Give Experiences, not Things (UNLEASH Magazine)


Black Friday. Cyber Monday. The horribly coined term “Thanks-getting.” Even Santa Claus. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the holidays were all about THINGS. Buying things, giving things, getting things: Americans expect to receive an average of 12.9 gifts. This is, of course, a boon to the retail industry; Americans will each spend approximately $700 on holiday related items this year, totaling more than $465 billion (it’s also a boon to the debt industry, as the holidays lead to credit card overspending by an average of 16 percent).

Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychologist at Cornell University, has been studying money and happiness for more than two decades. In an interview with Fast Co.Exist, he explained how adaptation impacts our happiness: “New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.” Once something is part of our routine experience, it becomes the new normal, no longer brining us the rush of happiness it did when we first received it; in fact, our overall satisfaction with it decreases. Conversely, our satisfaction with spending money on experiences increases. “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 part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

Experiences are even richer when shared. Research shows that undergoing something with another person leads to a more intensified experience: good experiences are better and bad experiences are worse. Although we are more digitally connected than ever before, we are also becoming more and more socially isolated. A recent survey conducted in the United Kingdom found that nearly four in ten people feel like they have less daily interaction than they did just five years ago, and one in six experience social interaction once a week or less. Dr. Rebecca Harris, a psychologist at England’s University of Bolton, says research shows that “our brains treat loneliness in the same way as physical pain and it has been associated with poor mental and physical health.”

There is a logical conclusion to draw from this research: this holiday season, give the gift of shared experience. It will bring you and your loved one more happiness, become a part of your story, increase your sense of connection, and stave off loneliness. As an added benefit (unless you’re planning to give someone an out of state vacation) you’ll be supporting local businesses. A win all around!

To jumpstart your experience gifting, here are some ideas:

Foodie Boozie Bonding  

  • The Marx Bros. Café Caesar Salad class ($75 per person) teaches you to how to select and prepare the ingredients to get the perfect Caesar; you’ll taste multiple olive oils, balsamic vinegars, Parmesans, finished salads, and carefully chosen wines. Word to the wise: arrange for transportation home, you won’t want drive after this one! Other classes include Food and Wine, Bubbles (Champagne and Food), and Wine and Cheese of the World. Prices vary.
  • Just in case purchasing fresh baked breads and pastries Wed – Sun doesn’t get you through the week, the Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop offers classes to teach you how to make their greatest hits yourself. From Parisian macaroons to smoked meats (and of course, bread!) Fire Island bakers walk you through their recipes (with plenty of taste testing) so that you never have to go without your favorite baked goods. Additionally, special classes can be arranged at the bakery or at your own home for groups of ten or more. $90 per person.
  • La Bodega Wine and Spirits and Spenard Roadhouse recently launched “The Cocktail Club.” Meetings are every other month and are led by a Roadhouse bartender who will teach attendees about the history of the featured cocktail, the ingredients, and how to make it at home. $35 per person.
  • South Restaurant + CoffeeHouse offers a number of specialty dinners and classes, sometimes featuring guest chefs from other restaurants like Jack Sprats or Sacks Café. Learn how to make paella and the perfect gin and tonic or sign up for a Prix Fixe menu with Executive Chef Shane Moore in the exclusive back room. Prices vary.
  • For coffee lovers, Kaladi Brothers Coffee offers two Espresso 101 classes: Basics ($40 per person) and Advanced Drink-making ($60 per person). Expert baristas share their vast knowledge of all things coffee along with lessons learned in some of Anchorage’s busiest cafes.
  • “Imagine your frosty cold pint with a storyteller sidecar and you’re imagining an afternoon with Big Swig,” says Big Swig Tours. Each tour lasts 3.5 hours and a guide escorts you to Midnight Sun Brewing Co., King Street Brewery, and Chilkoot Charlies. You’ll meet the brewers, check out the behind the scenes action, taste 12 beers, enjoy a few appetizers, and kick-back with round trip transportation. $99 per person.
  • The Allen and Petersen Cooking School offers a number of classes, ranging from “Famous Recipes from our Favorite Movies” and “Foods of Morocco” to “I Heart Chocolate!” and “Essential Knife Skills.” A cooking class is a great way to explore a new cuisine or refine your basic recipes. Prices vary.
  • If you’re more inclined towards hosting events yourself, consider signing up for one of Blomma Designs and Bloomsbury Blooms tablescaping classes. You’ll learn the art of arranging flowers and how to dress a table to set the mood for your fete, all with a hyper local focus. Prices vary. or
  • Summit Spice and Tea offers a series of tasting classes for tea, chocolate, oil and vinegar, and honey. Experts walk you through tastings and pairings at the midtown tearoom. $10 – 15 per person.

