We hope the holidays have brought you joy and laughter! But, ask yourself, are you happy about the material object you have or for that person who gifted it to you and experiences you’ve shared over time. In the season of gifting, we often forget how experiences can be the greatest gift.

What makes a gift? Is it something we create? something we buy? something we do? Maybe a better question should be, what is the best gift you’ve received? 

Depending on geographical and cultural rearing, it could be a physical object of significant meaning, a sofa that’s lasted 10 years, or it could be something you and someone did while vacationing, like skydiving.


Reflecting on this question bombarded our spirit with humility as we remembered how an amazing and eventful year 2018 has been. While up in Anchorage, Alaska working a bit, having family visit and taking Landon Snowboarding in Alyeska was the best gift for everyone. No presents, just the presence of family. Being able to surf in Costa Rica was another highlight of the year so, I guess my answer to “what were the best purchases/gifts?” has to be experiences.


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In fact, in a 20-year study published in 2014 by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a Psychology professor at Cornell University, confirms that spending on experiences, especially sharing those experiences with others, provides more meaning in a person’s life than a physical item. If you’re curious to read the research paper you can visit here.

I’ll do my best to summarize Dr. Gilovich research “A wonderful life: experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness” in this post:

“To live in the developed world is to live in a consumerist society.” True, but it doesn’t mean buying the next fashion statement or fancy electronic upgrade. The findings of Dr. Gilovich’s study conclude…” social policy might be altered to take advantage of the greater hedonic return offered by experiential investments, thus advancing societal well-being.”

Basically, buy experiences over things. 

Along the lines of materialism, it’s incredibly clear the way of The Buddha is a solid way of life and now, backed up by Western research: “Material things are temporary” and “don’t be attached to material things” are a couple key points I’ve taken from The Buddha’s teachings. In a sense, money can really buy you happiness, but to a degree. Don’t get me wrong, happiness is a choice that comes from within but I digress…being in the present of the experience creates a memory that lasts forever, which is the ultimate gift and is how I interpret the conclusion of Dr.Gilovich research.

Memories last forever, materials things fade away in time.


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If you’re the competitive type to constantly follow up on your neighbor to see what they have, wear, drive, and attempt to outdo or even keep pace with one another, an experience/event is something no one but you can put a “price” on. To say “my scuba trip was better than yours” is ignorant, to say the least.

If that experience you planned out perfectly, didn’t go as plan, it’s still a memory you have that can be talked about forever and maybe even laughed about in time. 

Similarly, sharing those experiences with one another creates a tighter social bond. Going to that Bruno Mars or Beyonce concert can create a deeper connection between you and your friend. Taking lessons and learning new things are also’ experiencing’ and can positively affect your day to day choices.


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If we aren’t learning, we aren’t growing and if we aren’t growing we’re declining. Living the same uneventful, mundane routine, day in and day out is identical to buying a physical item that loses it’s happiness or value factor.

Imagine the African Plane 20,000 years ago as our ancestors roamed the land and eventually spread across the planet as Humans are today. Did they stop once they got comfortable? or continue to explore? Historically, through evidential findings, our ancestors migrated and continue to jump around today which lead us to the current age of air travel that enables us to continue this exploration, in new ways.

How would you best satisfy that psychological human NEED of wonder? Buying the newest iPhone or traveling to new places and experiencing new things? At this point, the answer is self-explanatory.

Which brings up another point that Dr. Gilovich hammers: how quickly we can become familiar with new possessions. Humans are great at adapting (look at how we can live through horrible weather conditions throughout the world), and we habituate to ‘things’ quicker than we do events or experiences. Thinking deeper, possessions can be replaced or repurchased in time but an opportunity to go on that trip, or concert, maybe be a once and a lifetime chance.

Don’t let the monetary figure distract you from doing your dream experience. Remember experiences come in different forms. Learning a new craft or refining on an old skill creates new neurological pathways which help enhance our quality of life. If you’re still on the edge about doing something, or what to do for that matter, think of things you like to do and start there. If you plan on gifting an event, think of what that person likes to do or see and make an event out of it!

Logically, a $1,000 trip is expensive right now and a new HD TV will last for at least 3+ years, and without mishaps, even longer. We believe that it’s expensive or not worth it because we don’t have it in our hands…it’s nothing more than a confirmation notification on a screen nowadays. We may feel as if it’s a waste of money spent because of no immediate gratification. Yet, when the trip finally comes around, we’ll be euphorically talking about it for months and years to come.

In conclusion, the lesson I got out of this research is to let go of comparison. Let go of materialism and instead use your money to explore, adventure, experiment! From personal experience, it is nice to have the most updated technology and I would be a liar to say that they aren’t important to me and our daily life. However, what’s at the forefront of my mind is things do not define us, our memories do. As we start the new year off let’s consume less and do more, bringing awareness back into the present, where happiness can be found in the continued human experience we are all having. Create new experiences with others.


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“We are not the sum total of our possessions, however important they might be to us. If called upon to write our memoirs, it is our experiences we would write about, not our possessions.” – Dr. Thomas Gilovich.

Leave a comment below what you think of Dr. Gilovich’ work!
What is the best experiences you’ve had?
Do you think you can actually buy happiness?

Happiness and psychological mind benders always interest me so I would love to hear what you all have to say! Thank you for reading!


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