Home All Book Ideas for the 2011 Holiday Season

Book Ideas for the 2011 Holiday Season

written by Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton 13 December 2011

Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton are the senior editors of PositivePsychologyNews.com. Together they have edited two books in the Positive Psychology News series: Resilience: How to Navigate Life's Curves and Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life's Gifts. Kathryn co-edited the third book in the series, Character Strengths Matter, with Shannon Polly. Their co-authored articles are here.

Senia Maymin, MAPP '06, is the coauthor of Profit from the Positive. Maymin is an executive coach to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Her PhD is in organizational behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Full Bio. Her solo articles are here and her articles with Margaret Greenberg are here.

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06 also co-authored Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits. Blog. Full bio. Her solo articles are here.

Editor’s Note: Today the authors and friends of PPND share some book ideas for holiday gifts. These books include our favorite books about positive psychology and some novels that carry positive messages.

For the Love of Books

For more recommendations from PositivePsychologyNews.com , see the 2009 holiday book list and the 2010 holiday book list. The 2008 Holiday Ideas article also includes some book ideas.

Coming up in December: Ideas for a strong start of the new year. We are also planning a retrospective for PPND in January, when we celebrate our 5th anniversary.

First, from our friends:

Angela Duckworth: Martin Seligman’s book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being [Editor’s Note: Review here.]
[Editor’s note: See Angela’s TEDX talk, True Grit: Can Perseverance be Taught?]

Jonathan Haidt:

Todd Kashdan: David Foster Wallace’s posthumous book The Pale King. It’s the ultimate treatise on how coping with boredom is the essential existential issue of humanity that gets ignored.
[Editor’s note: Watch for Todd’s new book with Ciarrochi coming out in 2012,Cultivating Well-Being: Treatment Innovations in Positive Psychology, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Beyond.]

Sonja Lyubomirsky:

  • One book that I think would be appropriate is Howard Friedman’s The Longevity Project.
  • Another one that I really liked and is very appropriate for positive psychology is The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley.
  • [Editor’s note: Sonja is working on a new book, The Myth of Happiness, which will be out in winter 2013.]

James Pawelski: Here are some suggestions–in the direction of the humanities:

Chris Peterson: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

Martin Seligman:

In a library

And now from our authors (in reverse alphabetical order):

Emily vanSonnenberg: Laughter and Liberation by Harvey Mindess. The book captures the essence of irony, the gift of laughter, and how to induce an advantageous perspective for the self, as well as in friends and clients in ways that heal.

Angus Skinner: Re-Imagining Government by Barry Quirk. The wide scope of this book reaches across the world as we form new governments – locally, nationally and globally. It sets our current turbulence in context and with cautious, very cautious, optimism provides a basis for finding new pathways. With a deep historical sense this is yet a book strongly pulled by the future.

Marie-Josee Shaar: A book read in 2009 that is still what influenced me most this year: The Promise of Sleep by William Dement. It made me understand how very crucial sleep is to so many areas of our lives and health, and how no amount of training can prepare us for peak performance under sleep deprivation. It is also the topic most people are most curious about when I tell them that I work and speak on sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits. People are so sleep deprived, they crave that information.

Lisa Sansom: Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson.

Steve Safigan:

Elaine O’Brien:

Ryan M. Niemiec:

  • Roy Baumeister’s book, Willpower
  • How about a movie? The film, Win Win, is an extraordinary portrayal of several areas of positive psychology: It depicts the development of a positive relationship, resilience through a difficult home situation, the value of seeing the inherent goodness in others, the mixed benefits of achievement, and the integrity of “doing the right thing” even when there’s a personal cost (in the end, that’s the win-win decision).

