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Researchers at Cornell University found that gifting an experience (like yoga classes) makes people happier than spending money on things (like yoga pants).

Julie Mazziotta
December 05, 2014

Planning to hit the mall this weekend in search of the perfect holiday present? Researchers at Cornell University found that gifting an experience makes people happier than spending money on things like clothes or electronics.

Both the giver and the receiver feel more socially connected—and thereby happier—when the present is an experiential one (like yoga classes) rather than a material item (like yoga pants), according to Amit Kumar, a doctoral candidate in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. Kumar is the co-author of two review papers on material and experiential purchases set to publish in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in January.

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"One of the reasons people give gifts in the first place is to connect with the person they’re giving the present to,” Kumar said in a press release. “Spending on doing is much more likely to foster feelings of connectedness than spending on having.”

Think about it: whether you're part of the gifted experience or not, you and the recipient are going to talk more about it afterward than you would if you'd got that person something like a bracelet. Kumar says this, in turn, can make people want to forge an even stronger connection.

Not sure what to get? Kumar's review found that the price of an experience matters less than the price of a "thing," so you can go big or small and reap similar benefits. Here are a few options:

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