Winter Revelry 

  • From Running with the Reindeer to the Miners and Trappers ball, the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous has something to offer everyone. The state’s biggest winter festival, Fur Rondy is a 10 day celebration of life in Alaska. Event prices vary.
  • Check the snow report and head down the Seward Highway to Girdwood for a day of carving powder at Alyeska Resort. Make a weekend of it and stay at the hotel; you’ll love relaxing in the hot tub with an up close view of the mountain. Midweek day pass, $60. Weekend and holiday day pass, $75. Room rates vary.
  • Alaska State Parks Public Use Cabins are one of the best ways to share a winter adventure. With 66 cabins and 9 ice huts, you’re sure to find a cozy base for back country skiing, snow shoeing, or winter hiking. Rates vary.
  • The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage offers lessons for all abilities, both skate and classic style. Learning to cross country ski is a great investment in your health and a fun way to spend time outside. A private lesson for two is $75.
  • Head north to Talkeetna for some winter flight-seeing. Sign up for the Grand Denali Tour with Talkeetna Air Taxi and view remote regions of Denali National Park: abandoned gold mines, Kahiltna base camp, and the Wickersham Wall of Denali. $395 per person for a party of two.
  • Curious about winter biking? Experience Alaska’s hot new(ish) trend by renting a fat bike from Arctic Cycles. $70 – 100 per day.

Arts and Culture Aficionado

  • Dinner and a show: a classic night out for good reason – it’s so much fun! Most restaurants in Anchorage offer gift certificates (and a delicious dining experience!), and the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts hosts a number of top notch performances. From Broadway’s Mamma Mia! to Potted Potter, the Unauthorized Harry Potter Experience there is a performance for all tastes. Prefer a smaller venue? Head to the Tap Root Public House for live music every night (Parlor in the Round is rapidly becoming a fan favorite; catch it on the third Thursday of each month) or enjoy a more intimate experience at Cyrano’s Off Center Playhouse. The newly opened Williwaw is also home to great live music; plan a night out for New Year’s Eve and catch the Reel Big Fish! Prices vary by performance. or
  • Learn to make sweet music together by signing up for music lessons! Anchorage is home to many talented musicians who teach lessons; stop by Mammoth Music for recommendations or consider guitar lessons from Todd Grebe or fiddle lessons from Angela Oudean. Members of Todd Grebe & Cold Country and accomplished musicians, they teach in Anchorage when they’re not on tour. $30/30minutes; $45/45 minutes; $60/1 hour.
  • The Alaska Airlines Center is a great new venue for big name performers like Kevin Hart and Toby Keith. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming shows and in the meantime, catch a local sporting event or the Harlem Globetrotters. Prices vary.
  • Artistically inclined? Sign up for art classes together! The Anchorage Museum offers a variety of ways to create and appreciate art, science, history, and culture. The schedule is updated regularly – previous classes include macro and micro photography, textile-making, and portrait painting. Blaines Art is another great venue for classes: current offerings include drawing, watercolor, and oil painting. If you’re looking for a one time experience, check out Palette, a pop-up art studio: classes are held at businesses like Subzero Microlounge or Rethink Home and are led by artists who will walk you through each step to create a themed painting. Prices vary.,, and

Author: Gretchen Fauske

I love Anchorage. I love what it is, what it's been, and what I dream it will be. I share my adventures with DJ (my husband), my fabulous family and friends, two frenchies named Grover and Teddy, and now, all of you. If you love Anchorage too, get in touch - guest posts are welcome!