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Expert: Give the Gift of Experience This Year

Experiential gifts can inspire gratitude and generosity, according to a new report. (violetagk/morguefile)
Experiential gifts can inspire gratitude and generosity, according to a new report. (violetagk/morguefile)
December 2, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - If your weekend plans include crossing gifts off the holiday shopping list, new research suggests some of the best gifts can't be wrapped or placed under a tree.

Psychology professor Thomas Gilovich, a 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 gifts of 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."

The feeling of gratitude has been linked to increased happiness and social cohesion, better health outcomes and even improved sleep quality, Gilovich said. 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 suggested that 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 said. "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 experiential 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.

The study is online at

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL