There is a simple and beautiful truth in the philosophy that life is a list of experiences and not a checklist of the things we have hoarded. But it seems that in the demanding and challenging task of parenting, most parents fail to relate to this truth.
While most people think that satisfying a kid’s fervent wish for a toy will make them feel happy (which for the moment does), it’s a fact that these ‘things’ will not allow them to experience the full potential that life has to offer.
And this potential comes with more than just feeling excited about the thing you’ll easily grow out of. According to a new study, toys and gadgets will never be able to replace the ‘high’ one gets from experiences simply because experiences remain embedded in our memories.
Cindy Chan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and the lead author of the study, notes that experiences trigger an emotional response and a connection which no gadget can elicit.
“An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it — like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa — and is more intensely emotional than a material possession,” explains Chan.
Beyond just focusing on how much recipients enjoy certain gifts, this study focused on analyzing how effective gifts are in building relationships. Chan highlights the importance of this effectiveness, as gifts are also important opportunities to nurture relationships.
And when it comes to giving gifts, the research team found that giving someone the gift of an experience exceeds any other material gift in its effectiveness and its long-term potential.
According to child psychotherapist Dr. Margot Sunderland, experiences provide children with a solid foundation of happy memories while also promoting brain development. “An enriched environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive and sensory interaction,” she explains.
In other words, building good childhood memories through experiences leaves a long-lasting impact on children’s overall happiness and stimulates and enrichens their brains with new information.
What kind of experiences matter?
Most would think that you’d need lots of money to provide your child with a worthwhile experience. However, experiences can vary from an outing to the local ice cream parlor to going on a wild safari, and all of them will have the same effect on your child.
In fact, children are more likely to build a strong and positive memory of that special trip for ice cream, where their loved ones were happy and engaged than they would of an exciting but stressful trip to the “happiest place on Earth.”
Speaking from a personal experience, I have received things when I was a child and I can barely remember 3 out of the hundreds of toys and gadgets my parents gave me. However, I have strong and fond memories of me and my mom sneaking out to the local restaurant and eating calamari while chatting about irrelevant things.
I can still taste the calamari and the small bottle of wine we shared while giggling at the fact that nobody knew where we were. (Who said that only mothers and daughters can have such a good time?)
And it’s true – I remember every family outing – the moments when my dad taught me to play soccer, the family vacations, and the small things that made all those moments worth remembering.
It’s true that I grew up with two more brothers in a middle-income family and we had to improvise on many things, but that never changed my fond memories of all the good times we had when I was a child.
So, give your children the gift they are always in the mood to receive and don’t teach them that things make life – because they don’t. If there is anything that made all the negative aspects of my childhood vanish, it was the wonderful experiences that didn’t even cost too much.