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The best holiday gift isn’t a gift but an experience

Ribbons, wrappings, and bows are beautiful, but once you open the package and see the gift the moment of sheer happiness is short-lived. Psychology research has shown that experiences bring more happiness than possessions. Anticipation of the experience brings joy to the giver as well as the receiver of the gift.

Sharing experiences is also better for your mental health. They’re associated with your values, effort, ability to connect, and good old-fashioned social interaction; material goods may be more about shopping, expectations, and valuing what you purchase more than the relationship. Experiences can create some of the most hilarious and sweet memories. Even experiences that went badly, like a rain storm during a much anticipated camping vacation turning your tent into a floating soggy mess, are memorable. The feelings you had and the faces your children made as everyone gathered up camping supplies leaves an impression you will laugh about for years. No material gift could give you or the friends you’ve told that hilarious, thrilling memory.

If you’ve had holidays where the gifts under the tree seem excessive, maybe this year is a good year to give experiences instead. Kids don’t need another toy or gadget, and your partner doesn’t need another iPhone or piece of jewelry as much as they need your time. Below are a few suggestions that are easy on the budget but big on the memories.

Great experiences for children and teens:

  1. The McDonald Observatory in West Texas – This is wonderful place to take the whole family. Being out under the stars and viewing the planets is educational and helps you put petty problems into perspective. Plus, kids who communicate and spend time engaged with their family do better academically and socially.

  2. A family balloon ride – There is nothing quite like this experience for every generation. It’s thrilling, a little scary, and builds family unity and trust.

  3. Take a family train ride – The train moves at a slower pace, allowing ample time to see the countryside and dine as you ride over mountains and play cards with family.

Experiences for a friend

  1. High tea at a fancy hotel is my number one choice of an incredible gift experience.

  2. A wine tasting experience in the hill country.

  3. Dinner out and a poetry reading promote deep conversations so not every friend would enjoy this.

  4. I don’t know of one female friend who wouldn’t love a spa day.

Experiences for couples

  1. One of my favorite experiences was a ski trip that included a guided snowshoe tour. We saw wildlife we wouldn’t have seen skiing, and the quiet gave us time to think and talk in a way our hurried schedules often don’t allow.

  2. If you have a foodie partner, a food tour in New Orleans is one that will be remembered for years. It usually offers a cooking class or wine tasting.

  3. A couple’s massage is always a welcomed and much loved experience for your partner. It has the extra benefit of enhancing any conversation or activity that follows.

  4. If you can afford to have a three day luxury vacation, you can’t beat a quick getaway to a romantic resort. Make sure it’s close and don’t worry about the weather. There is nothing like room service and sleep to make you feel closer and more in love with your partner.

A holiday experience isn’t about where you go or whether it’s exotic. It’s about having a shared experience and seeing it through different eyes. The memories, the connection, and the closeness cannot be purchased or ordered online. It’s your time and your presence that matters most.

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