How to Give a Gift That's Guaranteed to Bring Longterm Happiness

I grew up in Pennsylvania, and one of my favorite Christmas memories was when my parents organized a trip for all of us to visit New York City. We left the house early in the morning, parked our car at a local dinner, and took the bus into the city. We spent the entire day in New York; walking around Times Square, eating at Carnegie Deli, hearing the sounds (a Broadway show) and seeing the sights (The Rockettes). My girls, now in their 20’s, were 3 and 6 during one of those visits, and they still talk about it.

Even after all these years, and the many fabulous gifts each of us has received since then, why is it that this holiday memory stands out more than others?

We live in a society that values quick fixes and we’re surrounded by the message being that bigger and newer is definitely better.

Yet, studies are showing us that material possessions don’t equal happiness. As a culture, we’re finally coming to realize that we’re actually more deeply fulfilled by experiences than we are by things. (Thanks, Mom, for being ahead of your time.)

Thomas Gilovich and Matthew Killingsworth published their research on this very subject in the Journal of Psychological Science. Over a decade of their work showed that experiences provide more lasting happiness than material possessions.

The basic conclusion of their study revealed that people tend to become LESS happier with material possessions over time, and MORE happier over time with experiences.

They believe this is because we tend to adapt to physical things. You can think of it this way. Remember that stunning, new purse or the gorgeous home you bought? They made you feel great at first, and you LOVED them. However, over time I’m going to guess that you began to adapt to your new norm and eventually that purse and your home felt commonplace. The fact is, the newness and excitement wears off with material things.

In contrast, memories of experiences tend to grow fonder over time. Even memories of an experience gone bad, can trigger funny stories and a common bond among those who were there.

During this gift giving season, let’s consider giving more experiences and less stuff. Our kids really don’t need more toys. And, honestly, even if he says differently, Dad doesn’t want a new tie.

To help take your focus away from the ease of Amazon, (I know... I know. It’s soooo easy. I use it, too.) and move it toward experiences, I’ll share a list of my own. These suggestions come from gifts I’ve given in the past, gifts I’ve received or experiences I plan to give this year.

  1. Dinner and a show: Who would you like to spend more time with? What interests do they have? If it’s your grandchildren, maybe you’d like to take them to see the Nutcracker Ballet and treat them to a fancy dinner afterwards. If it’s your tween daughter, take her and a friend out for burgers and a movie of their choice.

  2. A certificate to local bookstore: When was the last time you spent a few hours paging through books and magazines, leisurely enjoying a cup of coffee and nibbling on a pastry while doing it? (not lately, right?) Here’s your chance to do that with the recipient of your gift. My girls loved the $10.00 gift certificates they’d get from the bookstore, because it triggered their imagination when they looked through the varied books. And I loved those certificates because it meant more time with my girls.

  3. Gift certificates for lessons: Think music lessons, tennis lessons, art lessons, yoga classes. Wouldn’t it be fun to take up ballroom dancing with your sweetie? And how cool would it be to find new hobby, like I did, in golf?

  4. Donate to a special cause, in their name: Does your friend have a heart for abandoned animals? Then donating to the Animal Humane Society would show her you understand her passion. Would you like to make a difference to those in need? Heifer International changes the lives of people around the world by giving gifts of livestock. The suggestions here are endless. Just Google a cause that is dear to your recipient’s heart, and you’ll see many to ways to donate in their name.

  5. Organize a family day or trip: The suggestions here are only limited by your imagination. You could think old school, and give sleds and saucers. Then organize a day for the family to head to a local hill for some sledding. Maybe you’d like to take the family roller skating or bowling. Or, if you have a larger budget, organizing the time for everyone to take a trip together, like mine did, provides family stories for years to come.

  6. Lunch dates: In the days when many of us are so very busy, just spending time together is a special gift. Friends of mine make it a priority to get together for lunch every month. Your gift in this, is that you’re taking the responsibility to organize a date and time. With this gift, your friend knows that you’ll reach out and make it happen. (Think of the relief you’re giving. That’s huge!)

  7. Memberships to local museums, zoos and science centers: Google these in your area and all are sure to have special offers for the holiday gift giving season.

  8. Board games and puzzles: Remember Candy Land and Monopoly? I bet your kids don’t. Why not give a classic game this year? Puzzles can be a fun project for everyone. Perhaps your family is like mine; it takes a long time for everyone to get ready to go...anywhere. Having a puzzle to work on while they wait, bides the time, calms the nerves, redirects the focus and leaves everyone feeling like they’ve accomplished something.

  9. Outdoor activities: Want to take up camping? Give the gift of a tent. Want to hike? Give a pass to your State Park. Want to go on a romantic picnic? Give the gift of a lovely basket, fill it with a bottle of wine and a handmade certificate identifying the place and time, and wrap it up with a pretty tablecloth and bow.

  10. The gift of time and self-care: We all have 24 hours in each day, but seriously, it feels like we never have enough time; especially for those busy moms with young children. These moms care so much for their kids, their work and their households that they rarely take care of themselves. I know when I was a mom of two little ones, I would have loved a handmade gift certificate from a caring neighbor saying something like this: “Every time I head to Target, I’ll call to see if I can pick up anything for you”. It’s no cost to you, and it will be invaluable to her.

When I was a young and overwhelmed  mom, I would have thought it was too good to be true if someone could have shown me how I could practice self-care, among the craziness of my busy life. I knew that I should be taking better care of myself, but I didn’t know how I could possibly fit it in. I learned the hard way, that self-care isn’t a luxury (I had a stroke). I now teach women how to care for themselves well, so they can show up for the important people in their lives.

Hiring a coach who would teach her how to reduce her stress and increase her energy would be invaluable. (I can make it simple and easy for you, here.)

So, there you have it. A simple list of ten experiences to give. Rather than defaulting to an easy to cross off list of stuff, I’m going to challenge myself to think beyond the Amazon box, and give the gift of experiences this year. I hope you'll consider joining me. 

If helping a busy, sometimes overwhelmed woman on your list is something that you’d like to do, I’d like to help her. Contact me here, or call me at 612-702-9848.

I’m currently running a Virtual Open House (through Nov. 26th) and offering 20% off all coaching services. This is the only time my services are discounted throughout the year, and I’d love to get you or your loved one on the track to living fully balanced.


Like her clients, Lisa Bobyak works hard at making the best choices, with what she has, where she is. Although she’s not perfectly balanced all the time, she knows first hand that the right information and support can mean the difference between all-or-nothing thinking and creating realistic, achievable goals. She’s been told that she’s not like other motivational speakers and coaches. Lisa’s authentic, approachable style helps nudge her audience toward positive change. Perhaps you’d like to know more about those who are Living Fully Balanced, or want to learn about her services, or would just like to check out what’s happening on her facebook page. Go for it. Your curiosity is encouraged.