What's the best graduation gift? The answer might surprise you.

While in the midst of this year's graduation season, many families may have pondered the best gift for their graduate: an experience, like a vacation, or a commemorative object, such as a ring.

Previous studies have shown that experiences are more strongly correlated to happiness than material objects. But Selin Malkoc, a professor of marketing at The Ohio State University, wanted to be certain exactly which type of present would create the most lasting memory, so she conducted a series of studies to find out.

 Malkoc and other researchers surveyed hundreds of study participants. In some studies, researchers asked participants to remember their most recent graduation or other important event and how they celebrated it. Then, researchers asked participants how they feel now about the event.

Researchers found that the more time had passed since the event, the less emotionally attached participants felt to it. However, participants who bought or were given memorabilia in connection to their special event felt a stronger emotional connection to the event. These participants were also more likely to report pride or joy about their graduation.

The researchers say that experiences generally become disconnected in our memories from the accomplishments that inspired them as time goes on. However, when people have a permanent object such as a class ring or piece of jewelry to associate with the event, we "get transported back" to the event, Malkoc writes. In other words, the objects help keep the memory alive.

However, these findings would come as a surprise to most people, Malkoc writes. When given a choice of how to celebrate an event, 79% of participants selected an experience rather than an object (Malkoc, The Conversation, 5/30).

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