Tired of searching for more stuff to give as a gift? We have the solution

click to enlarge Tired of searching for more stuff to give as a gift? We have the solution
Jonathan Hill illustration
Instead of toys, give shared multi-generational experiences like art classes this holiday season.

What makes people happier — getting a new thing or having a new experience? Turns out, research in the fascinating intersection of psychology and economics shows spending on "doing" brings more satisfaction than spending on material possessions. In a 2022 paper titled The Unmatchable Brightness of Doing, University of Texas researcher Amit Kumar compiles research on the topic, noting that looking forward to experiences is fun, but that looking back afterward also adds to the enjoyment. And even an experience that wasn't so great at the time can, over the years, take on new luster, as compared to a less-than-satisfying material purchase. "An uncomfortable couch remains uncomfortable, but a rainy day on the beach can be romanticized," writes Kumar.

Experiences can also go much deeper, according to Spokane psychologist Leslie Blevins, who specializes in child psychology and young child behavior. "Even more than giving memories, they help kids to understand who they are, what it means to be in their family and develop their values," says Blevins. "The experiences that they participate in can teach them that they're creative, or adventurous and physically strong or emotionally strong, or have perseverance or are a hard worker."

Taking part in an activity also stimulates a special kind of learning. "Our brains work through movement, and so actually having an experience where you demonstrate that to yourself makes it easier for your brain to say those thoughts. So it's a nice way for parents to guide their kids to having a higher sense of self-esteem," Blevins says.

So instead of buying material gifts for young people in your life, here are some options for multigenerationalt experiences that will be fun in the moment, and almost surely bring back happy memories long after.

FOR TEENS

Teens, with their acute knowledge of what is in and what is definitely out, are often the hardest people to buy gifts for. Instead of trendy clothes, consider a trip to an escape room.

At Spokane's THINK TANK, co-owner and founder Jeff Savelesky says the three current experiences are designed so that people from young kids to great-grandparents can take part. "No outside information is necessary ... Anybody from a family unit can come and participate at an equal level with everybody else." That's in part because the experiences are designed to have elements that appeal to all varieties of personality styles — from visual problem solvers to those who prefer manipulating objects. Everything needed to solve the mystery is in the room, and if the group gets stuck, hints can be delivered in such a way that the immersive experience isn't interrupted. The newest room opened in June and features a space mission, including a ride in a 10 passenger simulator. The experiences are designed to tantalize all the senses, so expect to encounter "sights, smells, sounds and feeling — we want to transport you where you've never been before," says Savelesky. For the apprehensive, "We don't have any horror rooms or actors trying to scare you. We want people to feel like the space is theirs to explore. We strive to get every single group through to the end successfully."

Tweens and Elementary Middle schoolers most likely aren't anxious to appear in public with a band of older relatives on a quest for bonding experiences. But time away from school and peers can be golden for this age group. "They get to kind of relax — they're not trying to put on this show of being more mature than they actually are," says Blevins.

One option for getting out of the house but still being together as a family is a private tour at Cat Tales Wildlife Center. The tours are offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when the center is closed to general admission. "It's very intimate and totally unique," says executive director Lisa Grey. Up to 12 guests per tour will learn about the nonprofit center's foxes, pumas, bears, tigers, coyotes and lynxes — all non-releasable animals that needed a place to live. After the tour, kids can check out the taxidermy and skeleton displays, and have a hot beverage. For an additional fee (all proceeds go to benefit the animals), consider participating in feeding time. Kids can feed the tigers from just a few feet away, but Gray says an unexpected highlight turns out to be flinging food to the competitive foxes. "They start making all sorts of noises, and they try and get to the pieces before their roommates." An added bonus of a winter visit? "Oftentimes in the winter the animals are way more animated," says Grey. "The snow is nothing to them. They're like, let's play!"

PRESCHOOL

It's not hard to find fun outings for preschoolers — think Disney on Ice. But it is sometimes harder to find things that adults and the youngest kids can do together. That's exactly the purpose of the Corbin Art Center's MAKE ART TOGETHER classes. "(They're) more for preschoolers not quite ready to do a class on their own," says Carissa Gregg, program coordinator at the art center, noting that for many kids born during the pandemic the classes may be their first experience with group participation. She says the workshops are usually themed, such as a holiday theme for December, or February's winter wonderland, which promises to delight. "It's glitzy with lots of sparkles and, oh my god, they love cotton balls," she laughs. Add to that there's no cleanup to worry about, and in the end, "The parent and child get together and make something they're proud to hang up at home" she says.

Of course the options for experiential gifts are only limited by your imagination. Cat Tales' Gray says she tells her grandkids, "This grandma doesn't buy you stuff!" So, she's always seeking out experiences. A recent success was a family trip to a farm she found on AirBnB.

When choosing an experiential gift, it's also good to keep an open mind about age groups. "In my experience, children appreciate things for far longer than what we think they're going to," says Blevins. "It's so funny because sometimes you'll have a 16-year-old doing something and you're like, 'Really didn't think you were gonna enjoy this.'" Perhaps proving that it's really the time spent together that makes all the difference.

Scoops and Bowls @ Manito Park

Sat., July 13, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
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Anne McGregor

Anne McGregor is a contributor to the Inlander and the editor of InHealth. She is married to Inlander editor/publisher Ted S. McGregor, Jr.