Cast your mind back to last Christmas for a second. Can you remember what you got anyone? Or what anyone got you?
Nice as gifts are, they rarely go down in history over the festive season.
Instead, other things stand out: long wintry walks with your loved ones to the pub, #scrabblegate where everyone falls out spectacularly over a board game, face-planting that cushion of brie, relative no. 256 crying in the toilet after too much mulled wine.
You know, the poignant moments.
So, a far better approach is to skip the present-giving drama altogether. Or, if that seems too unfriendly, stick to £5 Secret Santa fare.
Instead, channel your dosh into a one-of-a-kind experience: the type that will change up your life. Here’s five great reasons why:
Christmas shopping is stressful
Funny how you always think Christmas shopping will be some rosy-cheeked affair, complete with cheery carollers and shopkeepers beaming with excitement.
The reality is far more Game of Thrones. Oxford Street on the 23rd December is no place to be, especially when you’re doing battle with approximately 23,000 other panic shoppers, can’t think what the hell Uncle Malcolm wants anyway and are grinding your teeth to the rhythm of Santa Baby on repeat.
It’s so much more civilised to just settle back by the fire with a glass of Amarula on ice, scrolling through your tablet in search of a custom-made adventure just for you.
Only you know what you want
Unless you actually write a list (and let’s face it, that trick gets old beyond about 15 years old), no-one can know what you want at Christmas. Similarly, you can’t predict what anyone will like; however well you know them.
So, the whole thing becomes some kind of random guessing game: a grand charade involving huge amounts of money, with only mixed results.
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According to one study, two-thirds of Brits receive unwanted gifts that they end up selling online. That’s an awful lot of wasted energy and cash.
Agree then, with your loved ones, that time is the greatest gift of all (no lie in an age where one evening together must be booked months in advance), and put the present parade on hold in favour of something that really resonates. Bungee jump, anyone?
The novelty of things fades quickly
A ground-breaking study by Cornell psychology professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich concludes that material things are basically void when it comes to happiness.
Why? His 20-year research showed we get used to new things far too quickly. That thrill of owning a fresh possession rapidly wears off, leaving only bigger expectations.
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” notes Gilovich. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
Added to this, it’s easy to compare material possessions to what others have around us and come away worse; the fabled “Joneses effect” (anyone who was given a Power Ranger over Christmas as a kid only to find out that their best friend got the deluxe megaforce model with flashing lights will know this feeling well).
Experiences are unique
Unlike things, Gilovich’s study shows that experiences really do deliver long-term happiness.
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You can’t compare it, because you can’t quantify it in the same way as material things. It’s all about how you feel it at the time.
Experiences are fleeting, too, which only make them more valuable. Familiarity breeds contempt, or at the very least complacency, but with an experience, you know it’s a one-off. As a result, you really seize the moment and make the most of it.
Experiences become part of you
The real boon of experience over material things is the sense of vitality that they gives you. Studies show that experiences generate a feeling of “being alive” that creates happiness both at the time, and in the re-telling of them.
“As nice as your new computer is, it’s not going to make you feel alive,” says Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, who has conducted detailed research on the power of experiences.
Because experiences stay with you in this way, they form part of who you are. You are the sum total of your experiences, whether that’s hiking the Nepalese highlands or canyoning through the rugged ravines of Jordan (or the multitude of other things you’ve done in your life).
These types of events form powerful and important memories, crafting what you’re capable of and how you view yourself
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” Gilovich says.
“You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you.”
5 mind-blowing adventures to invest in this Christmas
Swim the Yucatán Peninsula
The emerald cenotes of Mexico’s Mayan Riviera are like nowhere else on earth. Throw yourself gleefully into a one-time pirate’s canal, pencil jump through a narrow opening into your own swimming cave or catapult, Tarzan-like, into a lagoon by rope swing. This excellent adventure also comes with kayaking, pyramid hiking and three days on a hidden tropical island.
Book the ultimate Africa safari
Make like David Attenborough as you wander across the great African plains on a mesmerising walking safari in Zimbabwe. Jump aboard game drives on the open Savannah in Botswana, and take a thrilling river safari to spy out hippos, crocs and bathing elephants. Just for added kicks, we’ll cruise over Victoria Falls on a helicopter ride too, for an epic view on a natural world wonder.
Eat your way around Japan
If it’s fabulous food you’re after, look no further than the intoxicating land of Japan. This trip is one long glutton’s paradise, as we learn how to make sushi in the world’s largest fish market, have lunch with a sumo wrestler (= extra large portions), and embark on a street food safari through Osaka, Japan’s city of “eat ’til you drop”. And let’s not forget oysters and Chablis on the sweet island of Miyajima, too.
Light up your soul in Kerala
Head space is promised in droves in the green and serene coastal state of Kerala. There’s really no finer place to get your chill on. Come hike off-radar in the Western Ghat highlands, with misty tea hills and incredible views. Spend a whole day paddling around the Keralan backwaters and sail the pink-tinged waters of Vembanad Lake at sunset. Spas, sunrise yoga and beautiful beaches are all in the mix, too.
Get wild and wintry in Canada
Tick off a snowy bucket list to end all snowy bucket lists in the powdery peaks of Canada. Cut a groove on the pistes of Whistler with skiing and snowboard lessons, snowmobile across the frozen horizon and learn how to snow tube like a pro down glistening slopes. You’ll also go snow-shoeing by twilight with s’mores and hot apple cider round the campfire, and ice-skate on an Olympic rink.
Images: Shutterstock, Flash Pack, RawPixel and Tom Sodoge on Unsplash