The Science of Memorable, Impactful Gifting

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7 Experiential Gifts for Everyone on Your List

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Whether the recipient is 8 years old or 80, experiences are the “it” gifts of the season. The best gifts are the ones that can be engaged, not consumed.

This concept may seem counterintuitive considering all the signs of society growing more materialistic. Certainly we are told that “diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” and the luxury fashion world is slapping ever-bigger logos on their shirts and purses. So many TV commercials depict giant red bows on new cars that it almost seems like gifting keys is the norm. We should acknowledge that the classic American Dream features a suburban house with a green lawn and white picket fence.

And yet, if the goal is to give a gift that matters, the evidence is clear that one should give an intangible, emotion-filled experience. A few touch points:

  • Cornell University professor of psychology Dr. Thomas Gilovich found evidence that the joy of a receiving a tangible gift tends to normalize over time as one adapts to living with the gift. Intangible experiences however tend to enjoyed in three parts: the pre-experience anticipation, the actual event, and the post-experience reminiscing. Those feelings remain fresh whenever they are recalled.

  • Researchers at the Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania found that experiential gifts made the recipient feel more emotionally-connected to the gifter, even if the experience was not consumed together.

  • Michael Norton, Harvard Business School professor and author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, found that acquiring experiences instead of possessions leads to greater happiness, regardless of whether those experiences are “extraordinary” or “ordinary.”

  • According to a survey conducted by StubHub, 75% of gifters would prefer to give someone an “unforgettable experience" than a physical gift. And there is good reason for this: intangible experiences are more likely to etch memories and visceral feelings than tangible presents.

Convinced of the benefits of gifting experiences? Great. Let’s get to the fun stuff. We curated seven of our favorite experiential gifts, who they are for, and where to procure them. Give some memories.


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Membership to a Local Museum

Perfect for: Those seeking knowledge and culture

An annual pass to a local art, natural history or science museum comes with more than just free admission - it often includes invitations to exhibit openings, exclusive lectures, and behind-the-scenes events. Plenty of opportunity for experiences. Plus, it’s always good to give to a non-profit.

Search online for museums near your recipient. Membership fees differ based on city, type and level.

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A Voucher to an Escape Room

Perfect for: Those looking to stretch their creative problem solving muscles

The mission is simple: you and your team of recruited friends collaborate to unlock a series of interactive puzzles before time runs out. Escape Rooms are addictively fun - a good reason why they are popping up all over the world. Give your recipient a mental workout they will love.

Search online for Escape Rooms near your recipient. Most sell tickets that range from $50 - 120 per person.

A Gift Card for a Sidewalk Taste

Perfect for: For gourmands, foodies and people who enjoy food

Indulge the senses and head out on a private progressive food tour guided by app. The app does everything: navigation storytelling, and providing the featured dish. Go whenever you want, at your own convenience. Tastes are perfect for locals looking to discover and appreciate new flavors, neighborhood gems and local culture.

Go here and choose your Sidewalk Taste and purchase your gift card. Tastes cost $34 - 49 per person.

A Gift Card for DonorsChoose.org

Perfect for: For supporters of education, teachers and smart kids

Public school teachers from around the country use DonorsChoose to post requests for help to fund educational programs, student projects and teaching materials. After programs are funded, the students send thank-you notes in gratitude. Give your recipient a gift card so they can experience the act of philanthropy.

Go here to purchase a gift card of any value.

National Parks Annual Pass

Perfect for: For people who want to inch closer to the Great Outdoors

There are 85 million acres in 418 areas within every state and territory in the National Park System waiting for discovery. The National Parks Service maintains memorials like the Washington Monument and Alcatraz, parks like Yosemite and Glacier, and geological wonders like the Grand Canyon. Give the gift of hiking, fresh air, breathtaking vistas and ecological conservation.

Go here to purchase an annual pass for $80.

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Special Experiences in Zoos

Perfect for: For people who love feathers, fur and scales

Most zoos offer unique experiences that get you up close and personal with animals. For example, the San Diego Zoo offers Inside Look Tours to visit off-exhibit animals and behind-the-scenes locations. The Bronx Zoo offers private Wild Encounters with cheetahs, penguins, sloths and other friends. Even the National Zoo offers an overnight camping trip for families or adults called Snore & Roar.

Search online for the closest zoo to your recipient and see what unexpected experiences they offer.

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A Pottery Class

Perfect for: For people who wish they were more creative

There is something soothingly medicinal about shaping an amorphous mound of clay into a useful bowl using your bare hands. In fact, research shows that creative activities reduce stress because they require so much focus that there is no mental space for external distractions or stressors.

Search online for pottery glasses near your recipient. Single-session classes tend to cost $60 - 90.


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Jason Donahue, Co-Founder & CEO

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