I’m not a sadist – I promise – but when I went through high school without dissecting a frog even once, I was disappointed. As a homeschooled kid, I felt like I was denied what every movie and book had taught me was the epitome of the high school experience.
Imagine my excitement when one Christmas morning a few years ago, I opened a present from my older sister to find a frog dissection kit, with a foul-smelling amphibian, scalpels and instructions included! Finally, I could head off to college in peace, knowing I had passed through the rite of teenager-hood.
Now, I look back on that experience with fondness. I have joked that that post-mortem examination was the highlight of my life, but really, the joy came more from my sister paying attention and being willing to buy me something so socially disgusting. My other siblings hard-core judged me, but it was a fun experience to watch their faces when I made the first incision.
The experiences it brought, not necessarily the gift itself, was what made it good for me.
A Scientific American article published last December suggests that instead of giving others gifts for Christmas, we should be giving experiences.
“It’s a bit strange to have one of the biggest shopping days of the year (Black Friday) follow right after the one we call ‘Thanksgiving,’” the article reported. “Is going right out to shopping malls likely to promote the experience of gratitude? It has become clear that a different type of consumption – one centered on experiences – is a better bet.”
Could it be the Grinch, of all people, was correct? Does Christmas not come from a store? Does Christmas mean a little bit more?
Tangible gifts tend to last longer physically, and sometimes that is just what we need – especially as poor, starving college students. However, experiences stay in our minds for longer. They affect us longer.
“After experiences have ended, they continue to live on in people’s memories and in the stories they tell,” according to the study. “Compared to possessions, experiences provide fodder for our conversations, thereby enhancing memory and facilitating social interaction.”
Ask yourself: What experiences can you give this Christmas?
You don’t have to gross yourself out buying a frog kit or break the bank going to Disneyland. Try going on a walk with a loved one. Make breakfast or lunch or dinner with your family.
The article encourages city policymakers to consider ways people in their communities can find experiences.
“People can’t bike, hike, swim or take in a show without the civic infrastructure that allows them to do so,” Scientific America reports. “Investments in trails, parks, beaches and performance spaces (as well as greater funding for the arts) might steer people towards experiential consumption.”
Christmas and other times of the year aren’t about the gift-giving or present-wrapping. Like those cheesy Mormon Ads used to say, “Family. Isn’t it about time?”
Give experiences. Give time. You can still give your brother that new pair of fuzzy socks too, but think about what will strengthen your relationships with your family, your friends, and other people around you.