What Would It Take to Shift Our Gifting Away from "Stuff"?

by New Dream   |   October 9, 2017

Kelley Dennings

Changing our behavior isn't easy. If it were, we would all exercise regularly and eat healthfully. Even when we know something might be “the right thing to do,” we don’t always do it. 

Our actions—or lack of action—may be due to peer pressure, personal motivation and values, perceived cost, a lack of convenience, and the list goes on. But, with the right tools, messaging, and prompts, might it be possible to shift our behavior in meaningful and lasting ways?

New Dream fellow Kelley Dennings has spent years studying and working at the intersection of environmental science and social and behavioral change. In June 2017, she launched a pilot project for New Dream exploring people’s motivations, perceptions, and thoughts around reducing personal consumption. 

Kelley hopes that by better understanding the barriers that people face to reducing consumption, she can implement a campaign to help support personal decisions to decrease consumption during popular gift-giving holidays, such as Christmas and Hanukkah. To design her campaign, Kelley is borrowing diverse theories of social and behavioral change from marketing, psychology, sociology, and elsewhere.

In July, Kelley conducted four focus group meetings in Virginia, North Carolina, and Louisiana to assess people’s attitudes and behaviors around three specific areas of consumption: holiday shopping, the giving of “experiential” gifts (such as theater tickets or cooking lessons), and the use of gift registries. Based on the themes that emerged from those discussions, Kelley is now conducting a survey to learn more about one specific behavior: the gifting of experiences rather than material items. 

Kelley's hypothesis is that by spending more time with friends and family and in the outdoors this holiday season, rather than prioritizing the consumption of material goods, participants will report greater happiness and well-being.  

For more information about New Dream’s Social and Behavior Change Campaign and other ways to get involved, please contact Kelley at kelley@newdream.org.

Kelley Dennings is New Dream’s Behavior and Social Change Fellow. Kelley started her career in the recycling industry and has worked for both governments and organizations at the local, state, and national levels. In a previous position with Keep America Beautiful, she conducted various social marketing, social media, and traditional advertising projects. She also helped the American Forest Foundation build a social change program around landowner conservation. Kelley is currently working toward a master’s in public health at the University of South Florida.