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The Gift of Experience: Giving Thanks Instead of Stuff

From the Director's DeskMargy 021.JPG

As I write this message, retailers are vying for the dubious distinction of being the first to open their doors to the consumer frenzy known as "Black Friday." But this year, I think they've gone too far - and down the wrong track. In their zeal to start the spending spree earlier and earlier, they've intruded on the one day set aside to give thanks for family, food, and friendship...and just as more and more studies are reporting a concerted backlash to this consumption-fueled start to the holiday season.

Survey data reveal a notable change in consumer preferences towards new sustainable traditions. Nielsen reports that post-recession consumers have reassessed their lifestyles to become more socially aware, environmentally conscious, and civically engaged. Local personal finance guru Chris Farrell told LearningLife audiences about the converging trends of sustainability and "The New Frugality." And a recent study conducted by Cornell University proved that giving experiences deliver greater happiness and satisfaction than material gifts. The pursuit of experiences over possessions, they've all concluded, puts us on a firmer path to happiness.

This won't be news to any of our LearningLife audiences! Together we've been witnessing this trend firsthand for years. Every day you share inspiring stories with us about the learning experiences that have created lasting memories for you: a grandmother and granddaughter enjoying a geology tour of the St. Croix River Valley together; a son bringing his father to a Saturday morning seminar on a topic of shared interest; a husband and wife subscribing to Headliners and making the Thursday evening discussions their own special date nights; a group of friends enrolling in a short course about Norway before embarking on a cruise through the fjords; sisters revisiting the women's movement of the 1970s during last summer's Century of Ideas series.

It's been our privilege to organize these LearningLife experiences for you, and you've made it a particularly gratifying year. You responded in record numbers to our Century of Ideas series last summer. So, this winter, we're building on the seminal ideas of the past century to explore the future in another special series, "What's Next?" So many of you attended our fall Sampler, we've got another one planned for you in January. (Mark your calendar now: January 15, 7 p.m.!) The variety of topics covered by our short courses has never been greater or your response to them more positive. The Saturday morning seminars--new just last year--increased in enrollment this fall by 25 percent, and Headliners is regularly attracting capacity crowds.

You don't need to be told that experiences are more valuable than consumer items. You prove it every day.

On behalf of the LearningLife staff, I wish you a joyous holiday season and look forward to sharing many more learning experiences with you in the New Year.

Margy Ligon

Director, Personal Enrichment Programs

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