What do you want for Christmas? Clothes? Booze? Socks? A new gadget just like the one you pined for last year? You spent hours setting it up, and then couldn’t quite bring yourself to sell it or throw it away when the shine wore off, so there it lies, in a draw with the elastic bands, sellotape and a solitary chopstick. Yeah, we thought so.
How about a change of tact then? How about a music festival? Or tickets to the theatre? Skydiving? Or flights to a palm-fringed paradise where you can put your feet up and sip cocktails on the beach? Sounds pretty good, right?
If the latter options sound more appealing, you’re not alone. Studies are showing that young people are increasingly becoming part of ‘the experience economy,’ and are shunning having things in favour of doing things.
In fact, spending continues to rise in restaurants and cinemas, while spending on things like household appliances continues to plummet. And, as you’d expect, it’s a similar story with our spending habits at Christmas time. Struggling to find the right gift for a music-loving friend? There is no point gifting them an album like you once might have; they listen to it all on Spotify anyway. Instead, buy them a ticket to a gig. Your foodie friend? You could buy them a new set of knives, but wouldn’t sushi lessons be so much more fun (and way more delicious)? Shopping for a travel addict? Why buy them sunglasses when you can buy them a journey towards some actual sun?
Trend forecaster James Wallman suggests that young people are driving this consumer shift. ‘It used to be that our car, or handbag, or wallet showed status. Now we post pictures from a chairlift in Chamonix or the latest festival…posting pictures of what you just bought is gauche; posting pictures of something you’re doing is fine.’
Studies show that experiential gifts make the receiver and giver feel closer and more connected. They can also be enjoyed together, which isn’t usually the case with Christmas pressies (food or drink-related gifts being the exception).
So, this Christmas, maybe we should stop looking for happiness and identity in material things. After all, it’s the experiences that shape who we are, tied up as they are with memory and personal growth. And besides, we can all agree that the way we spend our time is far more interesting than what we fill our homes with.