Experiential Gifts Are a Win for Your Loved Ones and the Planet

Here’s to more love and less waste… More fun and less stuff… More joy and less stress this holiday season!

An experience is a fun and memorable gift, and can be anything from taking a bird identification class to attending a comedy show with friends. Research shows that experiences are special because they can be unique, the associated anticipation increases enjoyment, they provide long-lasting memories, and they are fleeting so we value them more.

New Dream‘s social and behavior change fellow, Kelley Dennings, has spent years studying and working at the intersection of environmental science and social and behavioral change. In June 2017, she launched a pilot project for New Dream exploring people’s motivations, perceptions, and thoughts around reducing personal consumption as part of her master’s thesis. And with the gift giving season knocking on our door, Kelley has specifically focused on the attitudes, barriers, and benefits associated with experiential gift giving.

And in a win-win for both people and the planet, experiential gifts have an even broader impact, going beyond the benefits to the recipient and simultaneously helping the environment.

People and Planet Connection

The public health community has a guiding document that highlights the connection between health and consumption. The report, Principles of Ethical Practice of Public Health, describes how people and their physical environment are interdependent. People depend on natural resources and a damaged environment has an adverse effect on health. However, people also effect the environment through consumption of resources and generation of waste. Consider that every day the average person in the U.S. consumes 120 pounds in natural resources extracted from farms, forests, rangelands, and mines, and produces about 4 pounds of trash. We already have a lot of stuff, and the gift of material goods furthers that consumption.
Joel Cohen proposes three “schools of thought” about this connection:

  • The “Bigger Pie School” subscribes to the liberal philosophy that more resources can be produced through improved technology, such as the agricultural “green revolution” stemming from genetically engineered crops and advanced chemical fertilizers.
  • The “Fewer Forks School” seeks to reduce the number of people and/or the expectations of people served, such as through family planning programs and encouraging people to eat lower on the food chain and reduce waste.
  • The “Better Manners School” advocates changing the terms under which people interact both politically and economically and includes solutions based on freer markets, socialism, wealth redistribution and less corruption.

Less Stuff… and More Fun

Kelley is addressing the “Fewer Forks School” in her research, and hoping to find additional social benefits as well. The idea is that decreasing consumption of material goods will have a positive impact on the environment.

Replacing these goods (that would be purchased and offered as gifts) with experiential gifts, will have a positive impact on the recipient. A win-win for sure.

So perhaps this holiday you’ll consider giving one experiential gift instead of a material gift. (Take the pledge!) This will increase the happiness and well-being of someone you care about and protect the environment through decreased consumption.