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The Best Holiday Gift isn’t an Object 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 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.

Experiences for children and teens:

  • The McDonald Observatory in West Texas– This is wonderful place to take the whole family. Being out under the stars is educational and helps you put petty problems into perspective.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • A hayride through River Oaks to see the lights and bond. This is so much fun during the holidays and you can take the whole family and as many friends as you can fit on a hay wagon. Classic Carriages as well as Mr. McKinney’s Historical bus tours both provide a great time.

Experiences for a friend:

  • High tea at a fancy hotel

  • A wine tasting experience in the hill country (there is a car service wine tasting tour from Houston to Texas wineries)

  • Dinner and a poetry reading prompts deep conversations

  • A spa experience for an hour, a day, or a weekend

Experiences for couples:

  • 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.

  • If you have a foodie partner, a food tour in New Orleans is one that will be remembered for years. Some include a cooking class or wine tasting.

  • A couple’s massage is always a wonderful experience for your partner.

  • Spend a night outside in front of a fire pit with hot drinks, cozy blankets, good music, and each other. I have made it an annual event in our marriage, and I encourage you to make it one in yours. Your love for each other will be felt long after the fire burns out.

  • 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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