I can’t believe we’re already halfway through September! Only 3 ½ more months and we’ll be ushering in the new year.
And if you think this year has gone by fast, these next four months will go by faster than ever. Christmas will be here before we know it. Some stores have already started decking the halls with Christmas decorations for sale.
Do the holidays cause you stress? Do you spend most of the season worrying about making sure you have picture-perfect holiday dinners, the best decorations and the perfect gifts? Do you run from one holiday party, concert, gift exchange, obligation to the next?
The truth is: You may be doing it all for nothing!
Studies have shown that we remember experiences more than gifts. The memories of family vacations, concerts or camping trips change who we are and become a part of us. Gifts, on the other hand, are valued at first, but are quickly forgotten. We get so used to seeing them that they fade into the background and become a part of our surroundings.
“We are the sum total of our experiences.” – B.J. Neblett
I decided to put this theory to the test and set up an experiment. I put the girls in separate rooms where one couldn’t hear the other’s conversation with me. I asked each of them to tell me their top three favorite gifts from last Christmas.
I started with Elaina (age 9). When I asked her the question, her face contorted as she tried hard to remember her gifts. The first minute was near silent. She finally remembered her MP3 player and a new skateboard. After five minutes, she could only think of two gifts she received only eight months ago.
I then asked Sydney (age 11) the same question. Her expression immediately went to panic. She thought and thought and finally remembered the new gardening tools she received from Grandma. After a few more minutes she remembered her BB8 remote-controlled droid and a compass. I questioned her on the last two as both sit on her bookshelf and aren’t used. She said she remembered Elaina got her the BB8 and the compass came from Dad. I found this so interesting – it wasn’t as much about the gift, but the thought of who they came from.
Still isolated from each other, I asked them to tell me their three favorite memories from the vacation we took shortly after Christmas – Universal Studios in mid-February.
Elaina’s face lit up. I could see her travel there in her mind. She started spewing memories. She talked about favorite rides, eating Peanut Butter and Jelly ice-cream, the smell and taste of Butterbeer, seeing the Frog Choir perform and the musty smell of Leaky Cauldron. She went on and on.
Sydney had almost the exact same reaction as Elaina. The memories were coming at her faster than she could describe them. She loved using her wand in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, visiting Olivander’s store, her favorite rides, hearing the yelling and excitement from everyone around and the musty smell of Leaky Cauldron. I don’t recall a musty smell, so both of them remembering this and using the exact same word to describe it was beyond interesting to me!
I couldn’t believe the difference in their memories of gifts versus vacations. Christmas was eight months ago, and the trip was six and a half months ago. The nerdy researcher side of me had to make sure they weren’t remembering more about the trip because it was more recent.
I extended the experiment and asked them both (they weren’t isolated this time) to describe their favorite memories from the trip we took to Walt Disney World in January 2017.
This trip took place 1 year and 7 months ago, but they both shared details like it was yesterday. They talked about being terrified to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but loving it, meeting Mickey four times, getting to drink milkshakes with their meals. Elaina even remembered burning her tongue on hot chocolate one morning!
This experiment proved true!
I was shocked! How could this be true? I have stressed and worried about Christmas morning for years. I was so careful to have the same number of presents and relatively same amount spent on both girls. I paid attention to what they talked about to make sure Santa delivered something from their wish list. I went as far as having secret wrapping paper for Santa’s gifts.
And it seems from this little experiment that I did it all for nothing – it simply didn’t matter.
I can’t turn back time and change what I’ve already done, but I can make a change going forward. Our budget is going to be altered to divert money from Christmas gifts to vacations and other experiences.
Do you think the results of my experiment were isolated or will they prove true for your family? I challenge you to do this same experiment with your children – and then come back here and let me know your results.
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