It can be a struggle to find the perfect gift for friends and family year after year. Many of us already have too much stuff. And while it may be exciting to open gifts on a holiday morning, the thrill is often gone by the time the festivities are over.
This year, instead of running around town searching for a just-right gift (and enduring the misery of holiday shopping crowds), why not give something meaningful? Here are three alternatives you can feel truly good about spending money on—and that are guaranteed to not be re-gifted.
Gift an experience
Gifts are fun to unwrap, but research shows that buying experiences makes you happier in the long run than material things. Part of the reason is that experiences last longer. While that sounds counterintuitive—after all, you have “things” for a long time—it’s not. After you have something for a while, whether it be a new pair of earrings, a new piece of furniture, or a new car, you become acclimated to it and it no longer gives you a thrill. Furthermore, experiences draw out happiness because we tend to do them with other people. Even after a hot air balloon ride, wilderness trek, or night at the theater is over, we can “experience” these events again and again by talking about them and looking at pictures or videos.
Anticipatory happiness—that is, thinking about the happy feelings a given experience will bring—can extend the fun by starting it ahead of time. So if you give your children the gift of a family train trip, for example, get a map of the route and plan it out together. Or buy tickets for your spouse to the symphony and listen to plenty of classical music by the featured composer beforehand.
Make a charitable donation in someone's name
A new sweater is swell. But knowing you’re helping an organization in need is even better. Is Uncle Bob an animal lover? Donate to your (or his) local animal shelter. Cousin Betty volunteers at a homeless shelter? Find out which one and donate there. If your friend Ed loves sports, donate to an organization that provides athletic programs for underprivileged kids, such as the YMCA. Other options include Doctors Without Borders, The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, and the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Make sure to let the charity know you’re donating in someone’s name so they can send a note to your giftee.
Sustainable and Ethical Gifts
Need a tangible gift you can feel good about? Here's how to find products from socially conscious companies.
Holidays are all about traditions and passing on your values and beliefs to your children and grandchildren. In lieu of giving gifts this year, commit to doing a service project together. If you don’t live in the same area, do something on the same day or for the same organization so you can all share the experience, even if it’s just in spirit.
Aside from the virtue of helping others, volunteering can have a substantial benefit on your own health and well being. Research has linked acts of altruism to improved mental health, reduced stress, and even reductions in mortality (to learn more, see Altruism: Doing Well by Doing Good).
Here are some volunteering options to consider:
- Go caroling at a nursing home.
- Volunteer to cook food for a local homeless shelter. If you’re not sure where to find one, check with local churches, temples, or other religious organizations, which often operate shelters or can otherwise steer you to one.
- Bake brownies and drop them off at the local firehouse or police station.
- Sign up to serve food at a food kitchen on a holiday or any day.
- Volunteer at a local food bank.
Bottom line: Whatever you give this season, take the focus off material possessions in favor of acts that you and your family will remember and cherish for years to come.
Also see our infographic, Buying Experiences vs. Buying Things.