Creative Child

Doing Stuff with Your Kids (Not Giving Them Stuff) Will Make Them Happier

by Rebecca Eanes

I asked my children to rattle off to me their happiest memories. Among their answers were family trips to amusement parks and attractions, lying under the stars and watching for meteors, outdoor movies, swimming at a waterpark, and seeing the ocean for the first time. They didn’t mention one single toy, which is exactly what I was hoping for as I was wanting to prove the point to my 8 year old son that it is experiences, not things, that bring us the most joy.


Science is on my side. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has been studying the question of money and happiness for over twenty years. He says “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. 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.” I can absolutely see this with my children who, even after anticipating a new toy for weeks and finally gets it, becomes bored with it quickly and is looking for the next toy he wants to buy. It is an endless cycle of want-buy-boredom that you’ve probably seen in your own kids. How many “I so need this” items have you ended up selling or donating because it turns out that they didn’t really need it at all?

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “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 a part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

What we experience together connects us. It builds our family units and become treasured memories far more than any toy or gadget. Children are going to feel more connected with someone they took a vacation to Legoland with than someone who bought them a Lego, for example.

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