Which Will Make Your Significant Other Happier: Experiences or Gifts?

A happy couple of two men hugging.

After ringing in the holidays, you might have exchanged many gifts with loved ones and friends. But what type of gift is most memorable: the present you received from your boyfriend, or the office party you attended together on the hotel rooftop? Studies show that when it comes to impressing dates with experiences or gifts, experiences are much more memorable.

According to research by San Francisco State University psychology professor Ryan Howell, experiences make people happier than possessions. While material things give people an initial boost, the joy of acquiring a new item fades as people become used to seeing the object. Howell found that participants were happier—especially over time—with spending money on experiences that were fun and memorable.

Experiences yield greater happiness for two reasons. First, those who purchased an experience often included others to share in the moment. This led to feelings of closeness and social bonding. Second, those who chose life experiences reported a greater feeling of vitality. In reflecting on their experience, people often said it made them “feel alive,” a feeling that Howell says can’t be replicated—even with high-end gifts such as a computer or new car.

So the next time you consider buying a present for your partner—say, Valentine’s Day—think about purchasing an experience you both can share. Here are a few fun and memorable ideas for “experience” gifts.

Hot air balloon ride

As long as your date isn’t afraid of heights, this experience should stick with her in a positive way for years and years to come. Soaring high into the air, taking in the sights, and pointing out local landmarks is not only exciting experience, but can also be breathtakingly romantic.

Couple’s spa day

While on the pricier side, a spa day for two can be a warm, relaxing experience where you both enjoy a little pampering and a lot of stress relief. Add in a bit of sensuality with a couple’s massage, mud bath, steam, or shower.


Tickets to see his or her favorite band will get your partner jazzed up for a night of singing, dancing, and (possibly) screaming with joy. When the band plays their classic songs, the look on his or her face will be worth the price of admission a thousand times over.

Museum exhibit

Is she a huge Star Wars fan? Is he a nut about postmodern art? Bringing your partner to an art or science museum to see a special exhibit tailored to his or her interests will make an impression for years to come.

Wendy Zamora

Freelance Writer

Wendy is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience covering dating and relationships.

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