Studies show that experiences bring more happiness to people than stuff. Anticipating an experience—a trip, an upcoming concert, dinner with friends—makes us happy before the actual event. In other words, we benefit from the experience before we actually experience the experience. Afterward, we have fond memories. And even if the experience goes badly, we still have a good story to tell, which also brings happiness when we regale people with it later: “Remember the time I caught poison oak on our camping trip because I made out in the bushes with that Richard guy?”
A week before the holidays—and holiday shopping—kick off, here’s a list of experiences that some of your loved ones may appreciate. No wrapping required.
Sports: Tickets to a sporting event, lift tickets, skating rink passes, yoga class passes, gym memberships
Cultural: Tickets to the symphony, ballet, opera, museum
TLC: Spa day, massage, haircut and style
Travel: Weekend getaway, campsite fees, train tickets
Online subscriptions: Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, the New York Times
You can never really go wrong with a food gift:
- Give homemade anything: cookies, cookie mix, candy, cake, kombucha
- Create “coupons” for favorite dishes that the recipient can redeem at a future date
- Invite friends out for dinner and pick up the tab
- Throw a dinner party as your gift
- Make a reservation at your dream restaurant. A couple I know ate at The French Laundry this summer to celebrate their anniversary.
The gift of learning
I came up with lots of ideas for this section and want to do most of them now:
- Dance lessons: tango, salsa, ballet, jazz
- Music lessons: piano, violin, voice, drums, guitar
- Photography lessons
- Knitting classes
- Sewing classes
- Weaving classes
- Pottery classes
- Painting and drawing classes
- Meditation classes
- Horseback riding lessons
- Cooking classes, including fermentation classes 😉
- Surfing lessons
- Flying lessons
- Skydiving lessons (okay I have zero desire to do this but my brother used to enjoy it)
- Scuba diving lessons
- Sailing lessons
- Lecture series
Personal trainer. I wouldn’t suggest you spring this on a friend or family member out of the blue, but if you know someone who would like to get started with a personal trainer and perhaps can’t afford it, consider setting this up for them.
Session with a dietician. I would love this as a gift. Also, it may help me convince the people close to me to eat better. The advice would come from the dietician, not me, so they may actually listen.
Session with a financial advisor. As with most of the suggestions in this section, know the recipient well. If someone close to you has said, “My financial life is a mess. What shall I do?” or “I can’t get out of debt, for the love of God please help me” you could help.
Session with a business planner. Know someone who wants to start a business and needs help getting started? Pay for a meeting with a business planner.
Personal organizer. Whether they have piles of papers everywhere that need to be filed away, or haven’t had time to arrange for a handyman to fix the broken shower drain or simply need someone to go grocery shopping for them, the overwhelmed, overworked and harried person on your list may love this one.
House cleaners. You don’t want to insult your messy hoarder brother but his apartment is filthy. Hire housecleaners for the day to clean it up. Try to find independents rather than use a service that pimps out housecleaners, pays them next to nothing and keeps all the profits. If you’re a better person than I, clean your brother’s bathroom yourself.
Therapist. Reading this suggestion, you may think I need therapy but please hear me out. A lot of people will soon lose their healthcare coverage. If you know someone who can no longer afford therapy and wants to continue, you could pay for a session or two if you can afford it (therapy isn’t cheap).