If you want to cut back on spending this holiday season, here’s some good news: Research shows that, when it comes to building lasting happiness, giving material gifts is trumped by making memorable experiences. So rather than investing in presents that cost money, consider investing in the following three gifts—they are scientifically proven to be potentially more effective in expressing love than anything you could buy in a store.
1. Meaningful Activities
Spending your time on meaningful activities and building social connections can make you happier. The same holds true for your loved ones. Instead of investing countless hours before the holidays on shopping, what if you carved out time with your friends and family for activities such as baking, sightseeing, and attending holiday events?
If your friends and family live far away, consider writing them letters or making personalized gifts. Avoid the convenience of modern electronics. Taking the time to create gifts lets receivers know that they are worth your time and can develop meaningful social connections—so get out the construction paper and glue and make a one-of-a-kind Christmas ornament.
Genuine compliments are gifts for the heart. You can compliment individuals for their work, looks, or achievements—the more specific, the better. Benefits can include an increase in confidence, the courage to persevere, or a boost in happiness. Develop the habit of offering compliments at every opportunity.
Don’t forget the importance of knowing how to receive a compliment. Graciously receiving compliments, similar to receiving material gifts, helps acknowledge the giver’s effort in delivering a kind gesture.
When you split your focus between a conversation and technology (or doing another distracting activity), you’re sending the message that your loved one is not your priority. The more you give your full attention and presence to those you’re spending time with, the more your relationships will benefit and deepen.
Consider practicing the mantra, “One thing at a time.” If you’re returning emails, that’s all you’re doing in that moment—not emailing and watching television at the same time. Or if you’re hearing about your friend’s day, you’re not also mentally creating your to-do list for tomorrow. It does take more time, but when you abide by this mantra your days can be richer and more effective and meaningful.
The Best Things in Life Are Free
No matter how spiritual, mindful, and well intentioned you may be, it’s easy to succumb to materialistic tendencies during this time of year—but don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, redirect your attention and remember that what people really want deep down is to be acknowledged and loved. Everyone wants to feel special, kids want to know parents are proud of them, and spouses want to know that they are the chosen life partners every day.
As the wise sage Maya Angelou said, people will never forget how you made them feel. A good laugh, a hand-written gratitude letter, a thrilling day trip, or a cookie-baking session—when executed with love—can be the most valuable gifts on earth.