In life, we are faced with many decisions. Among these are choices we make about what to do with our time, finances, and physical resources. We can buy material goods or experiences. We can hold on to things or give them away.

What part does gratitude play in these decisions?

When considering a purchase, we often think that purchasing material goods, like those cute shoes, fashionable furniture, or special mementos, will bring more appreciation or gratefulness than purchasing experiences that are temporary. Although we may be happy as we purchase material goods and enjoy them, researchers have found that we often cherish and are more grateful for experiential purchases. Why? Because “we quickly adapt to our material possessions and soon we hardly notice that our new is any different from our old. But, paradoxically perhaps, our fleeting experiences endure” (Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University). An experiential purchase lives on in our memories, in the stories we share, and in the new knowledge we gain through it.

This insight is helpful not only in the purchases we make for ourselves but also in the gifts we buy for others. This holiday season, rather than purchasing your loved one another toy, gadget or nonessential, consider buying an experience as a gift. What does that person enjoy doing? Is there someone they might want to share the event with? The gift could be a promise of an afternoon bike ride together, a dinner out at their favorite restaurant, a gift card for a night of bowling, or a chance to try their hand at painting or cooking. The experience will be something they can remember and appreciate for a long time.

For the giver, generosity and gratitude are inextricably linked. Giving of our time, finances, or possessions can be very gratifying. When we donate from what we have, we not only find a sense of satisfaction in knowing we are meeting another’s needs, but our appreciation of what we have grows also. The opposite is true as well: gratitude leads to generosity. Grateful people are more altruistic and generous to others (Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley).

We are blessed with so much to be thankful for! All lives have struggles, but there are also opportunities to give and serve. As you prepare for this time of thanksgiving, consider what you can share with others. Is it your time, money or possessions? Will you sort through your fall and winter clothing and gather things to share with those in need? Do you need to research a charity you can support? Can you commit to helping on a non-profit’s board, serving a meal at a shelter, or visiting a shut in?

As a professional organizer, I spend most of my time dealing with all the things people have accumulated. In this season, I hope we can all find ways to give and be grateful.

© 2021 Beth Giles

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