Skip Disney, buy Mickey Mouse: Unlike adults, material things make kids happier than experiences, study finds
If you're buying gifts for children this holiday season, you might be better off spending your money on a toy or material item over a trip to a theme park or other experience. A new study suggests that younger kids are happier when they're given material gifts rather than experiential ones.
So, why do young kids get more of a thrill from tangible items versus a thoughtful experience?
Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago conducted four separate studies and determined that very young kids ages 3 to 5 tend to appreciate material items more than experiences. At this stage, a child's memory is not fully developed, so they have a harder time comprehending, interpreting and remembering events like a trip or a show.
Toys and items, on the other hand, serve as physical reminders that can provide a burst of happiness anytime they interact with it, Lan Nguyen Chaplin, associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois Chicago, said in a release.
"For experiences to provide enduring happiness, children must be able to recall details of the event long after it is over," Chaplin said.
As kids get older, they derive more happiness from experiences rather than physical items, in part because they can remember them, the study found. Older kids and teenagers, ages 13 to 17, tend to get the most happiness from experiential gifts.
But vacations and special outings aren't all for nothing. Taking photos for little kids to look back on is one way to help them remember experiences, Chaplin said. "Children are likely going to appreciate those experiences more if there is something to remind them of the event," she said. "Additionally, they'll be able to learn the social value of shared experiences."
Of course, during the Covid pandemic it's not safe to travel or gather in groups of people outside your household, which limits the type of experiential gifts you can give. Consider gifting activities that can be done virtually or outdoors, like tickets to a drive-in movie, a day trip to go skiing or a virtual cooking class.
Outside of gift-giving, this same logic applies to the way that you spend your money. Studies suggest that spending money on experiences makes you happier than items.
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