There are a lot of problems with presents. Experiences aren't one.

James Wallman, author of Stuffocation shares with us why he’s giving experiences rather than things this Christmas.

Get ready for ‘gift-face’

Ah, Christmas… tis the season to be stressed out about presents.

It all begins with the three big pre-giving worries: will they, won't they like it? Will they, won't they need it? And will they, won't they ever get round to actually using it?

Then, you have to be prepared for 'gift-face'. You know the one I mean: the look of joy on someone's face when they open the gift that's so authentically overwhelmed and ‘hallelujah’-joyous that there's no way it's genuine.
Just like you, they can't face saying, “Wow, what on earth made you think I'd like one of those?”

Don’t look so innocent! You've done it. I’ve done it. We've all done it.

It used to be the “Oh thanks for knitting me that amazing green, blue and pink jumper, Auntie Mabel”.

But she's long gone, and no one makes stuff anymore. Why bother, when you can pick something up so cheaply?
Ah, but then it has no meaning.

If you're buying children novelty toys and tat, you might also be making them more materialistic in the long term. And that will make them unhappy in all sorts of ways.

But don't give up on presents yet — whether you're making or buying. As Behavioural Psychologist Dan Ariely has pointed out, “while gifts are financially inefficient, they are an important social lubricant [because] they help us make friends and create long-term relationships… Sometimes, it turns out, a waste of money can be worth a lot.”

So, how to give? In my view, it's simple: give experiences.

Experiences are so much better for us, in all sorts of ways, for all sorts of reasons.

Three reasons why experiences are more important to people than ever?

  • Firstly, stories make up our lives. If we were to write our biographies, would we write about our possessions or that time we got lost in a forest with our best friend?
  • Secondly, we’re shifting from needing to own things, to just enjoying access them. Collaborative consumption gives us the benefit of using physical things without the financial burden or environmental footprint.
  • Finally, it’s a question as old as time, asked by Aristotle himself, on how we should live to be happy. In times of fruitful plenty, like how we live now, people have too much stuff already. They’re stuffocated! Instead of wanting more stuff, they want experiences instead.

Give fun, not stuff
So, for my Elfless Acts – personal gifts that can’t be bought in a shop but that make us happy - I'll be giving experiences.

For my brother: tickets to an escape room — probably Lady Chastity’s Reserve in London or the Panic Room’s Dino Land in Gravesend.

For my kids: no matter how many times I say they don’t need more toys, other people in the family buy them stuff that lasts milliseconds, so I'll take them to the Natural History Museum in December. Everyone else is in the shops buying stuff, so it tends to be really quiet.

I'll take them climbing at Westway Sport & Fitness Centre. It's great exercise, great fun, and a great way to help them build resilience — which is key for happiness.

Actually, now I’m really thinking about it, maybe I’ll give them a Year Of Experiences — a list of 52 things to do that I can co-create with them. So that’ll include trips to safari parks — they love Longleat and Woburn; trips to our local park — they love the swings and climbing trees and feeding the ducks; playing “chase about” — being chased around their bedroom makes them giggle more than almost anything else.

They would love a pet, but as parents we don't feel we can commit. Instead, I'm going to get them a year's subscription to BorrowMyDoggy — it's a sharing economy app that means people with dogs get a few hours off, while my kids get to walk, stroke, play and giggle with some little furry friends at the weekend.

For my wife: well, she might read this, so I better be careful what I say. Ha! I haven’t made my mind up yet. I gave her a flying lesson the other year. At first, she was confused. She'd never mentioned flying, has never shown any particular interest in the idea. Her idea of flying heaven is Virgin Upper Class, fizzy wine in hand. Even on the day, she was nonplussed… until afterwards. She'd got to fly a plane! She was breathless with excitement, and still talks about it today with a real sense of joy.

And for me? I’ve told everyone the same: no stuff! My Dad took me to see Spurs play at Wembley the other week. And they won. Hanging out with my Dad and my brother and about 90,000 other people singing… now that was a great Christmas present.

About the Author
James Wallman is a trend forecaster and the author of bestseller Stuffocation, a guide to living and how experiences are more important than possessions. Its premise struck a cord around the world: we have more stuff than we could ever need: clothes we don’t wear, gadgets around us we don’t use and toys we don’t play with. Yet having everything we want, and more, isn’t making us happier nor is it good for the planet.

As GAP Ambassador, James joins a small group of amazing people who support us on our charitable mission.

Follow him on Twitter @jameswallman