Happy Holidays: Experiential Gift Ideas for Season Cheer

Buy experiences not things, and we will be happier is what the research now says. The thrill of material purchases is short-lived, but the joy of adventure, travel, activities and encounters last well after the experience is over, bringing more lasting satisfaction in our lives.

So this holiday season, why not give your family and friends experiential gifts? And be sure to buy two, so you can join your loved ones, since studies also tell us that social interaction makes us merrier, too.

Here are some ideas:

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1.  CityPASS has been selling experiences for more than 20 years. These booklets (mobile options are also available) offer prepaid admission to a destination’s top attractions with significant savings. And you get to skip most lines. On a recent trip to Chicago, we were very happy not to queue when we headed to the top of the Skydeck Chicago, where we stood on a heart-stopping  glass ledge 1,353 feet above the city. We also used CityPASS to visit the Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Technology and the Art Institute of Chicago, which has the largest collection of impressionist paintings outside of Paris.  In Toronto, you can explore the CN Tower, Casa Loma, Ripley’s Aquarium and your choice of the Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre. Other destinations include New York City, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Houston, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Southern California.

2. Music is an expression of joy, so concert and theatre tickets are a great choice for Christmas stockings. The heartwarming musical Come From Away is based on a true story of the 6,759 passengers who were stranded in Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11. This immensely popular musical (the longest-running Canadian musical on Broadway) will transfer to the Elgin Theatre in February.

3. Did you know you can fly to Niagara in only 12 minutes? FLYGTA Airlines offers air taxi flights to Niagara, Muskoka, Waterloo, Barrie and Collingwood at  surprisingly affordable rates. Memorable gift ideas for a special someone include private sunset tours of Toronto and a Two Sisters Vineyard flight getaway with wine tour. Or you can customize your own charter adventure. And having no traffic to contend with makes us very happy indeed.

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4. Studies show that a brain on nature is a happy one. Ontario Parks has gift certificates in $20 denominations, or you can purchase a season’s pass to their over 330 parks. Parks Canada Discovery Passes are 20% off until December 31st, which gives access to natural and cultural attractions across the country.

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5. Two Christmases ago, I gave a gift certificate for  iFLY Toronto (Oakville) indoor skydiving facility to my daughter, and it’s a thrill she still talks about today.  Other high-adrenaline presents to consider are EdgeWalk at the CN Tower, ziplining at Skywood Eco Adventure in the 1000 Islands or caving at Escarpment Outdoor Adventures in Beaver Valley.

6. Lifelong learning is a cornerstone of a growth mindset that will amplify contentment for years to come. Parlez Français at Mississauga’s Alliance Francaise or snap your shutters at Learn Photography Canada’s digital photography course on location at Centennial Park Conservatory. If that seems like too much of a commitment, choose an indulgent workshop: talk grape varietals, terroirs and tasting notes at Peller Estates’ Sip and Learn series; sample cheeses and identify flavour profiles at  Tocca’s Cheese Cave at the Ritz-Carlton or create perfect pastas and decadent chocolate desserts with Ritz chefs in their culinary classes.

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7. If you still don’t want to abandon the idea a physical gift to put under the tree, buy one that promises adventure. The Ledlenser MH6 is a rechargeable lightweight head lamp built for extremes, whether you’re caving or just going out for a winter evening run. Leatherman Signal is 19 tools in one, including a straight and serrated blade, fire-starting ferro rod and an emergency whistler to tote on a day hike on the Bruce Trail or Base Camp at Everest. Made of a merino wool blend, Darn Tough cushioned socks stands up to long days on the trail, whether you’re cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park or hiking the Inca Trail.

Personally, I’m buying my kids a snorkelling kit, which I’m hoping will be put to good use on our post-Christmas family road trip to The Florida Keys.