parent and child making pottery in a classroom


Money can buy you happiness if you know how to spend it correctly

Dec 19, 2017

This past summer we experienced the magical sight of thousands of paper lanterns flying against an inky, black sky. That image from the Lantern Festival in Ottawa is emblazoned in my almost-four-year-old’s mind, so much so that she can visualize the shape of a flying lantern in anything from a print on a dress to a cloud in the sky.

That’s the thing with experiences: they keep on giving.

You'll Also Love: 5 Ways to Makes The Holidays Less Materialistic

Last year at a conference, I heard University of British Columbia professor and author Elizabeth Dunn speak about her research on happiness and the resulting book Happy Money. The message of the book is simple: money can buy you happiness, as long as you know how to spend it correctly.

Among her ideas, one of Dunn's suggestions that really stuck with me was the idea of spending money on experiences, not material possessions. 

I've found that experiential gifts bring more long-term satisfaction and happiness

Think about anything you've ever purchased. Material objects may provide an instant spike in our happiness levels, but this increase is temporary and tends to wane as the “newness” of our possessions starts to fade. And sure, a new gadget for Christmas will excite you for a few weeks, but more often than not the item will lose its lustre and fall into a big ol’ pile of dirt-collecting possessions.

Material objects also tend to become obsolete with the change of the seasons, or the newest upgrades — what once seemed like a must-have item can swiftly become yesterday’s news.

I've found that experiential gifts bring more long-term satisfaction and happiness, since our memories allow us to revisit and relive the joy we first experienced. Experiences can also broaden our horizons, teach us new skills and change the way we perceive the world and ourselves. And since experiences are often shared with others, you get some family and friend time, too.

And really, that's why this year our family has decided to only exchange gifts of experiences.

Gifting experiences is not just an excuse to get out of the house — you're also creating last memories.

For my birthday, my husband bought me a pottery class. It was an experience that will stay with me for a long time. I loved the smell and sensation of the clay, working with my hands and the sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of each class. I loved trying my hand at a new skill, and I gained an appreciation of how much dexterity, precision and muscle is required to throw a heap of clay on a wheel. Not to mention, the science that goes into glazing the final product was fascinating. Now, compare this experience to if my husband had gone out and simply bought me a mug.

This also applies to kids. Children will often fawn over a new toy for a few days, but at what point does it end up under the bed? Or in a bucket tucked away somewhere? Gifting experiences is not just an excuse to get out of the house — you're also creating last memories. A musical show, an afternoon of painting pottery, rock climbing or even a visit to a zoo all serve the same goal: giving your children something to remember. And if there's a new skill to be learned? That's the icing on the cake, and can turn an activity into something especially memorable for a child.

You'll Also Love: 5 Holiday Gifts Kids Will Love That Aren't Toys

This holiday season, think outside the box and foster a skill, whether it's new or something your children have already shown an interest in, like painting, skating or learning to play a musical instrument. The feeling of accomplishment that comes from learning a new skill will bring them confidence and a sense of pride that will resonate with them for a long time. Also, a class-like environment has a social component, so there's an opportunity to make new friends.

I know, because I ended up making a friend at my pottery class.

Article Author Yumna Siddiqui-Khan
Yumna Siddiqui-Khan

Read more from Yumna here.

Yumna Siddiqui-Khan is an accountant by day, and writer and amateur photographer by night. A Toronto native, she now resides in Ottawa with her spouse and their 3-year-old spawn. Her photography, musings on life and the lessons learned through parenting can be found at the Institution of Parenthood.

Add New Comment

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.