I have a term of endearment for my twin seven-year olds, "Da Boys."
Figuring out what Da Boys want for Christmas isn't hard. They've already got their letters to Santa written, stamped, and in the mail. The question is, "What will Santa actually bring on Christmas Eve?" In other words, what will my wife and I actually buy them?
We looked over their lists to Santa.
"You know they're just gonna get bored with those things and they'll be tired of them in a day or two. And then, they'll end up as more clutter in the closet with all of their other toys!" my wife lamented.
While they do still pull out and play with select toys from that cluttered closet, my wife was right about what happens after we buy stuff. She reminded me of a psychological phenomenon that has been popular in positive psychology and marketing research for some years, now.
We easily habituate to stimuli, like material purchases. The American Psychological Association defines habituation as "the process of growing accustomed to a situation or stimulus" and "the diminished effectiveness of a stimulus in eliciting a response, following repeated exposure to the stimulus."
The research—and my wife's experience—are clear. The positive impact of those toys will just wear off after a while. Even major material purchases, like a new car, will loose the happiness and excitement they first bring. At some point in the near future, it will just be 'the car.' There are factors that affect habituation, like the new car will take longer for habituation to occur compared to something less expensive and emotionally impactful.
That's not all folks!
However, there is another part of the equation in this line of research you've probably already heard about. Researchers have been documenting for years that purchasing experiences, like vacations, a spa getaway, or tickets to the symphony, often yield greater and more lasting positive impact than purchasing material possessions. This is referred to in the literature as the experiential advantage.
Should you buy a new car or go on a vacation to Tahiti? Should I buy that sparkling new jewelry or tickets to the concert? Odds are that the experiences will have a more lasting impact on well-being and consumer satisfaction and happiness.
Da Boys probably don't even remember what they got for Christmas last year but they still talk about and want to go back to places we've visited and things we've done, like going to the Kemah Boardwalk or a vacation we took at a cabin in the Texas Hill Country. You can watch a reflection video I created from an amazing spot right outside the front door of that cabin below or on my YouTube channel here: A Grotto in Dripping Springs, Texas Reflection (02:02)
The experience of that vacation and this grotto had such a positive impact on me that I had the presence to record this short reflection before we left so I could experience it again and again. I hope you enjoy it too.
Research since the early 2000's found significant positive effects of experiential purchases compared to material purchases on multiple psychological need states such as happiness, consumer well-being, and more. But some of the nuances of that research hadn't been teased-out until a pair of researchers conducted a recent meta-analysis.
When experience purchases work and when not so much.
Marketing professors and researchers, Evan Weingarten and Joseph K. Goodman, conducted a strong meta-analyses on the research into experiential advantage from 141 studies and report some interesting findings.
The need to belong & relatedness
One of the strongest human psychological needs is the need to belong or relatedness. They expand on the need to belong, "The need for social engagement and the need to form and maintain stable social relationships requires meaningful conversations and/or spending time with others in order to experience stronger positive than negative emotions."
Experiences that nurture our need to belong and relate with each other had the strongest positive effects of all the needs they analyzed. Not surprising, they further report, "we found that solitary [experiences] purchases led to less of an experiential advantage compared to non-solitary."
Bottom line? When considering to buy an experience, choosing something that brings loved-ones and/or friends together where you can spend quality time together that includes meaningful conversations will more often than not have the greatest and longest positive impact.
Another powerful discovery from the analysis is that when money is tight, the experiential advantage significantly decreases. And when that purchase is in competition for more utilitarian needs that are similar in price, the advantage decreases even more.
So, if you're trying to decide whether to buy a needed new refrigerator or go on a trip, choose the pragmatic thing and buy the refrigerator. And as a bonus, you won't have to hear the whole way there and back and for the next few months, "I told you we should have bought the refrigerator!"
And you don't need money or much of it to create amazing experiences with those you love, either. Be creative! The best gift we can give is our time and attention. Those are experiences that have the most impact and they will oftentimes last a lifetime.
Teams & leadership
This all works for you and your team, too. Creating positive events in which people can engage positively with each other will be remembered longer and have more positive impact than that gift card from Starbucks or Amazon or that cute coffee mug alone.
Don't forget yourself and these lessons, this holiday season!
2023 is right around the corner. Many of us will be revisiting goals and setting New Year's goals and resolutions.
Studies show that as many as 91% of people who set New Year's goals don't actually meet them.
Coaching can help. Coaching is an experience that specifically helps you achieve your goals through meaningful conversations. You also get the experiential advantage when you invest in yourself with coaching. And, it's an experience that you will probably never forget. It could transform your life.
I am offering 50% off all coaching bundles through the end of the year.
Starting coaching during the holiday season and as the year ends may not be practical. I get that. That's why you may want to have your discovery conversation and buy your coaching bundle now and then start coaching in the New Year. Just click the link below.
Impactful change starts with a conversation!
Schedule your free, one-hour session by clicking here: Discovery Conversation with Alan
Or call or email me: Contact Page
Despite knowing about the experiential advantage, Santa will still bring toys and stuff under the tree this year at the Mikolaj home. But, it will influence us, for sure. Maybe lovebirds or a puppy, this year? Discussions and negotiations are still in progress on that. More to come...
In addition, the Grinch is right about Christmas. Just the experience of loved ones and our spiritual practices this time of year are gifts in and of themself.
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. Maybe Christmas (he thought) doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.
Happy holiday season!
Have an amazing journey today!
Alan Mikolaj is a coach and leadership development consultant with 15+ years of experience. He is passionate about helping leaders transform their leadership, their teams, and their organizations. Impactful, professional approach driven by a passion for meaning and purpose, a growth mindset, and a commitment to excellence and service in order to drive change and results.
Alan maintains the ethics and standards of behavior established by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), including the standards regarding confidentiality. You can learn more about them on the ICF website.
Alan Mikolaj is a a professional, experienced, positive, and passionate speaker, leadership and organizational development consultant, change agent, author, and coach. He holds his Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology from Sam Houston State University. He is a certified graduate coach from Coaching Out of the Box and holds his ACC and membership with the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
Free Discovery Conversation!
Impactful change starts with a conversation! Schedule your free, one-hour session by clicking here: Discovery Conversation with Alan
Or call or email: Contact Page
In his third book, A Travel Guide to Leadership, Alan offers you simple, fundamental, and powerful lessons that have the power to transform you, your relationships, and your career.