Home All Positive Psychology Holiday Ideas from PPND

Positive Psychology Holiday Ideas from PPND

written by Editor S.M. 17 December 2008

Senia Maymin is the founder and editor-in-chief of PositivePsychologyNews.com. She was the series editor for the Positive Psychology News book series that recently published the first book, Resilience: How to Navigate Life's Curves. (Bio, Articles)

Editor’s Note:  What holiday gifts will you be giving in a few days?  Here are some of our favorite gifts related to positive psychology concepts.  Please post additional gift thoughts at the end of this article – we’d love to hear what you recommend. Thank you for being with us throughout this year.  
Wishing you the happiest of holiday times!

Fun and Thoughtful Gifts We Love

Senia MayminPublicani happiness freedomSenia: Happiness and freedom: freedom explains 30% of the change in happiness over time.  I highly, highly recommend my father’s novel Publicani, published in 2008 – it’s about one family and freedom.  It is about deep-seated happiness, a character novel that everyone has called a real page-turner. Plus, if you read closely, the character Sarah is loosely based on the most kick-arse verison of me!  Publicani by Zak Maymin ($7.95). ……………………
And because I strongly believe in quantity time as well as quality time…  I recommend playing board games with family and friends during the holidays.


Doug TurnerDoug: Here’s what I am doing for my wife this year: we often comment to each other about how blessed we are and how thankful we are. I decided to take the alphabet and come up with a word corresponding to each letter that is related to something we are grateful for. For example, “A” is for our daughter Annie, “B” is for our Beach House, “C” is for Church, “D” is for our Diplomas, etc. I’ve written a little paragragh for each item and I’m assembling them into a little book. I’m also planning to upload them into one of those digital picture frames so they will scroll by on her desk in her office. I’m having fun putting it all together and I hope it will be a constant reminder of all the things we are grateful for. BTW – if you have any ideas for the letter “X,” I’d appreciate it – I’m stumped on that one…


Sherri: When my daughter was younger, I took her and some friends to a very chic mall with the understanding that we would not be buying anything. The idea was to see how much fun we could have while not spending any money. They turned it into a sort of “Hollywood Dress Up” day. We all tried on prom dresses and cocktail dresses and fabulous fine jewelry and $500 shoes. We went out for a simple soup and sandwich lunch. We even sat in the massage chair at Sharper Image at the end of the day. The next day some of the kids went to serve communion at the Common Cathedral, a church service for the homeless held regularly on the Boston Common. I made bag lunches with some other moms, and the kids served lunch after the service.

So we had fun and did good work. We had the gifts of friendship, love and kindness!


Sean DoyleSean: Every year, for Christmas and my birthday, I only ask that my kids give me one thing.  I ask that they write a poem on any topic that they’d like.  I then put theirs names and dates on them, and keep them in a binder.


Margaret GreenbergDonors Choose DOT orgMargaret: To support positive psychology & education: how about donorschoose.org? Teachers from around the country ask for things they need for their students/classroom/projects and you get to choose what you’d like to support. And then the kids write back to you w/photos. Very cool. My daughter Maegan, a Teach For America teacher, requested 22 dictionaries for her 5th grade classroom in Houston (the ones they had were so old, Hawaii wasn’t even listed as a state!) and got the funding from a generous donor. The kids wrote back to the donor and enclosed pictures of themselves.


Gail SchneiderGail: Something I am working on for my daughter: An album of special pictures for her – some of  her alone, with me, with her father over the years.  Some that she probably has never seen or doesn’t remember any more.  Many of them more recent from trips we have taken, etc. Carefully edited to tell a story about her and our family.


Nicholas HallPublicani happiness freedomNick: I heartily suggest to our PPND readers a book that is a fun and exciting page-turner, a quick read, and makes people think about freedom and personal strength: “Publicani” by Zak Maymin.  ……………….I also suggest giving everyone who means something to you a huge hug, and telling them in a couple of sentences why they are so important to you.


Louis AlloroLouis:  I am making a calendar of family photos as a family gift right now 🙂 PPND readers might get some ideas from my earlier article, A Creative Challenge for an Abundant Season.


Suzann PileggiSuzie: Scott Asalone, MAPP ’08, and his business partner Jan Sparrow just released a new book, “Pathways to Greatness: 77 Inspirational essays from The Greatness Project” that is available for purchase at http://www.greatinsightspress.com.  The authors address the question of “what makes greatness?” through the use of anecdotes, theory and research into leaders who have achieved the top echelon of success in their fields, ranging from business to public service. 

