I don’t imagine most people get Christmas gift ideas from country music songs, but that’s exactly what happened. Last December, as I worked through a stack of legal files, Christmas tunes playing on my iPhone, I pondered what to get for my husband, Jason. Electronics? No, he has plenty of gadgets. Clothes? Boring. Hmmm. Kenny Chesney’s now singing “All I want for Christmas is a real good tan.” You and me both, Kenny. “Take me to the islands, put my feet in the sand . . .” That’s it!
Fast forward to early November, 2014. I’m still riding a trick-or-treating sugar high, but in retail America it’s already Christmas. Tinsel and lights deck the aisles, reindeer fly and bells tinkle on television ads. Thanksgiving? Don’t waste time giving thanks for what you already have. It’s not enough. Leave your family lingering over their pumpkin pie. Go now! Buy more!
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. But has our genuine desire to give gifts that show our loved-ones how much we care warped into a frenzied quest for the latest version of plastic-ensconced silicone chips?
This holiday season, consider a gift that says “I want to spend time with you.” Ask them to introduce you to something they love and show you why it inspires them. Instead of filling up your cart with stuff, give the gift of a shared experience. Why not book a January weekend at a cozy mountain resort for you and your spouse? Does your brother love basketball, but you don’t know a full court press from a field goal? Buy tickets to a college or NBA game and plan to take him to dinner first so he can give you a pre-game primer.
In recent years, researchers in the fields of psychology and consumer spending have documented that spending money on experiences provides greater satisfaction than buying goods. Anticipating upcoming events can raise our spirits when winter’s cold dark days wear us down.
Unlike store-bought gifts, giving our time says “I don’t know how much I have, and I can’t possibly make or buy more, but I want to share some with you.” Shared experiences allow us to bond with others; strengthening relationships increases happiness.
Afterwards, we enjoy reminiscing, and psychologists agree that we tend to filter out the negative and cast our memories in a rosy hue. Airline lost your luggage and you had to wear your “airplane pants” to the cruise embarkation dinner? Or were you so excited to get into Magic Kingdom that you forgot to take note of which one of the 12,000 spots you parked your ubiquitous gray rental car? Even if things veer off course, at least you’ll have a good story to laugh over in years to come.
Here are some ideas to spur your creativity:
For your family: a vacation together. My Kenny Chesney-inspired gift? A Disney Cruise with my husband and then three-year-old daughter: a real good tan, feet in the sand, and “the best vacation ever!” with our little “Princess.” Or consider season tickets at the local water park or a zoo membership.
For your significant other: a romantic weekend or a splurge of a night out. Where have you talked about but never got around to going?
For a friend, parent or sibling: How about a painting or cooking class and lunch, or an afternoon at the latest museum exhibit? Have a friend who loves ballet but would never get her husband to go with her? Or a friend who’s a single mom? How about arranging for an afternoon of baby sitting and taking her for pedicures and a glass of wine?
For your child: Plan one-on-one time, especially if you have more than one child. What piques his or her interest? A ball game, trip to an aquarium, camping, or a Taylor Swift concert? How about building something together?
Are you afraid this will leave you with little under the tree to unwrap? Giving the gift provides another opportunity to make things fun. You can wrap tickets in a big box. Kids love the box-in-a-box-in-a-box trick. Or give a small related gift, like a CD, vacation location t-shirt or sports team mug along with the itinerary for your special day or trip.
Just don’t turn it into a stressful project. Slow down, give thanks. Enjoy time with the people you love. Look forward to building good memories in the year to come.
 Rosenbloom, Stephanie. “But Will it Make You Happy?” New York Times, August 7, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0