When my friends asked what I wanted for my birthday this year, I knew straight away: I wanted their time.

Like any friendship group, the older we get and the more wrapped up in our busy lives we are, the harder it is to get everyone together.

Meetings, even brief ones, need scheduled weeks – sometimes months – in advance. So, that is why, for my birthday, I wanted us all to go somewhere as a group. One of my best friends moved to Bristol a couple of months ago and we hadn’t seen her since, so a trip down south seemed the perfect choice.

Instead of gifts, I said I would love for each just to come with me if they could. I wanted the experience of being in Bristol with them, instead of anything material they would all chip in for.

It has been worth it. As it comes to the end of the weekend, I can already reflect on far too many moments of laughter than I can count. I know that, in future, there will be times one of us will go “remember in Bristol…”

It’s not that there is zero pleasure in giving or receiving material gifts, particularly if they are thoughtful. Materialistic or not, my experience of what makes people most happy are the presents that had thinking behind them – “it’s the thought that counts” really holds true.

Even as I sit writing this, I am wearing a beautiful bracelet, gifted to me jointly by my two best friends, which I already highly treasure and likely will forever. It’s one of those that gets welded to your wrist, with the hope of it lasting forever, or at least a considerable amount of time.

Other friends came together to buy me a newspaper from the date I was born, because I am a journalist. I loved their thinking. It isn’t something I would have ever owned otherwise, but I very much enjoyed receiving. It was thoughtful and interesting.

Yet, thinking about it, what is it that I enjoy about either item? The gifts themselves, or the fact that both were things I got given during this weekend away, each now serving as a reminder?

I truly think it may be the latter. I was (am) happy to have been given them, but just having my friends close to me for this weekend would have been a gift enough. I would have left feeling complete and happy.

When it comes to gifting experiences, it can be as small as a cup of coffee together, or something crazy as a skydive (an actual gift from my partner’s father to his wife for Christmas last year). Gifting your time, or giving others the resources to go experience something unforgettable, will always be appreciated.

What I am saying here is not exactly a ground-breaking or new idea. Many have presented the same argument before. Experts say experiences invoke a stronger and longer-lasting emotional response from recipients than objects do and that spending quality time together makes us feel socially connected.

There are also some indicators we might be craving such feelings more. Last year, a survey by Haven Holidays found that over half of Brits prefer getting gifted an experience, or money towards one, over receiving material items.

Yet, particularly as we find ourselves in the lead-up to Christmas (and I am sorry to anyone not in the festive spirit yet for bringing up the C word), I also find myself forgetting all these notions.

Instead, I was already racking my brain on what items to buy for whom, frantically googling gift guides, bookmarking tabs for things to purchase on Black Friday, and asking friends and relatives about what they already own and what they need, with questioning skills akin to someone involved in espionage.

Despite many of us seemingly craving the joy experiences bring, we end up falling into the “material giving” trap that, I believe, consumerism has a lot to answer for. While gifting is a longstanding phenomenon, this overly consumer-heavy way of it is not.

Gifting in itself is a long-standing tradition. It has been linked to our need to build community and strengthen relationships and has been a part of cultures across the world for centuries. Even cavemen apparently already gifted each other small items, like rocks or animal teeth, to potential partners.

For us, Christmas in particular has become synonymous with giving someone else something to unwrap. Much of that comes from popular culture. TV shows, movies, and especially adverts, all tell us that the tree should be surrounded by a mountain of gifts.

It likely doesn’t help either that we are a culture that loves buying things. Retail therapy is real (and I know it because it is my vice). For many, me included, shopping provides a form of relief. Faced with the constant possibilities of owning something new that we (think) will make our life better, actually getting it makes us feel good, even though often only short-term.

So, really it is unsurprising that we may turn towards buying these same items to gift to people. We think about the joy owning such an item would bring them, whilst also enjoying the act of buying it ourselves.

While I don’t want to sound in any way ungrateful – I am grateful to anyone that takes the time and money to try and do something nice for me – the focus on material items and giving someone lots to unpack for Christmas day, is also how we end up with things we might not want or need (apparently, last year, a person in Hamilton in Lanarkshire was thought to be one of the first in the UK to return their unwanted Christmas gift at 1am on December 25).

Experiences, on the other hand, have so much to offer and are far more likely to be a sure hit with the person you are giving them to. Sure, they aren’t a certain winner. Like with other gifts, some thinking will need to go in to ensure they are personal.

But, if that is ensured, they are wonderful gifts that give in so many ways. They gift anticipation. Unlike the dopamine rush we feel from buying or getting gifted a material item, having an experience to look forward to gifts far longer-lasting joy. I, for example, have been writing about how excited I feel about the upcoming Bristol trip for weeks.

More importantly though, they gift memories. Particularly when enjoyed together, they can bring you closer to someone. Whatever the experience is – one evening over dinner, some shared drinks in the pub, a weekend in Bristol – it will be time spent together that will spent.

It really is like the Mastercard advert says (and I hate myself to bring up a company’s clever advertising slogan that builds on our human need to have these special moments with people, after complaining about capitalism in the same breath): “There are some things money can’t buy; for everything else, there's Mastercard.”

Creating lasting memories with the people you love is irreplaceable with anything materialistic and that’s the sort of gifts I want to give more of.