What to buy the runner in your life for Christmas? On the surface, that sounds like a pretty easy question. Runners need running gear, so a new pair of running shoes or a running watch could be the perfect gift, right? It seems instinctive that investing in something we can see, use, and touch delivers the best value. But this is wrong; the trouble with the gift of running shoes or watches is that the happiness they provide fades quickly. What once seemed fresh and exciting quickly becomes the norm, new purchases lead to fresh expectations. As soon as we get used to a new possession, we look for an even better one! The reality is that giving the gift of an experience will make runners happier than receiving material presents
Experiences make people happier because they become a part of our identity(Carter & Gilovich, 2010). We are not defined by our possessions, rather we are the accumulation of our life experiences – of everything we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, and the places we’ve been. Buying an Apple Watch isn’t going to change who you are; but buying entry to a 10km race or a marathon just might. We live in a world that is obsessed with consumption. Houses, cars, technology, etc. are all items we are pressured into buying. You can’t go anywhere, including on your personal laptops, without encountering advertisements for the latest fad or technological advancement. Advertisers offer you happiness when you consume their products. Buying a new house, car, or iPhone might satisfy you momentarily, but it doesn’t last. Experiences on the other hand, live on forever. If you spend money on experiences, as opposed to material or quantifiable items, you may be much content in your life because it seems it is be better for us “to do” rather than “to have” (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003). We value memories above possessions even though experiences may only be fleeting, unlike material goods their worth tends to increase as time passes (Carter & Gilovich, 2012).
The value of an experience can’t be quantified, in this way it is priceless. Our experiences define our purpose and passions. So rather than a physical gift like running shoes or a running watch, maybe buy the runner in your life a race entry. Yes the running shoes and the gear may last longer than the experience of the race, but the memories of the run and the training will remain forever, and that is what matters most.
Carter TJ & Gilovich T. (2010). The relative relativity of material and experiential purchases. J Pers Soc Psychol 98, 146-159.
Carter TJ & Gilovich T. (2012). I am what I do, not what I have: the differential centrality of experiential and material purchases to the self. J Pers Soc Psychol 102, 1304-1317.
Van Boven L & Gilovich T. (2003). To do or to have? That is the question. J Pers Soc Psychol 85, 1193-1202.