09 Jan Experience


  • an event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone.

As I box-up the ornaments, shelf the menorah, return and exchange gifts and swear off cookies forever and ever, something leaves me scratching my head (hint, it’s not dry scalp).  There is so much wonderful, happy excitement leading up to the holidays.  What creates that feeling and where does it go when the holidays pass? Although I have the gifts, the joy and excitement that I felt pre-holidays is simply longer present (pun, sadly intended).  How can I keep that feeling going year–round, or is it truly and uniquely tied to the holiday itself?

While each year we light the menorah in memory of my mother (although in truth, she always celebrated Christmas), we love decorating the tree and our boys live for the big December 25 gift bonanza.  Currently, my children’s bedroom is absurdly well-stocked with fantastic books, games and oh-too-many legos.   Each time I enter their room, however, I’m bewildered to see a number of their holiday gifts untouched, I hesitate to say, even ignored, in a neat pile (I, of course, made the pile neat).  Some of these gifts are hot items for which these kids pined and pleaded.  When they unwrapped the packages they expressed sheer, genuine elation, appreciation and pleasure.  But only for a moment.

Once the gifts were opened, the boys played with some of them, but kept asking when we were going to watch a movie together.  As soon as the movie was over they wanted to know when we were going to play a game together.  Our couch cuddles, extended games of Monopoly and our long excursion into Central Park to try out the remote control car, were definitely the highlight of Christmas.  My children’s favorite part of Winter Break wasn’t even Christmas.  My younger son announced that his favorite part of the vacation was the four days after Christmas that we spent with good friends in their home upstate, where my children and theirs spent hours in the biting cold, building an igloo (that looked a lot like a heap of muddy ice) in the woods.

Their greatest joy was wrapped up (ugh, another pun!) in the process and the experience.  The iconic “gift,” in fact, held little comparative value without an experience attached.

So what does this mean?  Honestly, I’m not completely sure.  NYC dog owners often declare that, thanks to their dogs, they are forced outside several times a day to go for a walk and experience the world outside of their apartment.  Yet, I’m simply not ready to add a dog to my to-do list at this point…

A co-worker shared an interesting article contrasting Experiential v.s. Material purchases.  The article proposes that spending money on experiences, e.g. concerts, movies, trips and such, is more meaningful than buying a new sweater – That is, unless the sweater is to be worn on a family hike up mount-fabulous or on a ski trip with a group of good friends where you sit around a fireplace and share actual experience.  Experiences do not always come free or even cheaply, yet, I am inspired to consider whether it’s possible to forgo unnecessary spending to save up for the experiential purchase that might hold more meaning.

The Frug, an online guide to more frugal living, offers the following suggestions, some of them free, to more experiential and rewarding spending of both time and money:

  • Stop running to the store the very moment you need something. Do without, skip the chore, skip the errand and go for a walk instead.  Your family will survive without duct tape for a day. Your house will still be standing a month from now even if you don’t buy those filters right now
  • Go for a walk with your kids or significant other and talk about what you see. Have a conversation instead of buying something.
  • Nasty outside? Go to a public gallery, museum or library, you’ve paid for them!
  • Clean out your closet, garage, basement. You’ll find something you lost and something you’d like to give away.
  • Play with that Frisbee you found in the closet. It’s been a while.
  • If you’re stuck in a store (for) some reason, practice delayed gratification by putting that purchase off for a few days. Most likely you’ll forget about it.
  • Skip the trip and use Amazon Prime  – can also add and a percentage of every purchase goes toward your favorite charity.

There are those who still swear by retail therapy as a means to happiness.  However, Psychology Today purports that, once again, the benefits of cash for joy come mostly through experiential purchases. An article from last year states that, “social connection, relaxation and escape, (and) dressing for success” are among the greater benefits of shopping.  Again, each of those professed benefits implies something experiential.

Even the bastion of capitalism and business, The Wall Street Journal, concurs: “New research is suggesting that happiness is determined not by how much money one earns, but rather, how one spends it. The mentality of, ‘If I go there, it’ll be great, but it’ll be done in no time. If I buy this thing, at least I’ll always have it.’ while factually true, is not psychologically true.  We adapt to our material goods.” Thus, the more we have, the more we want. Kind of like potato chips.  They never fill me up and if I truly eat enough to be full,

I feel guilty and unhappy, not to mention bloated.  So how do we find fulfillment instead of just fullness?

While I don’t plan on owning a dog any time soon, I am committed to spending more time outside, and creating experiences.  Life is so terribly short and my children will be grown and on their own before I know it. Hear me now, 2015. This year I will not spend every weekend purging closets and cleaning.  I will go for more bike rides with my children and take walks to the park with a thermos of hot chocolate.  When I’m tempted to purchase something not urgently needed, I will force myself to put-off the purchase until the next day and see if I still want/need it.  We’ll start going to the Public Library again as we did when the boys were younger and it’s been a while since we visited the Museum of Natural History.

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced–even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.” – JOHN KEATS, letter to George and Georgiana Keats