Good old-fashioned material gifts are the best, providing more long-term satisfaction than other types of presents, experts have revealed in a study featured on November 30 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Prior research conducted in 2003 by Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University had suggested that providing one’s friend or relative with a memorable experience can be a much viable gift idea than giving them an object which they may or may not actually need.
Since humans were thought to identify more easily with their routines than with their physical items, being surprised with a vacation or with tickets to an upcoming show was considered to be much more exhilarating and enjoyable than receiving a bike, a television set or a necklace.
As experts explained at the time, due to the Easterlin paradox, eagerly anticipated objects are progressively taken for granted, and, when amassing material possessions, individuals don’t become happier.
However, now Canadian scientists have shown that objects may in fact yield more benefits that nonphysical items, when it comes to providing long-term satisfaction.
The study was led by Aaron Weidman, PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, under the guidance of Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, associate professor of psychology at the same academic institution.
In the first trial, a group of 67 subjects were required to spend $20 each, either on an experience that they’d been looking forward to or on an object that they needed.
Afterwards, they were asked to keep track of their level of happiness regarding that buy, once every 2 days, for a period of 2 weeks.
The subsequent experiment involved a group of 81 volunteers, who had to self-report the contentment they currently felt regarding a physical or abstract present they were given for Christmas. They had to keep such a diary 3 to 5 times per day, across a fortnight.
After analyzing the participants’ answers, researchers came to the conclusion that objects received as gifts provide a different type of elatedness in comparison with that experienced when being given the chance to participate in an enjoyable activity.
More precisely, material items such as video game consoles or food processors tend to replenish levels of delight and contentment across a longer timespan, individuals assessing their pleasure as high even after significant time had passed since the gift had arrived.
On the other hand, having the opportunity to go on vacation or to take guitar lessons offered participants a more significant rush of happiness initially, followed by less easily detectable levels of joy after the event began to gradually fade from their memory.
As scientists point out, physical objects can provide benefits to their owners on several occasions, maintaining their utility and importance as time goes by.
In contrast, immaterial gifts may be more exhilarating at first, but eventually remain just abstract events to reminisce about, and their significance tends to diminish.
Experiences can’t be relived, while objects can be reused, which is why these two categories of Christmas presents fare differently when it comes to offering contentment in the long run.
As a result, study authors point out that when deciding what gifts to buy for their loved ones, people should take into account what type of happiness they are aiming to create.
If their purpose is to provide intense joy, followed by precious memories, then gifting an intriguing or pleasurable experience such as a picnic or a horseback riding lesson would be preferable.
In contrast, if they wish to generate a more subdued reaction, followed however by renewed enjoyment afterwards, then material gifts would be much more advisable, due to their much higher staying power.
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