I really like printing out a “Family Tree of Strengths.”  I did that for my family for Christmas last year. At Thanksgiving, I had all 14 family members (adults and kids) take the VIA. Then I made a table listing everyone’s top 5 strengths and made it into a booklet. I highlighted one of their top strengths and wrote a few sentences of a time they exemplified that strength.


Emiliya ZhivotovskayaFantazein and GoalsEmiliya: Caroline Miller recommends a fantazein clock that you can program with your goals as a primer. ……………  Also, I recommend making a personal wall art of inspirational quotes for a friend.


Kathryn: How about scanning stacks of old photos and copying them onto CDs to give family members. Be sure to label them – for example by giving them descriptive file names. It is amazing how many old photographs families have where nobody remembers who is who any more — pictures that might be real treasures if they connected with family stories. If you have old letters and newspaper articles, you can also scan them to share. I copied all my father’s letters from the Naval Academy to share with my two brothers. Here are some examples from a stack of letters my grandfather sent home from WW I: Cherries a Few Miles from the Front and A Letter Home from the WW I Front.

My friends and I always make donations to favorite charities as our Christmas presents to each other. The person being honored gets to choose where the money goes. We’ve been doing this for years, ever since we started running out of ideas for things. The choice is part of what is important. My choice tends to move around, depending on what is topmost in my mind. This year it is the MAPP scholarship program again.



Love ActuallyTimothy: When was the last time you express your love to your family?

Ok, I know we Asian are shy and may feel out of our depth in expressing our love, and maybe we need some innovative ways to do this. How about stealing some ideas from movies? Here is my favourite scene from Love Actually – Sounds good? Gifts don’t necessarily have to be pricey. Yourself and your love would be the most lovely present. Go and express them to those you love.

Snatching the opportunity to express all the followings in Xmas would be a good idea:

  • A warm hug, free but invaluable…
  • tell them why they are important to you,
  • and how grateful you are to them,
  • or, just 3 words – I LOVE YOU.


Eleanor: For my husband, I am creating a cheap weekend getaway by using my points from my frequent travels to book a hotel room and transportation to another city to see an art exhibit that he’s been wanting to see. By using my points the whole trip will cost the price of meals and admission to the museum. The real gift is the memories which I will document in a scrapbook as an added gift.

A Chinespie Holiday MixFor friends we sometimes make a collection of our favorite holiday music on CD which my husband, daughter and I collaborate on—each contributing our favorite selections. My husband makes a nice cover for the case, which we date and sign. It doesn’t have to be a holiday theme, but a theme makes it fun to choose music selections throughout the year. We have fun teasing each other’s choices. It makes a nice “hostess” gift, as well as a stocking stuffer. For family and friends who know us well enough, it provides an added activity—guessing whose musical taste each song represents! Then we add it to our collection and savor it anew each year.

Having worked in non-profit organizations for many years, I know that they are among the first to feel the pinch in tough economic times. As a gift to your community, a person or family could adopt a local non-profit for a year of giving—time, expertise, money, etc. It’s the small local groups that suffer the most.


Margarita TarragonaMargarita Tarragona: Something I enjoy is getting truly funny jokes from friends in my email, or links to funny Utube clips.The other night I laughed so hard I cried with a joke, and my kids were cracking up just from seeing me laugh so hard. So I would suggest a good free gift would be to make a small selection of funny things and send it to your friends/loved ones.

Send a loved one a note with your memory of a good time you spent together and was meaningful to you, sort of a gratitude/savoring exercise. If you have a picture, even better. If you have pictures from gradeschool or highschool with a friend, digitalize it and send it.


You may be interested in books that have been reviewed on PPND in 2008:


Additional thoughts on gifts:



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Marie-Josee Salvas 17 December 2008 - 12:04 pm

All great ideas, thank you all for these positivity-generating suggestions! It’s a refreshing change from what we’ve been hearing on the news lately!

About book suggestions, I typically stick to psychology/health-related books and rarely allow myself the treat of fiction. Lately I dove into Publicani and must say that Senia and Nick are right: it truly is a page-turner! It is a nice change to use reading as a relaxing activity rather than as a continuing education tool. And as an added benefit, reading fiction helps develop the right side of the brain! We could all use a bit more creativity, no?!?

Happy Holidays everyone!


aaron jarden 17 December 2008 - 3:59 pm

Of course the literature would indicate it’s also about the spacing out of presents… (not sure that this will apply well to young children though…)

Marcial Losada 17 December 2008 - 4:25 pm

Maybe the greated present of all is the Present itself. If we could give each other our presence in the here and now, nothing that really matters would be missed. Our longings for better times and our memories of good days, would vanished in healthy oblivion.

wayne jencke 17 December 2008 - 4:31 pm

Marcial – nice play on words – I agree

Marcial Losada 17 December 2008 - 4:44 pm

Thanks, Wayne. Not easy to get an Aussie to agree. Have a Giddey!

