The 5 Best Christmas Presents That Will Actually Make Someone Happy

12/08/2016 01:15 pm ET Updated Jun 30, 2017
“Pardon me, do you know the way to the gift shop?”
“Pardon me, do you know the way to the gift shop?”

Give experiences, not things.

The madness of Christmas shopping season is well and truly here. We're clamouring over each other on the High Streets and racing to get the best deals on all the fuzzy socks and sweaters we hope our friends and family will like. But will all this stuff make them happy? Maybe — if you're a very talented gift-shopper. 

But studies have shown that when it comes to making people happy, it's not things but experiences that are most effective. You probably don't remember what was under the tree on Christmas morning five years ago, but you would almost certainly remember the amazing trip to that sunny beach resort you took five years ago.

This is partially because experiences are always unique, whereas the feelings generated by things, even unique things, are very similar. 

And, of course, an experience tends to last much longer. If you've got a week-long vacation in Costa Rica, you not only enjoy it for that week, but also for the months leading up to it when the prospect of sandy beaches and swinging monkeys perks you up on your dreary daily commute. If you learn to cook, that's a skill that will serve you and your family for life. If you learn a new language, you'll get your mind moving and open up your world to all sorts of new experiences and perspectives. 

Without further ado, here's our pick for the top 5 experience-based gifts you can give this Christmas:

1. Travel

For this one, you obviously need to know your audience a bit - are they into sandy beaches? Clubs? Jungles? Ski trips? It's a huge world out there. Depending on their budget you don't need to buy the whole vacation. Try being bold and just buy them their plane tickets. They'll be forced to use them and will probably enjoy the rest of the planning process. Hitlist is an app that alerts you when there are cheap tickets to places you like. 

2. Language learning

You probably know tons of people who are always talking about how they'd love to brush up on their French/Spanish/Italian etc., but they just need a little kick to get going. Language learning has all sorts of benefits, from actually making you smarter to opening up whole new worlds and cultures. Language-learning startup Langu sells vouchers that can be used to connect with a real-life language teacher on their virtual platform. Check them out here.

3. Cooking classes

“Uhh... could you put me down please?”
“Uhh... could you put me down please?”

Teach a man to fish, he can fish for life. Teach a man to cook a fish, and he'll actually enjoy it. And so will his wife (or whoever bought him the class). Isn't that how the saying goes? In London, check out Food at 52

4. Dinner & a musical

So, Hamilton and Harry Potter may be sold out for the next decade, but there's lots of shows from the West End to Broadway to your local pub theatre that will provide a fun and memorable night out. 

5. Wine tastings

My girlfriend brought me to a wine tasting as a surprise birthday present once, and it was amazing. Learned lots, drank some delicious wine, and got hammered in the name of education. What's not to love? If you're in London, check out West London Wine School

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