Home All A Creative Challenge for an Abundant Season

Louis Alloro, M.Ed., MAPP '08, is a cofounder of a 6-month Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology Program, Fellow at the Center for Advancement of Wellbeing at George Mason University, and founder of SOMO Leadership Labs, a community intervention. Web site. Full Bio.

Articles by Louis are here.

Stacked Gifts

Stacked Gifts

Let’s make this December a creative challenge: an opportunity to invent new rituals for being with family and friends.


In the throes of this recession, many of us are strapped for cash. The contagious nature of the mistrust in the markets is making many of us perpetually anxious. With that stress – on top of the stress that comes from finding the perfect gifts – I wonder why depression is at an all time high. What if we consider alternative ways to show the ones we love that we love them this year? That’s what it’s all about, anyway, right?

So with the advent of the holiday season, how do we prepare to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa—holidays that traditionally involve the giving of gifts to the ones we love?

Gifts of Dialogue

It is important to think about our underlying belief systems that hold these gift-giving traditions alive. Conversations about values and strengths can be very generative for groups of people, like families. Peterson and Seligman’s VIA-IS can be a tool to spark such discussion: what strengths do we most call on when giving gifts?

Dawn Cooperrider, Dolem Jen Hetzel Silbert, and Ada Jo Mann recently published a book called Positive Family Dynamics. In it, they argue that “appreciative inquiry questions bring out the best in families” – the cornerstone of society. Some questions we might ask are:

Why do we give gifts?
What do they symbolize?
What do we as a family symbolize?
What do we as a group value?

How can we take what we value and create customs and traditions that are in line with those values? How can we open ourselves to ideas from traditions other than our own – like those from the tradition of positive psychology, for example?

Gifts of Gratitude

One such suggestion comes from Bob Emmon’s research on Gratitude Letters – the gifts that keep on giving. Writing a gratitude letter requires we tap into our hearts to find words that show our love for another person – words that express the strength we see in someone else.

Not a good writer? How about writing a poem? Many of the ones we read in high school, you could have written too. Remember, short lines, and they don’t have to rhyme. It’s about communicating how you feel.

Another version of the gratitude letter can be creating an artistic collage, a CD or playlist to give as gifts to our loved ones. With whatever medium, the way this gift comes full-circle is in how it is presented. Reading the letter aloud to the recipient or listening to the playlist together gives both the giver and receiver moments (past and present) to be thankful for. This is part of what Fred Bryant shows is so important about savoring.

Gifts of Time

dominoesAnother idea is to give the gift of time. Spending time together—as a family—to elicit authentic positive emotion builds and strengthens what Jonathan Haidt calls “the hive.” Playing games can “broaden and build” collective efficacy and hope—invaluable gifts, especially during this time of despair. There’s also research to show that singing and dancing together has many generative benefits. Anyone up for caroling this year?

Or, perhaps you and your family can give your collective time for a worthy cause. Bridget Grenville-Cleave has written a lovely synopsis of the benefits of giving back. There are plenty of ways to find opportunities in your own back yard. Friends of mine have been volunteering to call bingo at a senior center and leave each week feeling rejuvenated and even elated. They found this opportunity at www.volunteermatch.com.

Thinking Outside the Box

One activity I remember fondly from my childhood was creating a manger for baby Jesus in preparation of Christmas. My mom cut yellow strips of construction paper and laid them next to an empty basket. Each time we did a good deed during the Christmas season, we wrote it on the strip and laid it in the basket. Come Christmas Eve, that basket was full of “hay” and we would read all of the intentional good things we had done that past month to “pay it forward.” I’ll never forget that.

Maybe I’ll suggest my family do that again this year. Of course, it will be more challenging considering we’re all grown and live separately from one another. But I’m sure we can create a virtual manger online somewhere to make this possible. It’s time to think outside the box.

Another trick is in being what Isaac Prilleltensky calls a “gracious host.” We need to invite our families and friends into this possibility of an abundant and stress-free holiday season. Find the people in your spheres of influence who see the value in this opportunity and get them on board right away. How can we use this seemingly “bad” time to find ways to actually contribute to our well-being – ways that spending money can never truly show anyhow?

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Nadya Peeva 29 November 2008 - 12:55 pm

Thank you, Louis, for reminding us of creative and meaningful ways to show love and appreciation this holiday season! The economic crisis is in fact a blessing in disguise in that it shifts our attention to the deep well of kindness and generosity that we find within and that only grows deeper as our ability to find distraction in consumption diminishes.

Here’s a poem that I find captures the essence of this conversation quite eloquently as it’s about finding the wealth we don’t know we have… Thank you again!

I lived on the shady side of the road and watched my neighbors’ gardens across the way, reveling in the sunshine.

I felt I was poor, and from door to door went with my hunger.

The more they gave me from their careless abundance,
the more I became aware of my beggar’s bowl.

