Give the gift that lasts forever: A great experience

Matthew Reddin, Staff writer

Buying presents for people is hard. So stop doing it — and get them something they’ll like even better.

Both scientific studies and good old common sense are increasingly arguing that material goods aren’t as fulfilling as shared experiences. According to one study by psychologist Thomas Gilovich, while people believe buying or receiving things will bring them happiness and satisfaction, it’s actually experiences — vacations, group adventures, time spent with friends and family — that provide long-term happiness.

That’s great to know in theory. Now put it into practice. In addition to all the boxes you’re thinking of putting under the proverbial tree this holiday season, consider some of these experiential options for your gift list.

DRINK WITH PAINTER’S INK

Throughout childhood, kids are tasked with making art — finger-paintings, doodles, Play-Doh sculptures. As adults, we rarely have the luxury of artistic creation.

Perhaps that’s why the idea of painting and drinking has taken off across the country — it’s the perfect blend of juvenile and grown-up relaxation.

The concept is simple: show up, have a drink, paint something. Most of the time, you’re led by an instructor, but many groups also offer free painting days, when you can explore independently.

For a good example of what you can expect, consider Splash Studio, 184 N. Broadway, Milwaukee (splashmilwaukee.com). Co-owner Marla Poytinger and husband David opened the painting bar in 2012 as a way to blend her background in arts management and his former work in logistics for the beer industry.

Splash offers eight or nine three-hour sessions a week, each featuring a local artist, for $29 ($34 on select days). When participants arrive, Splash provides them with a canvas, easel, paint, brushes and an apron, as well as a full-service bar. The artist then walks the group through the session’s featured painting — although Marla says participants are free to paint something of their own choosing.

At the end of the session, the painters get to take the original art home, which means giving someone a Splash Studio experience is, in a way, giving a material gift too.

Splash specifically caters to an adult crowd (participants have to be 15 or older), and only has a Milwaukee location, so it may not be the perfect gift for recipients who would want to bring their kids or who live outside southeast Wisconsin. Other painting bar options to consider: Vino and Van Gogh (Madison, vinoandvangoghmadison.com), PaintBar (Delafield and Madison, paint-bar.com), A Stroke of Genius (Waukesha, paintwinestudio.com) and national franchise PaintNite, which holds its events in bars and other venues throughout southeast Wisconsin (paintnite.com).

EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY

Have a friend who’d rather get out of the house than get a gift? Two smart, scrappy startups offer a solution: A modern-day twist on the coupon book that’ll feel adventurous, not cheap.

The more established of the startups is City Tins (citytins.com), started by Christin Cilento Ladky and Tara Laatsch as a fundraiser idea. The company sells tins of coasters that double as coupons for area businesses, offering gift recipients a more affordable night out and an excuse to try new things. All tins are $30.

The company offers restaurant and bar & lounge coaster sets for Milwaukee and Madison. Each tin contains more than 20 coasters offering $10 off a $25 tab. New this year in Milwaukee is a performing arts tin, with each coaster providing a buy one, get one ticket offer. And Ladky says the company hopes to launch a pet goods-focused tin in the spring to target a new niche and to give something to offer after the other tins sell out during the holiday season — as they always do.

If your gift recipient is really just a beer person, you could try this year’s PubPass (getpubpass.com). PubPass offers a passport-like booklet for $25 that entitles the holder to free beer at 25 local establishments throughout Milwaukee. Co-founder Jake Nyberg says the company pursues bars that are “places we would take our friends who were in from out of town.” Most, but not all, of the 25 bars specialize in craft beer.

GET OUT — OF A LOCKED ROOM

For many people, being trapped in a room with no easy way out would be a nightmare. For the rest, consider offering them an opportunity to jump on a new 2015 trend: escape rooms.

Already a hit abroad, escape rooms have been springing up across the United States over the past few years, as entrepreneurs hop on the bandwagon. Essentially, escape rooms are real-life versions of puzzle mysteries that are ubiquitous across other forms of media — like the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure — in which a hero or group has to decode a series of increasingly complex clues to get out of a room before time runs out. In the real-world version, the consequences of time running out are much lower, but the challenge provides a thrill that increases the excitement of solving each consecutive puzzle.

Themes of individual rooms vary, as do difficulties. Escape Chambers (escapechambers.com), a franchise with locations in Milwaukee and Madison, has rooms like “The Assignment” (group members play FBI agents trying to prove a history professor is a criminal mastermind), “The Heist” (groups are thieves hoping to rob an art gallery and get away with it) or “The Raid” (a drug raid turns bad when the group finds a time bomb instead). Because a room isn’t fun for participants after they solve it — or if they solve it — escape room companies will change rooms throughout the year.

Tickets for rooms average around $30, but vary from company to company. For other options, consider checking out: Escape Room Wisconsin (Appleton and Green Bay, escaperoomwisconsin.com), EscapeMKE (Milwaukee, escapemke.com) and Seven Keys to Escape (Racine, sevenkeystoescape.com).