the past – “A trip to the Philippines would be great, sure, but a new TV will serve us for years to come!”
In fact, it’s the other way around. As humans, we tend to place higher value on experiential purchases than physical objects, and here is why:
1. Experiences Result in Longer-Lasting Happiness than Material Possessions
It’s human nature for us to adapt to our surroundings, and new material objects are no exception. The joy of a new material item in our lives is ironically short-lived, whereas the value we place on experiences actually increases with time, as they become cherishable memories and life lessons.
A study conducted in the early 2000s assessed people’s satisfaction with two separate purchases – one was a material object like a new smartphone or piece of furniture, and the other was an experience like a concert or some kind of tour.
Initially, respondents placed the same level of happiness on both purchases. However, as time went on, the respondents placed more value on their one-off experience than their material object. This was despite the fact that the experience was long past, whereas they were presumably still enjoying their material object.
Since that initial study, many researchers have delved into this fascinating topic of “happiness economics” and reached similar conclusions. Cornell University Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich has conducted numerous studies on the subject.
2. Experiences Equal Far Better Social Currency than Objects
In this day and age, social currency has become an increasingly important commodity.
Whether it’s racking up likes on your social media accounts or simply being able to offer people better quality conversation on a day-to-day basis, younger generations (particularly millennials) are placing more value on experiential purchases than on material objects.
It’s much easier to bond with someone over a discussion about a hiking trip in New Zealand or snorkelling in Malaysia than it is to talk about the features of your new iPad, or the new fridge you just bought.
This isn’t to say that a new fridge or an iPad is a poor or unexciting purchase – far from it!
It’s simply that experiences are easier to bond over; even if the person you’re speaking to hasn’t had the same experience, or visited that place, or shares the same feelings about it. They tend to make for better conversation than material purchases.
3. Experiences Lead to Greater Mindfulness
Following on from the previous point, Gilovich has determined that the satisfaction felt by those who have fond memories of an experience far outweigh the satisfaction of acquiring an object that has been long awaited (like a new car you’ve been painstakingly saving for, for example).
Moreover, the accumulation of material things inspires a constant feeling of “looking ahead” to the next thing, which prevents satisfaction of the present moment. Once you finally get that new car you’ve wanted for so long, what’s next? Renovate the kitchen? Buy a larger sofa?
To some extent, you can get caught in this vicious cycle with experiential purchases as well – “I’ve been to Italy, now I want to go to Japan! Now I want to do Everest Base Camp, and then I want to go snowboarding in the Alps,” and so on.
However, Gilovich’s research indicates that those who invest in experiential purchases (such as travel, kite-surfing, white-water rafting, skydiving, etc.) are better at enjoying themselves in the present moment. This is a very desirable trait, as it stops you from living in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction.
4. Material Things Lead to “Keeping Up with the Joneses” Syndrome
When people sit down to discuss experiences, we tend not to compare ourselves or “one-up” each other as much as when we discuss our possessions. It’s natural to be jealous of your neighbour’s bigger house, or your co-worker’s better suit, or your friend’s nicer furniture.
Experiential comparisons can certainly inspire envy (“That safari sounds amazing, I wish I could visit Africa!”) but not in the same way. Experiences are something we keep inside us for our own satisfaction, rather than a status symbol we expose for all to see.
As Gilovich said himself, “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
5. Objects Create Clutter; Experiences Broaden the Mind
At the risk of using a tired cliché, less is more. Living in a consumerist society, we are encouraged to accumulate more and more stuff, until we are ultimately tied down with all this accumulated clutter.
It stops us from being able to roam about freely, experience new things, and live in the moment. Most of us would appreciate a comfortable house, luxurious things, the latest gadgets and fancy clothes – just don’t forget to make room for priceless memories as well.
BananaLab creates “experience gift boxes” to offer your loved ones in place of a physical gift, so they can choose from over 100 experiences across Sydney or Melbourne – from adventurous activities like skydiving and combat flights, to pamper packages and workshops to develop interesting hobbies like candle-making or perfume-making.
BananaLab’s gift boxes range from $99 to $599. While our gift boxes offer something for everyone, we have numerous categories of gift boxes available including “thrill”, “chillax” and “chic”, so you can offer someone the perfect experiential gift for any special occasion.