Timothy T.C. So 17 December 2008 - 8:27 pm

Thanks Marcial – Nothing could be happier than PRESENTING in our holidays with our families or people we love, this is particular true to those who are studying and working abroad like me. Best, Timothy

wayne jencke 17 December 2008 - 8:55 pm

Marcial – you have the wrong idea about aussies. We are very agreeable – we just have low BS thresholds.

Margaret 17 December 2008 - 9:33 pm

I love the idea of being present, but I don’t know about “memories of good days would vanish..” — Pos. Psych studies savoring: the past, present and future — all three can produce positive emotions. Happy Holidays – past, present, and future to you all!

Marcial Losada 17 December 2008 - 10:23 pm

Hi Timothy, where are you abroad? I am in Brazil now.

Marcial Losada 17 December 2008 - 10:29 pm

True Margaret. The way i see it, integration of past, present and future in the present can work. The problem is when past or future become attractors from where it is hard to escape. I am not that good at staying in the present as often as I would like. The future is the black hole for me. Time orientation is a matter that fascinates me. Why is it so difficult to stay in the present? Maybe evolution taught us to look back and forward.

Marcial Losada 17 December 2008 - 10:45 pm

I just saw your comment Wayne, and I am dying laughing. Low BS threshold…that’s great. Is that part of your legendary irreverence?

Marcial Losada 17 December 2008 - 11:17 pm

Kathryn, my sister did just that, compiling old family photos into a CD and sending it as a Xmas present. Ii works wonders. What brings us back to this time orientation discussion. Margaret was pointing out that the past can make us happy also, and this is a good illustration of her well taken point.

Gerry Maher 18 December 2008 - 8:51 am


X is for kisses, as in ‘xx’?



Kathryn Britton 18 December 2008 - 11:33 am


Connecting to the past — particularly to memories of people we can respect and admire — is not just a form of savoring, I think it is also a self-efficacy boost — another form of vicarious mastery. For example, I hardly knew my father — he died when I was two and had been away on active duty for many months before that. But when I read his Rhodes scholar application essay, I feel both very proud and somehow more myself.

As for the future, if we can’t imagine and believe in a better one, the way Scott Sherman does, then where will we get the energy to work for it?

You mean low blood sugar, right? :-}


Marcial Losada 18 December 2008 - 11:52 am

Very touching the story about your father, Kathryn. I was intrigued and liked your connection to self-efficacy. Bandura and I used to have lively email interchanges. How moving that you felt more of yourself after reading your father´s essay. He could have never guessed he would help his daughter with that essay. The serendipity of love.

I liked that notion of getting energy out of the past and the future. The problem arises when they deplete your energy, because they can do that too.

Marcial Losada 18 December 2008 - 12:02 pm

Kathryn, I just read your father´s Rhodes Scholar application essay. I was very moved by his clear vision and such elegant and forceful English. Most especially, I liked the way he said good-bye to this world where he wanted to play a role in fixing:

“Bet you wish you had my plane, skipper!”

Yes, we all wished.

Editor K.H.B. 18 December 2008 - 2:03 pm


I imagine people sowing seeds for good or ill that affect the way other people live, often without being aware of the impact themselves. A teacher friend told me a story about a young man in her class who was doing very well in spite of going through some very traumatic things in his home life. She asked him how he did it. He said that he’d had a sixth grade teacher who believed in him and that he tended to think about her when things got tough. I wonder if that 6th grade teacher knew what an impact she had had. In a similar way, my father left seeds that sprouted for me and my brothers many, many years later. So the seeds don’t necessarily die when we do.

Thank you for following my story!

Marcial Losada 18 December 2008 - 7:22 pm

Reading the story of your father and how he touched you even when you were so little when he died–only two– is a powerful example of how every gesture, every simple act of kindness, every smile, do count. There is the power nonlinearity for you: out of an instant, an eternity. I have tried hard to understand what it really is, it been a negative definition, non-linear, and the truth is that I have to come to the conclusion that it needs to hide in the ¨non¨because it can be so many things that it cannot be defined in the affirmative.

Margarita 22 December 2008 - 3:28 pm

How about X being like X’s in algebra, standing for the unknown, what is yet to come,to be discovered?

PS. I loved all the suggestions from contributors. Thank you to all!


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