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Giving older kids an experience instead of a material gift can lead to more happiness

Recent study findings come at the perfect time for consumers to start their holiday shopping

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Photo (c) Nopphon Pattanasri EyeEm - Getty Images
Whether you’ve been planning your holiday shopping for months or are waiting until the holiday season is officially upon us, it’s never too early to start thinking about gift ideas. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago is giving consumers a leg up on shopping this holiday season. 

According to their findings, giving an experience-related gift rather than a material item is the best option for long-term happiness when it comes to older kids. 

“What this means is, experiences are highly coveted by adolescents, not just expensive material things, like some might think,” said researcher Lan Nguyen Chaplin. “Don’t get me wrong. Young children do love experiences. Entire industries (e.g., theme parks such as Disneyland) are built around this premise. In fact, young children are ecstatic throughout the experience. However, for experiences to provide enduring happiness, children must be able to recall details of the event long after it is over.”

Memories last a lifetime 

The researchers analyzed four previous studies that explored how kids’ happiness differed when they received a material item versus when they received an experience-related gift. For kids between the ages of three and 17, the researchers learned that an experience wins out in terms of lasting happiness. 

They explained that young kids can appreciate the things right in front of them, so while they’d certainly enjoy an experience gift, the happiness they feel is limited to the length of the event. However, as kids age and their memories get stronger, material goods become less important and having memories of experiences leaves a bigger emotional impact. 

Ultimately, both types of gifts -- material things and experiences -- will make kids happy. However, if parents and loved ones are looking for creative ways to give older kids a lasting memory, opting for an experience could be the better choice. 

Additionally, for parents looking to give an experience to little ones, the researchers recommend documenting those special moments. Having a tangible way for kids to look back and reminisce on important days and events can help them create that connection with family members and appreciate the time spent together. 

“Take pictures or videos of family walks, playing in the snow, and birthday parties,” said Chaplin. “Children are likely going to appreciate those experiences more if there is something to remind them of the event. Additionally, they’ll be able to learn the social value of shared experiences.” 

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