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Experiences Rather than Material Gifts for the Holidays

Researchers say experiences like tickets to a sporting event make better gifts than material things. (Kierstyn Neely)
Researchers say experiences like tickets to a sporting event make better gifts than material things. (Kierstyn Neely)
November 30, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. - People feel more grateful for what they have done than for what they have, according to new research, and that feeling of gratitude also leads to more generous behavior.

Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor and the co-author of the Cornell University report, said people make positive comments about the stuff they bought or received, but they don't express gratitude as often as they do for experiences, such as concerts, dance lessons or dining out at a good restaurant.

"So, if you want to give a gift that really makes someone happy, there's a lot of things to choose from, he said. "But again, think twice about maybe doing an experiential gift over a material one. It might pay off even more."

He added the feeling of gratitude has been linked to increased happiness and social cohesion, better health outcomes, and even improved sleep quality. Researchers studied 1,200 online customer reviews and found the vast majority of people who used the word "grateful" purchased experiences, not material items such as electronics, furniture or clothing.

The study suggests experiences tend to help people appreciate their own situations and trigger fewer social comparisons. Gilovich said the urge to "keep Up with the Joneses" if a neighbor buys a better car or computer than yours can be hard to resist.

"We do that with experiences, too," he added. "If you went on some sensational vacation, I wonder a bit about mine. But I wonder less than I do for material things."

He said such gifts also can create a positive ripple effect. In a study involving an economic game, players thinking about a meaningful experience were more generous toward others than when they thought about a material purchase.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO