Published: December 16, 2016
Stuff: Who needs it?!
Looking to present the very best possible gift to your better half? Heed this, dear reader: According to hard science, the best gifts you can give aren't things. They're experiences.
Most folks, in this life, are in the business of pursuing happiness. Sure, it's a well-known fact that money and its accompanying stuff can make you marginally happier up to a point - though, after your basic living needs are met, the benefits quickly taper off.
Assuming that a long-lasting thing will make more of an impression on your paramour is an easy mistake to make. After all: a necklace will last longer than a few minutes, right? So doesn't that make the necklace a surer bet than a moment that happens once, then gets filed away in memory? Well: According to recent research, the fact is that such an assumption is totally and utterly wrong.
Take it from Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, who has been in the academic trenches reviewing the question of money and happiness for more than twenty years. According to Dr. Gilovich, it comes down to a single phenomenon: adaptation.
"We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed," Gilovich explains. "But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them." So: that necklace that you figured would last forever quickly becomes part of the background noise.
Several of Gilovich's psychological studies delve into a subset of this phenomenon, called the "Easterlin paradox." The upshot of the paradox is this: possessing a thing does net some subjective experience of happiness, but there's a ceiling - then adaptation kicks in and the bottom drops out to neutrality. With experiential purchases, that doesn't tend to happen.
This phenomenon is best demonstrated by a study that asked people to report their experience of happiness upon the completion of a major purchase. Initially, the purchasers' happiness with those purchases was ranked about the same between the "doers" and the "owners." Over time, however, the "owners" experienced significantly less satisfaction than the "doers." In fact, the "doers" stated that their satisfaction with the experiences they spent that hard-earned money on actually went up.
Counterintuitive? Sure. But scientific as heck.
So now you're convinced that experiences - like tandem skydiving- last longer and give greater satisfaction to your giftee than would a gadget or a bauble. But wait! There's more.
Another key reason that experiences beat out stuff in the gifting department is that they're inherently connective. Experiences connect us more to the people around us than simple consumption could ever hope to do. Example: You're much more likely to retain a lasting connection to someone you went on a skydive with than someone who also happens to own an iPhone 7.
"We consume experiences directly with other people," explains Dr. Gilovich. "They're part of the stories that we tell to one another."
The upshot? Well: If you're looking to next-level your relationship, consider making skydiving part of your shared story. Some might even say skydiving is therapeutic. The best experiences you can have, after all, are the ones you share with your partner in crime, no? And that's a gift that keeps on giving for the giver and the giftee alike.
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