5 Gift ideas that will bring your children “Real Happiness”


I grew up incredibly lucky, waking up to a mountain of green-and-red wrapped presents under our Christmas tree every December 25.  Creeping down the stairs with my brothers, eager with anticipation, seeing the piles and thinking: this is for MEEEEEEEE! SMBHappinessXmasI wanted to give my children the same level of excitement and magic over the holidays that I had growing up, so for their first few years, our generous friends and family got them loads of new stuff.

But after seeing their heads spin as they flitted from one toy to another, and after stepping on too many pieces of brightly colored plastic junk, I decided  it was time to try something new – if only for my organizational sanity. Around the same time that I made this decision, I read an article about the Harvard Grant Study. This study followed people for 75 years – from their college days into their 90’s – to unearth the secrets to a happy, purposeful life.  One of the most amazing findings was that the only thing that matters is relationships. Inspiration struck.  When the question came from aunts and uncles and grandparents about what to get the kids for Christmas (or for birthdays for that matter), why not encourage gifts of time, love, and experiences – to foster relationships? With that in mind, I put together some of my best relationship-fostering gift ideas:

1) Coupon Books: A coupon-book for a book a month, read by the gift giver (via video-chat if they live far away);  a coupon-book for experiences together, like picnics or playgrounds;  or a coupon-book for a commitment to have a simple conversation once a week together.

2) Memberships:  Zoo membership, Butterfly Museum membership, Children’s Museum membership, tumbling or music class – each with the promise that when the giver next visits, they will go with the children.

3) Gift Certificates:  To Barnes & Noble, or a make-your-own pottery place, or a favorite restaurant – so Mommy/Daddy/Gift Giver can take them on a special 1×1 date.

4) Old-Fashioned Games:  Zingo, Boggle, Monopoly, Qwirkle, Suspend, Mastermind… there are a ton of smart, interactive games out there!

5) “What I Wish For You” letters:  This may be the most time-intensive but emotionally rewarding idea.  Imagine a little notebook that can be compiled when your children go off into the world, filled with loves notes from their family through the years about all that they see in your child, what values they wish to share, how much your children are loved.

Once you have the list of things you think your children would like – and especially if you, like me, are in charge of noting who is giving what gift to whom, here are some fabulous resources to help you stay organized:

Experiences:  The SoKind Registry is an alternative gift registry that encourages gifts, experiences, time.

Things: Top Five Ways to Organize Your Holiday Gift Lists, by one of our fellow SMB contributors. Please leave your suggestions for gift ideas and ways to stay organized below!!


  1. Sara – I ADORE this post. I agree, less is more. I suggested the Butterfly Museum membership from the grandparents this year. Hoping they get it. 🙂

  2. Love this, Sara! So True!
    One of the most powerful gifts we gave our children was to teach them to “give back”. Every year around the holidays we would go shopping together for underprivileged child. When my children were a little older they did it themselves. I would literally let them loose at Target with a budget and they would each shop for a one specific child, (you can contact any organization that serves at risk/in need children and they will provide you with a child’s specifics re: size, gender, age). While I sat in the Starbucks enjoying my seasonal latte of choice:), my children chose the gifts themselves and learned about shopping on a budget. Then they wrapped the gifts themselves and we took them down to the shelter together. Really one of my children’s most memorable parts of holidays!

    BTW, Have you read, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D.? Really thought provoking book about what kids REALLY need from us to be happy.
    Check it out…

    • Hi Brenlie – I haven’t read that book, thank you for the recommendation! I love the idea about choosing someone and something so specific for your children to do to understand exactly what it means to give back, both with money and time.

  3. Great ideas Miss Brenlie & love those of Sara too, it reminded me growing up in Mexico where definitely relationships were far more important than any gift. As well, I have been trying to share those same values with our relatives. I have also encouraged to get to the kids tickets for shows or the theater. Just anything that is a great excuse to spend even more time with them because this is an utmost need for their growth. Children are little for not too long so we should encourage time with friends & family, these moments will stay forever. I really love this time of year and for me it is about reflecting, giving, showing love and joy. I like doing things with my hands for others. My husband and I we love elders so we visit elders with no family & it is very rewarding & my son loves it. Life is not about me or us, it is about the others

    • Paulina, thank you for sharing even more ideas – quality time (theater, shows) and hand-crafts make for such warm memories, and it’s great to hear that these values are important across cultures!

  4. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THIS!! It is so true that relationships are more important than any ‘stuff’ we can buy!! I really hope to incorporate some of this into birthdays as well!! Thanks for wonderful ideas and keep the inspirational articles coming!!

  5. Sara

    I loved reading this. Throughout the year we save things Andrew has done whether written or drawn, cards, things we’ve done together as a family and make albums or picture frames of a mixture of it all. Just really bad about using it as a Christmas gift. Some people make beautiful scrap books. During the busy season I’m so over whelmed these are great ideas.

  6. Excellent article because it’s a wonderful reminder of how simple and easy things really are for our children. I think it also helps us learn how to push back on all those other things that have short term value in life. Thank you.

  7. Thank you for some awesome ideas Sara, I have adopted a few this year for family near and far. Our kids certainly have more than they could possibly need and it’s just ‘stuff,’ I love the idea of creating memories and connections that will last much longer than anything we own! Keep the great ideas coming!

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