Hello, my name is Shelley and I'm a scrooge.
Admitting it is the first step, but sometimes revealing that you don't particularly like Christmas gets more heinous reactions than saying that you've just spent the night in the gutter with a bottle of vodka.
There are many reasons why I just don't get into the holiday season anymore: the fact that it starts in September and lasts for three months, the endless annoying music, the incredible waste and over-consumption. But mostly, the commercialization and gift-giving. I don't understand the concept of a holiday that's supposed to be about joy and giving, yet everyone is running around stressed out and feeling obliged to buy gifts for people who need nothing.
Okay, I'll climb off my soapbox now. But I know I'm not alone. And even if you really are filled with the holiday spirit, you might be having a hard time coming up with a really cool, unique present that no one else has thought of. If you really want to give a special someone a fantastic present, why not consider giving an experience, instead of an object?
Last year, the New York Times ran a fantastic article that got a lot of attention, called "But Will It Make You Happy?" In this age of conspicuous consumption, the article looked at scholars and researchers who work on that ever-elusive concept called happiness. And one major finding was that experiences make us much happier than stuff.
The high or emotional boost that we get from possessions wears off much more quickly, while the joy from experiences is more lasting. Things that create memories and support social bonds have a direct relationship to our happiness; while material goods give little more than a temporary buzz that sometimes can leave us feeling even worse, rather quickly. Psychologists call it "hedonistic adaptation"— we become used to it and that's when the pleasure stops.
Experiences, on the other hand, are different. Chances are, if I were to ask you to recount your three or four happiest moments, none of them would include stuff you bought. They would be experiences: maybe the birth of a child, an amazing trip somewhere, your wedding day. With that in mind, here are some great ideas for this holiday season, to gift an experience rather than an object. I have personally done each of these things, and can totally vouch for their coolness:
Take to the Skies
Do you know someone who loves a thrill and likes to be in control? Likes mastering a new challenge? How about private pilot instruction? Brothers Matt and Corey Quillen at Streamline Air offer lessons to obtain a pilot's license, or just introductory to flight packages that let someone experience flying a plane and learn the preliminaries. They are conveniently located on the back side of Austin Bergstrom International Airport and fly late-model, technologically advanced Diamond DA40 planes. You can also hire them as private pilots and charter a plane for a private flight. (800-575-5098)
Trip of a Lifetime
Know someone who loves to travel, but has already "been there, done that" just about everywhere? A volunteer expedition is the thing for them. WOWi Austin is a non-profit that's partnered with a school in Cambodia, and is taking a volunteer group of photographers and digital media types to Angkor Wat in February 2012. There, volunteers will visit and photograph the amazing World Heritage site, while interacting with and teaching Cambodian students through the foundation of Ponheary Ly, a CNN Hero. Ask anyone who's done any sort of "voluntourism" trip — I guarantee they'll light up and regale you for hours about their life-changing experience. (512-426-9358)
Play with Melted Glass
Lots of us want to experiment with art and creativity, but working with hot glass is a unique and skillful art that is a lot of fun. East Side Glass Studio is brand new, opening just in time for the East Austin Studio Tour. But business partners Leigh Taylor Wyatt and Shara Funari have both been working with hot glass for many years, and finally opened their own studio on the East side. Here you can learn how to meld, blow and form all sorts of glass art, with a variety of techniques and colors. Classes are available from $40 "make your own ornament" sessions every Saturday till Christmas, to four-week involved classes that teach you all the basics. (512-731-1702)
Learn a Language
This is something that is on most everyone's "want to do" list. For some people it comes more naturally, but for those of us who struggle, Rosetta Stone is still the king of the language systems. After taking French in college but still feeling challenged conversationally, I decided to try Spanish and utilized several different learning methods. Rosetta Stone is definitely the most intuitive, and the most like the way we all learn our native languages as children — through visuals and association as much as reading and hearing. (800-767-3882)
Join the Circus
We all watched in awe as children, when the flying trapeze artists made it look so easy as they swooped high into the air, and then leaped from one bar to another or caught their partner's outstretched arms. Well, you can do that too — right here in Austin. Trapeze Austin has the entire circus performance workshop set up, and they'll show you how to swing on and navigate the trapeze. Participants even perform a catch on their very first visit. If you come back for more, you'll learn a new trick each time. (512-608-1071)