With the holiday season upon us, many people are thinking about what to give loved ones. What we’ve seen at Event Tickets Center is that the holidays are a popular time to buy tickets to concerts, Broadway shows, sporting events and more. And for a good reason: experiencing events can bring lasting happiness and perpetuate a feeling of gratitude. Here’s a look at how the gift of an experience may help make the joy of the season last.
Events vs. Material Things: What the Experts Say
Experts are beginning to explore the psychology behind why experiences regularly produce more and longer-lasting happiness and gratitude than physical purchases. We spoke with two professors pioneering research on the subject: Dr. Tom Gilovich of Cornell University and his former student/colleague, Dr. Amit Kumar of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. They’re looking at how purchases can help shape your happiness and the differences between experiential and material purchases.
The social benefit
While receiving material things does not typically promote much social interaction, attending an event can give a person a reason to spend time with others, along with a story to tell, which increases its impact. “The social aspect of attending events — interacting with friends at the events and the retelling of the story of the event for people — is often an important contributor to the differences in satisfaction that folks derive from their experiences relative to their purchases of products,” said Kumar.
What’s more, the amount of money you spend on a ticket doesn’t necessarily matter as much when it comes to the emotional value of this kind of gift. While the amount you spend on a material gift may affect its significance to the recipient, the benefits derived from experiences are less impacted by differences in purchase price. “Interestingly, some of our recent work shows that happiness obtained from an experience may be less strongly correlated with price,” Kumar said. “Because of the kinship one feels due to the shared experiences and social interactions, the difference in cost for the nosebleed vs. box seats for an event may not loom as large as the difference between a cheaper and more expensive material good.”
The value of memories
Part of what makes experiencing events so satisfying is that it provides us with memories we take with us through life. Gilovich argues that there are certain moments from each experience that stand out and allow us to define the memory as a whole. “Memory is not a film but rather a series of snapshots,” he said. “The peaks and endings of an experience make a lasting impression, good or bad. Those are the moments that will be remembered and define how enjoyable the experience was.”
Indeed, memories have a lasting effect. “Experiences can also fundamentally change who you are as a person,” said Gilovich. “Say if you traveled to Indonesia once as a young person — you forever are more likely to connect to the people, the food, the news and information about Indonesian culture than people who have not traveled there.”
On the other hand, Gilovich said, satisfaction from material things does not usually run as deep. “You can love your possessions, but they are always separate from you.”
The Power of Giving an Experience
When you give a gift, you’re often trying to show that you “get” the person you’re buying for, Gilovich pointed out. And giving a customized a gift to a loved one, whether it’s tickets to see their favorite recording artist, sports team or Broadway play, shows that you’re paying attention to their interests and want to invest in providing them with an experience you know they’ll enjoy. This creates a sense of gratitude from the recipient and can spark a domino effect.
“Experiential purchases tend to increase grateful feelings more than material purposes do,” Kumar said. “This gratitude then often leads to increased giving, with people being more generous when reflecting on good events and social experiences.”
Are you planning on attending an event with friends or family this holiday season or giving a gift of an experience? Does this research impact how you view happiness and experiences differently? We’re interested in hearing how.