11 Top-Rated Experience Gifts for Connecting with Loved Ones Off-Screen
Research has shown that social connections, whether they be with family or with friends, can have a number of benefits for one’s physical and mental health. People with strong social ties experience reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and cognitive decline, as well as improved immune function, reduced stress and anxiety, and increased happiness and well-being. Social connection is also a common theme across the blue zones cultures.
By contrast, in the fast-paced lives of many Americans, it is growing ever easier to let televisions and “busyness” get in the way of spending quality time with loved ones. These factors are contributing to a modern loneliness epidemic, which has impacts on individual health and well-being. The holiday season is an important, special time for families and friends to turn this trend around and be together away from screens–sharing meals, revisiting traditions, and creating memories.
Giving gifts that lead to future shared experiences can be a great way to continue promoting social connection and well-being amongst family and friends into the new year. A growing body of research, including from global happiness hotspots studied by Blue Zones, has shown that people who invest in experiences over material goods are some of the happiest. Gifts of experience can encourage people to learn new skills, feel a sense of accomplishment, interact with others, and find joy. Check out this roundup of unique, top-rated experience gifts below!
$39 from Tales
According to a study by researchers at the University of Cagliari, centenarians in Sardinia’s blue zones region rely on frequent social interactions and close family ties to maintain cognitive function and give their lives meaning. As loved ones age, asking them questions about their lives can help to both promote their well-being and connect with them on a deeper level.
This Life Story Interview Kit from Tales contains 150 unique, expertly-crafted question cards for prompting loved ones into sharing some of their best life stories. Consider gifting it to a family member as a way to spend more quality time together and hear some entertaining stories that may not have come up otherwise!
Starting at $23/month on bluezones.com
People gather daily with family and friends for meals and social events in the blue zones areas of the world. Cooking itself can be a social activity, encouraging collaboration and communication throughout the process and rewarding the cooks with a delicious meal at the end.
Bond with loved ones over the shared experience of learning to cook the Blue Zones way by enrolling in the Blue Zones Cooking Course. Taught by best-selling author and Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner, all course modules are online and conveniently available anywhere, anytime. Learn how to make Sardinian minestrone, a traditional Costa Rican breakfast plate, regional Okinawan dishes, and more through this one-of-a-kind interactive course.
$65 on Amazon
Happy people often have hobbies that help them stay connected socially, including sports, music, art, or spending time outside. In Denmark (one of the happiest places in the world according to Blue Zones research) 95 percent of Danes belong to a club, many of which are organized around common interests. Engaging in enriching hobbies can also help to significantly boost one’s mental well-being. Research has shown that people who develop a long-term appreciation for the arts–as many do in Denmark and in Singapore–have reduced risks for cognitive decline later in life.
This pottery kit is a great place to start for beginners looking for a new artistic hobby. It comes with enough materials for two novice sculptors to try their hand at clay, making it an ideal experience gift for friends, partners, or family members.
$17 on Amazon
Finding the time to regularly nurture one’s relationship with a spouse or partner provides boosts to both longevity and happiness. Spending quality time together–in scenarios where both people can give complete attention to their partner and engage in a shared experience–brings more positive impacts.
Drawing a blank on new and fun ways to spend date nights with a partner? This collection of adventurous date idea cards is a great solution and could serve as a thoughtful and meaningful gift. The box comes with 40 different scratch-off date cards, each of which feature a few hints about the mystery date. Grab a coin, scratch off the date, and try something new together!
$60 on Amazon
Another way to spend that beneficial, quality time with loved ones can be by trying new and unique activities with the whole family. Looking to switch up longstanding routines of family dinners or game nights to something more exciting? The Adventure Challenge: Family Edition is a great tool for doing just that.
This scratch-off book is filled with 50 different family activities that range from baking challenges to craft sessions, outdoor excursions, and more. The book also comes with spaces to add photographs from each adventure, as well as journal entries. Upon completion of all the activities, it becomes a scrapbook of memories to look back on.
$25 on Amazon
Painting is a wonderful activity for downshifting, cultivating happiness, and connecting with others, including children. In addition to the simple act of creating something colorful, painting can also help young children to convey ideas and express their emotions. Paint sets can be great experience gifts for encouraging artistic hobbies and spending creative time with kids.
This set of finger paints is made from natural and organic vegetables, so they are non-toxic, plant-based, and even edible. Simply add a dash of water to any of the five paint powders and paint away.
$40 on Amazon
Fire pits often serve as natural gathering spaces, drawing people in with their warmth and ambiance and inviting storytelling, music, and conversation. This tabletop concrete fire pit is portable, smokeless, odorless, and can be used both indoors and outdoors. It’s an ideal gift for the frequent host for use in gatherings year-round, from cozy winter evenings to summer nights with s’mores.
$50 on Amazon
Baths are another way to practice downshifting, encouraging self-care and relaxation. This all-in-one bath bomb making kit serves as a two-fold experience gift–first, as a hands-on science experiment to create the bath bombs, and then as a tool for enhancing the next spa night.
The kit comes with 100% pure essential oils, including calming scents like lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, and grapefruit. Gift it to a family, friend, or partner and plan a crafting session and spa night together.
$20 on Amazon
The Danish cultural concept of hygge, or “the art of relaxing in a warm, cozy environment,” encourages people to regularly spend candlelit evenings in the company of loved ones. These cozy environments help Danes, some of the world’s happiest people, to endure their long, dark winters inside.
The Hygge Game is a heartwarming conversation card set that invites groups to spend quality time together, sharing stories, laughs, and memories. It comes with over 300 thought-provoking questions designed to incite meaningful conversations and create the ideal hygge atmosphere. It’s a great gift for enhancing future family dinner nights or small parties with friends.
$30 on Amazon
Escape rooms are exciting ways to encourage group bonding, requiring critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication. With this kit, the escape room experience can be recreated at home! It comes with 19 mental and physical puzzles that must be solved within one hour to complete the game. Gift it to family members or friends to switch up game nights or to use as an icebreaker in workshops or classes.
$110 at Mosaic Candy Shop
This ceramic mosaic kit is a unique, crafty gift for creating an experience reminiscent of childhood wooden block sets. Developed by a team of mosaic artisans, the kit comes with everything needed for a mosaic beginner, including a base, tile pieces, gloves, grout, and access to a video tutorial. Gift it to a creative loved one to encourage a new and engaging hobby, or purchase the kit and wrap the final mosaic as a thoughtful DIY gift.
Sophia Piña-McMahon is the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Blue Zones. She is a multimedia journalist and marketing professional who specializes in stories at the nexus of food, culture, health, and the environment. Sophia’s work has previously been published in Lonely Planet, the Mad Agriculture Journal, and local news outlets. She holds a Masters of the Environment in Sustainable Food Systems from University of Colorado Boulder and a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology and Geography from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.