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The Best Gifts May Not Be Things

A new report says the best gifts - ones that inspire the most feelings of well-being - are actually not material things. (Pixabay)
A new report says the best gifts - ones that inspire the most feelings of well-being - are actually not material things. (Pixabay)
December 5, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- People feel more grateful for memorable experiences than for material objects, new research suggests. And that feeling of gratitude also leads to more generous behavior.

Thomas Gilovich, report co-author ad professor of psychology at Cornell University, said people make positive comments about the stuff they buy or receive - 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,” Gilovich said. "But again, think twice about maybe doing an experiential gift over a material one. It might pay off even more."

Feelings of gratitude have been linked to increased happiness and social cohesion, better health outcomes and even improved sleep quality, he said.

Researchers examined 1,200 online customer reviews and found that the vast majority of people who used the word "grateful” had purchased experiences, not material items such as electronics, furniture or clothing.

The study suggests that experiences tend to help people appreciate their own situations and trigger fewer social comparisons. Gilovich said that the urge to "keep up with the Joneses" when a neighbor buys a new car or computer 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."

Experiential gifts also can create a positive ripple effect, Gilovich said. 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.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV