The Decision: Gifts or Experiences?

You've got a limited supply of funds and a big supply of choices.  If you had to choose, would you rather get a gift or an experience?    

By Henry Adeleye on February 6, 2015 


Hard choices are the fabric of life.  Decaf or caffeinated? (Decaf.)  Wake up on the first alarm, or hit the snooze button seven times? (Snooze button.)  To be or not to be?  (That's actually a tough one.)  Everyday, we're bombarded with a seemingly endless array of choices to make.  These choices usually end up determining whether we live a life of happiness, or end up giving the Super Bowl away at the 1-yard-line with a timeout left.   

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, you may come across a similar set of choices.  Do you focus on buying a big gift, or focus on a great experience?  This is the kind of stuff that can bring a young Hamlet to his knees.  But you're not Hamlet.  You exist in real life and, unfortunately, have to make real life decisions.  Of course, you could just do both, but life doesn’t always work that way when you're on a budget.  Plus, that defies one of the laws of physics or something.  So one or the other, it is.  

The reasons to go for gifts are pretty simple.  Gifts are easy.  Gifts are public.  You know what someone wants and you can just go grab that exact thing.  If someone tells you they want to go to the mountains, you actually have to put some thought into what you'll do to make the trip enjoyable.  It's the modern day equivalent of those well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) parents who just buy their kids anything they want instead of spending time with them.  The kids seem happy on the surface because they have more toys than their peers and can brag about it.  By the same token, giving gifts allows the recipient to brag to friends.  You'll be able to stand tall as they post pictures of the gifts you bought and tag you in them for all your followers to see in envious glory.   

The downside to that, however, is the excitement of gifts is fleeting.  Things we're exposed to over and over become mundane.  That new iPhone someone waited 173 hours in line for becomes an afterthought in a few weeks.  The parents who bought their kids gifts instead of spending time also becomes an afterthought.  The child grows up resenting their parents and ends up moving to Alaska to live on a houseboat.  And, similarly, you soon become an afterthought when someone brings something newer and shinier to the table.   

scientific study found that people gain more pleasure from experiential purchases than materialistic purchases.  I mean, the term materialistic in and of itself carries a negative connotation.  Plus, it's never too wise to argue against a scientific study.  What you do with someone will leave a more pleasurable memory than what you buy for someone.  You may not remember what you bought on your last trip, but you can certainly remember what you did, where you went, and the laughs you shared.   

Create new memories with the people you care about.  Gifts are great and everyone deserves special surprises, but when faced with the choice between a gift and an experience, always go with the experience.  Walk in the park, have a picnic, take a trip.  Catch a play, watch some poetry, go skydiving.  Experience the world, if you have the chance.  It's the stuff motivational posters are made of.  Make memories that'll last a lifetime.  The decision is clear.