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Tickets not trinkets

Posted by Robin Abrahams  March 11, 2014 07:48 AM

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Lindsay Abrams interviews James Wallman at at Salon on one of Miss Conduct's favorite themes--"experientialism," or why spending money and time on experiences is better than spending it on stuff (assuming, of course, you have all the basic stuff you need):

Some people like to go skiing. Some people like to go for a walk. Some people like to rock climb. Some people like to ramble in the hills. There's a very interesting piece of research that I came across recently that says really gung-ho, seat of your pants, exciting experiences really work well for young people whereas for older people, what they should look to do is the simple experiences. Going for a walk with a friend, having dinner with a friend, whatever it might be. I think you're trying to make a statement about who you are. And what's interesting, I think today, is that instead of making a statement about who we are in terms of our material goods, we're much more focused on making a statement on who we are through experiences instead. So if you think of the rise of Tough Mudder, there's a great example.

Long-time readers know I'm a huge advocate of giving experiential gifts rather than material possessions:

Give experiences. The best present is a cherished memory. Tickets to a concert, play, or sporting event make wonderful gifts. A friend gave her wife trapeze lessons for her birthday--something she won't forget any time soon. If you usually exchange gifts with friends, suggest spending the money together on a fancy dinner or a paintball excursion.

(No, you can't give everyone trapeze lessons, and the article quoted offers a few more tips for giving gifts in a world where we all have too much stuff and not enough money.)

Wallman, who is a British "trend forecaster," summarizes quite a bit of research from different disciplines--it's a juicy little interview. He cites five reasons that experiences are better than material possessions, this being my favorite:

If you think about the things that you have versus the things that you've done, the things you have contribute far less to your identity. Wedding gifts are a great example, as compared to actually having had a wedding. Or if you just had to choose between giving back $1,000 worth of clothes and things that you have, versus giving back $1,000 worth of a weekend away with friends, most people would give back the stuff. Have you seen the movie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"? Experiences really matter -- things that happen to us, that we have done, really contribute to our identity.
If you've climbed the hill, if you've done the Tough Mudder course, if you've learned to surf, if you've learned how to make bread or cupcakes, or you've run the New York Marathon, or you've gone ice skating in Central Park -- that contributes to who you are. Whereas having a material good doesn't contribute in the same way nearly as much.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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