Before You Buy Your Christmas Presents, Read This

Di Westaway | Chief Adventure Chick at Wild Women On Top

I’m embarrassed to say that last Christmas I got so busy packing for my Honeymoon Bay hiking adventure that I quickly forgot all about the presents.

I raced off excitedly leaving gifts, wrapping paper, boxes, tinsel, ribbons, Lindt Ball wrappers and cards strewn about the place. 

When I returned from exploring the pristine coves, caves, cliffs and cool swimming holes of Jervis Bay, I was faced with a pile of presents and a few over-fed cockroaches squatting in my post-Christmas-cooking kitchen. 

My heart sank. I felt so glum I went to bed. And the next day I wondered what I was going to do with all this stuff, some of which I would never use. Then it hit me that the experiences and adventures I was given bring me far more joy than stuff. 

I also realised that the anticipation leading to an adventure makes me happy, making it the gift that truly keeps on giving! Happiness in the anticipation, happiness during the experience and happiness in the memories.

And it seems I’m not alone. Many of us are feeling like we’re drowning in stuff with some reports showing we consume twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago (The Story of Stuff). And it’s not making us happy. 

Research by Thomas Gilovich in the Journal of Psychology found that experiences provide more lasting happiness than material possessions and that, over time, people tend to get unhappier with material purchases and happier with experiences. 

Gilovich explains, “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods … You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

As important as shared experiences are for adults, they are even more important for children and for healthy psychological development. Shared family time (even in simple things like family dinner together) is drastically important for a child’s well-being.

Prioritising shared experiences as gifts helps reduce unwanted material items and fosters family bonding. So, with that in mind, here’s a few ideas. 

Gifts for families

Tent for Camping: Sometimes a material gift leads to an experience so once you have a tent, you’re more likely to use it, even if that’s just in the back yard. And the kids will love it.

National Park adventures: Check for local nature areas or national parks in your area and get an annual pass. You’ll find lots of activities for the whole family to enjoy. 

Natural Events: Plan an outing for the full moon rising, eclipses, meteor showers and dramatic sunsets and grab the family, drive to the nearest high point and check them out. 

New Family Hobbies: Take up hiking, camping, mountain biking, bird watching, a sport, or sunset chasing and get the necessary equipment or passes for your new hobby.

Fun day out: Plan in advance a trip to a local waterfall, rock pool, lookout, hill top, moonrise view, or forest and climb a tree. Remember, looking forward to an experience makes the experience more fun and fosters happiness on its own!

Volunteer: Volunteering is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Volunteer at a local food soup kitchen, charity walk or technology famine and give your kids (and yourself) the gift of helping others!

Give to Charity: Designate about $100 in end of year contributions per child to let them decide how to give. Most often, they love choosing gifts like farm animals, fruit trees, or child sponsorship for those in need around the world. Heres some ideas

Escape Room: These are popping up everywhere and this is an ideal group activity for the whole family.

Lighthouse Experience: Take the family hiking to the nearest lighthouse for the day, or stay overnight for a real family thrill. 

Gifts for parents

A Day Off: Parents work hard all year, and things seem to get even busier around the holidays, so ask your kids to give you a “day off” where they cook, clean, mow the lawn and cover the daily grind while you and your partner go hiking together.

Nature Retreat: Parents will love a wilderness night in a tiny house like this one from Unyolked

Pampering: Any kind of pampering is an awesome gift for mum, especially a massage or a day spa experience.

Sunrise start with a nap: Give mum and dad permission to nap so they can see the sunrise and then go home to bed. (Or maybe just a sleep in!)

Gifts for Kids

Rock Climbing: Have a local rock-climbing gym? See if they offer annual passes or pick up gift certificates for a climbing outing with older kids. Bonus: It is a great way to get exercise too!

Bird Watching adventure: Kids love spotting and finding birds if you take them to the right spot. Here’s a few for Australian Geographic to check out 

Local trampoline gym: Another fun activity that helps kids stay active. See if you have a local jump gym or trampoline centre and get annual passes or gift cards.

Treasure tunt:  If you are giving a material gift, make the giving itself a fun experience. Instead of wrapping up the final gift, wrap up a clue and let the child go on a treasure hunt to find the final gift 

Rock hopping: Kids of all ages love frolicking around coastal and river rock formations so check out your local national park or state forrest to find the closest ones to you. 

This year, my kidults are all getting experiences for Christmas - no presents. And I hope they’ll join me for a Christmas day sunset beach swim. 

I’d love to hear what experiences you’re giving to create happiness in the anticipation, happiness during the experience and happiness in the memories.

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