Jeremy McCarthy:

  • Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers is a great gift.
  • The book that influenced me most was Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh. I am not a researcher. I work in the applied world of positive psychology. This book shows an example of a company that has been applying the principles and research of positive psychology to create a business that has driven phenomenal results. They have become the largest shoe retailer in the world with $1B+ in annual revenues, have been rated #1 in customer service, and are #6 on the Fortune Magazine best companies to work for. It is hard to think of a company that has achieved better performance across so many metrics of success. I have been sharing this book with my own teams and using the Zappos story as a model to drive some of my own business initiatives. [Editor’s note: Review here.]

Senia Maymin:

Louisa Jewell: Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance I like the whole body/mind connection approach to optimal health.

Amanda Horne:

Bridget Grenville-Cleave

Christine Duvivier:

Orin Davis:

  • Ki in Daily Life by Koichi Tohei.
  • Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. It gave me a lot to think about in terms of how people are incentivized, how to design incentives, and the downstream effects of incentives. In turn, this inspired a great deal of thought about human motivation and overcoming inertia.

Sulynn Choong:

  • The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica
  • Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J Ratey and Eric Hagerman. The book began with a quotation from Plato: “In order for Man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.” This book actually turned head knowledge of the benefits of exercise into a serious nagging concern about the performance of my brain. Powerful!”

Kathryn Britton: My husband and I read aloud together, so I’ll share some of our favorites from this year:

Ah! So we begin and end the article with grit.

For the love of books courtesy of The Chocolate Geek
The library courtesy of Thomas Hawk

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Bridget 13 December 2011 - 5:21 pm

Thanks for these great suggestions everyone. I’ve no idea whether you buy text books as holiday gifts, but the best one on positive psychology this year has to be Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell’s ‘Positive Psychology: Theory, Research & Applications’. It’s a real gem.

For a really easy read, go for Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive’ – it’ll tell you everything you need to know about motivation, and more besides.

Also ‘The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone’ by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, which I think is one of the most important books on well-being of the last decade.


Editor K.H.B. 13 December 2011 - 6:21 pm


Better late than never! I’ve incorporated your suggestions into the article – with book links and a link to the review of The Spirit Level by Curt Visser.

Take heed other authors and readers – we welcome suggestions.


Kevin Simmons 13 December 2011 - 7:35 pm

I appreciate the many the recommendations. Of the ones I’ve read that are listed, I particularly enjoyed (and was greatly informed by) Flourish, Willpower, and Delivering Happiness (this book actually introduced me to Positive Psychology in an offhand way).

Here’s two recommendations that can be had for free:

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan and colleagues is an enlightening read from the world of business leadership, with plenty of personal life applications. It’s central argument is threefold: culture drives success, “social fusion” and “triadic relationships” allow for an interdependent culture, and passion comes from purpose. Integrates nicely with the positive psychology or organizations. If you want to give a gift to yourself or some one else on a budget…the audio book is available free online!

Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson can be considered a foundational book for literature on strengths and purpose in life. The Transcendental movement opened the door to self-actualization (to use a term anachronistically) in American academic thought. Download a PDF of this to read on a tablet.

[Editor’s note: Amazon links added, in case you want to read the Amazon reviews.]

Debbie Swick 13 December 2011 - 8:59 pm

Nice list! I would add Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. They put Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis into action.

Nicholas Ritchey 23 July 2012 - 5:03 pm

This is my new favorite post on PPND – love to see what you are all reading!

I think a lot of people here would really benefit from reading:
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Few people know the stoics, but many of you know CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

This excellent article identifies why CBT shares so much stoic philosophy… because the founders were was inspired by the stoics!

Stoicism and CBT

The stoics were much like us in that they were looking for how to live the best life possible and so they borrowed the best bits from other schools of philosophy.

Since our psychology hasn’t changed over the millennia, many of their insights are just as valid today as they were 2400 years ago.

Happy Reading! ^_^

Senia 25 July 2012 - 8:30 pm

Nick Ritchey,

Thanks so much for the additional recommendations!
That’s often among the most interesting reading – to see how insights about psychology remain the same over centuries.



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