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

By Julie Mazziotta
December 05, 2014
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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:

  • A massage will help a friend relax after the holidays (or flush their CrossFit-toned muscles). Between $50 and $125 for an hour-long session, depending on the spa.
  • Help someone fly with a class at the Trapeze School New York. The school has locations in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, D.C. and Chicago. Classes cost $55 each.
  • Take your quinoa-loving bud to Sur La Table’s Healthy, Flavorful Cooking class so you can learn how to make it yourselves. Price is $69 per person with locations all over the country.
  • Dance all night long with tickets to Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour. Starting around $110 on Stubhub for New York City, with dates across the U.S.
  • Pick up the tab for something you know they buy each month, like a bundle of Flywheel classes. Prices vary by location.
  • Plan a relaxing vacation. Join Health editors for a weekend at Canyon Ranch Resort in Lenox, Massachussets, for spa treatments, cooking demos, fun group workout classes, and more. Rates start at $1,390.
  • RELATED: 4 Health Benefits of Being Generous