Experience the Greatest Gift of All

When you think about what’s made you happy over the years, has it been your material possessions or time spent with others experiencing life? I’m guessing mostly the latter! That’s certainly what I’ve found to be true and it’s the reason that five years ago I started giving the gift of experiences, eventually forgoing giving material gifts altogether.

Since becoming a student of mindfulness and positive psychology, I’ve learned that experiences foster more lasting happiness than material things. Think about it, you have the anticipation of the experience, then the experience itself, and all the memories of the experience afterward. That’s a whole lot of happiness. And value for your money!

Many experiences also lead to trying new things which revitalizes your routine and helps you to learn and grow. This is why I embarked on a personal challenge to try one new thing a week for a year, which I found greatly increased my joy both in life and at work.

How I Made the Switch

Moving to experience-only gifts was a gradual process. It first started with my parents, who in their 80s, always said they didn’t need more things. So, I started giving them the gift of time with me and my kids instead. Our gifts to them included everything from going to the symphony, out to breakfast, and for walks and picnics. My parents assure me that none of the fancy, expensive material gifts we’ve given them over the years are as meaningful as our gifts of time with them. And we enjoy our experience gifts with them just as much.

Then my husband and I started giving experience gifts to each other. We both have birthdays in May, so we started planning a birthday trip or outing together. Between spa excursions, cooking classes and hot air balloon rides, we never missed exchanging material gifts and love planning these dates together.

That led me to the tougher one – the kids. I finally decided to pull the trigger on no material gifts for my kids for birthdays or Christmas three years ago. That Christmas, I spent a lot of money on a drone as a gift for them. Shortly after they opened it, they crashed it into a wall. “That’s the last material gift!”, I vowed while picking up drone parts off the floor.

Now my kids get an experience for their birthdays – we’ve done indoor skydiving, a weekend in Chicago, an outing to the Escape Room and more.

Christmas was a little more complicated. The first year was easy because we went on a cruise to take attention away from not having gifts under our tree. My youngest asked, “How will Santa find us on the cruise?” I simply replied, “He won’t.” And they never missed opening gifts!

The next Christmas was harder because we didn’t do a trip. I planned for each kid to receive an experience that allowed them to express their personalities instead. My teenage daughter got the gift of any hair and nail style she wanted to sport for three months. My boys got to redecorate their shared bedroom. Both gifts turned into great quality time with my kids as I helped them research options and make decisions. They all said it was their best Christmas ever! To make “opening” experience gifts fun, I always create a scavenger hunt Christmas morning. The kids have a blast following clues that lead to their experience certificates.

Since replacing material things with experiences for Christmas and birthdays, we are bonding more as a family, creating amazing memories, and I’m not stressed out running around doing a bunch of shopping.

Tips for Giving Experience Gifts

Does the thought of experience gifts have you already feeling more joyful? Here are some tips to help you start this new tradition:

  • Plan time together. Consider things you would enjoy doing with the person you’re giving a gift to.
  • Don’t overlook the simple things. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on an experience. Plan a hiking outing, a picnic or craft session.
  • Give the gift of time. Give a monthly “subscription” to someone. Some ideas include breakfast once a month, a monthly food drop-off (we gave my parents a monthly soup gift recently!) or a monthly movie date.
  • Save time with online resources. Travel and tour experience gifts in various cities are made much easier with resources like Airbnb Experiences, Viator and Tours by Locals.

Have you ever given or received an experience gift? What’s been your favorite? Post a comment below and let me know. And visit my website at The Brimful Life for more ideas on how to find joy, adventure and meaning in your everyday life.

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Beth Ridley is an entrepreneur, speaker and author who believes life is short, so we should live it fully. That’s why she created The Brimful Life, a content and consulting company that helps individuals fill life with joy and meaning and helps companies deepen relationships with customers and employees. Beth is also best-selling author of 365 Ways to Ask, “How Was Your Day?” – Questions That Don’t Suck to Get Kids Talking, a book of creative queries she wrote with her children that are guaranteed to spark interesting conversations and get kids talking in complete sentences!

In her quest to fill life with adventure, not things and to have stories to tell, not things to show, Beth has lived and traveled across Europe, Africa and Asia. She’s a certified mindfulness coach, a former Booz Allen management consultant and a former Fortune 500 company corporate executive who’s led Marketing, Diversity and Inclusion and Client Experience teams.

Beth has a BA in English Literature from the University of Virginia, an MA in International Relations from Tufts University and an MBA from Columbia University. Beth lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. She recharges with running, speedskating and watching cooking competition shows on TV which is ironic because she really hates to cook.

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