Till one morning I awoke from my sleep at the sudden opening of my door, and you came and asked for alms.

In despair, I broke the lid of my chest open and was startled into finding my own wealth.

Rabindranath Tagore

Kevin Rea, Director MRI 29 November 2008 - 3:20 pm

Hello Louis,
I am a regular visitor to PPND and found your posting to be inspirational and worthy of momentum. We recently completed an event called Resilience 08 here in Central Oregon, part of which included the signature video called “who I am makes a difference” available through (www.blueribbons.org) if you have yet to view this I know you will enjoy it! In the spirit of gratitude I wish to thank you and the whole U Penn MAPP program for the positive difference you all make at a time when we need it most!
Kevin Rea – Director
Mentor Research Institute

Sherri Fisher 29 November 2008 - 4:41 pm

Great article, Louis–
Nice to see the research for reasons for the season. Love and joy come to you and your family 🙂

Jeremy McCarthy 29 November 2008 - 5:42 pm

Hi Louis,

Great article! I always find the holidays a time to consider the meaning in our lives. Your article gives some great foundations for having a dialogue about that with those closest to us. Happy holidays!

Vickie Gray 29 November 2008 - 5:52 pm

Thank you for this. I especially love the gratitude letter idea. And the gift of time is so meaningful. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we gave our kids our time instead of hiring a babysitter while we shop for them?



Louis Alloro 29 November 2008 - 6:11 pm

Wow! Thank you all for the warm feedback.

Certainly this article only gives a very limited amount of suggestions for thinking outside the box this season. How about we use this area as a think tank of sorts — to come up with alternative (maybe even evidenced-based?) ways to ensure good tidings this year. Any ideas? Throw them on the virtual table, please . . .

waynej 29 November 2008 - 7:19 pm

Here’s one from left field – how about learning to give to yourself – savouring and mindfulness??????

JJ Keyes 30 November 2008 - 3:47 am

Great Letter!

Louis Alloro 30 November 2008 - 10:21 am

Hey Wayne,

I do think that learning to savor and be mindful is important. How can you turn that individual/solo lesson into something you bring to those you love–to suggest they incorporate those practices into their lives?


waynej 30 November 2008 - 2:30 pm

Louis, Its called emotional contagion.

Louis Alloro 30 November 2008 - 6:51 pm

Yes! I totally believe in the power of emotional contagion, but I’m wondering: how do you think we can make this more intentional? How can we give these “ideas” as gifts this holiday season?

waynej 30 November 2008 - 10:12 pm

The gift is simple – manage your own emotion and it impacts on other people. No rocket science here.

Louis Alloro 2 December 2008 - 5:06 pm

We don’t need rocket science–just creativity. I agree that managing our own emotion impacts other people. We don’t live in bubbles and as Robert Quinn says, “When you change yourself, you change the world.”

Still, I’m wondering . . . how this could be a “gift” we give this season?

Margaret 3 December 2008 - 4:19 pm

Louis – I love your ideas for “good consumerism” (I think Marty Seligman may have coined that term). Here are 2 more from our family:
1. Bake cookies together and then give them away to friends, family, shelters, neighbors, etc. My college-aged daughter just wrote a paper for her English Folklore class on what this tradition has meant to her.
2. Collect your favorite photos from years past and create individualized 2009 calendars to give to family and friends (I use snapfish.com)

Wishing you and your family the happiest of holidays!

Louis Alloro 3 December 2008 - 5:47 pm


Thank you so much for these fantastic ideas. I’d love to see your daughter’s paper. If she doesn’t mind, I may give it as a gift to some of my friends who are parents–a primary source!

I think creating personalized calendars is a wonderful expression of love. I remember receiving some years ago, but they’ve seemed to have died off in popularity (at least in my circles). I think I’ll reintroduce them this year for sure.

Thank you. Merry & Happy to you and yours, too.


Caren Pane 4 December 2008 - 2:40 pm

Who’da thunk the idea of my most precious resource, time with you, could also be used as a Christmas gift! It does amaze me why I have so little time for myself, b/c I always want to give it away! As I bought myself a vaccuum for Christmas, I will also buy myself time alone, for mindfulness, prayer and correction of direction…(only if needed!)As Joyce Meyer said, sometimes, we are only to be seeing, doing, etc. for one season, not all seasons…

Louis Alloro 4 December 2008 - 9:49 pm


Thanks for your note. It is amazing to think that our precious resources (time, love, gratitude, even forgiveness) are gifts that can bring joy to others . . . more joy than a vacuum cleaner, for sure! THe seasons are miraculous aren’t they and for so many reasons. Enjoy this one.

Barry Elias 15 February 2009 - 9:26 am

November 29, 2008

Dear Louis,

I love the activity you played during your childhood: accumulate “hay” and “pay it forward.”

That is “thinking outside the box.”

Have a lovely holiday season.



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