Dr. Nancy Mramor Kajuth, Ph.D.

Fun, joy, happiness, adventure, memories, new experiences, new places, and opening up to new ideas and feelings and special moments are all gifts we can give to ourselves and others this holiday season. And the best thing about them is that they will last long after a sparkly ribbon is broken on a brightly colored box or the special paper is torn and tossed aside.

Research shows that a positive adventure brings more happiness and lingers in the memory long after a physical gift, in most cases. One of the reasons includes the element of surprise! If you typically give a gift in a pretty package and switch this year’s gift to an adventure, the surprise begins to open up happy feelings as soon as it is unveiled. Then add the element of curiosity, wondering where this adventure will take you and what it will be like begins to create the experience even before the excursion is real. And the benefits fully open up when you have positive emotions during the time of the adventure. That is when the gift becomes locked in the memory forever.

So what are some experiences that might bring such a high level of happiness and gratitude? In segments for the KDKA Pittsburgh Today Live show, based on my book, Top Ten Tips for Lasting Happiness, I offered tips on how to have happiness for a full year, and you can expand your gift beyond the moment of giving, too. Here are just a few.

  • Consider going somewhere you’ve never been for a weekend or a day. The fuller the experience, the more memorable, so a trip to a flower show or new city creates a sensory-rich experience.
  • Take a trip to an ice cream parlor, a hike or bike ride in the park, a trip to a movie or theater, a thought-provoking lecture, comedy club, or a foraging trip.
  • Food is one of the most sensory rich experiences you can have, especially if you share something new, with a variety of colors and spices. A home cooked or catered Indian, Chinese, or wine-tasting dinner with a rich chocolate and wine buffet might be a variation from your usual holiday meal. And the guests create an opportunity for learning from one another, communing with old and new friends and experiencing connection. Think of bringing someone new to an old group of friends or inviting new people who don’t go home for the holidays.
  • Food and other smells enhance the experience, as the olfactory sense is the one that immediately creates a memory. Whenever you smell special foods, a perfume, the scent of flowers or aromatherapy, the scent brings back emotions associated with the memory. If you’ve ever passed someone on the street who is wearing the same perfume your favorite aunt wore, you know how quickly the memories can flood the brain.

And if there is a physical gift or souvenir that you bring from the experience, the exhilaration of the entire event will be rekindled each time you see or hold it. So remember that the standard of happiness in life isn’t the things, it is absolutely the amount of joy connected to them that makes the gift last season after season.

Dr. Nancy can be reached at www.realconsciousliving.com