Home All Gift Ideas for the 2012 Holiday Season

Gift Ideas for the 2012 Holiday Season

written by Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton 13 December 2012

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: Are you looking for gift ideas for this holiday season? We asked authors and friends for ideas to share, not just of books as we’ve provided in earlier years, but also of movies and music and experiences as well.

Our list starts with suggestions by Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, whose new book,
The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does, is coming out in January.

The list ends with suggestions by Martin Seligman, whose latest book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, is still a great gift.

Books last. So if there aren’t enough ideas here, try visiting the articles from earlier years for more ideas. Here’s a link to the 2011 holiday list, which has links to earlier years.

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a voracious reader. We are happy to have many recommendations from her this year:

TV: Homeland

Movies:: Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History

Nonfiction books

Fiction books


Lisa Sansom: I recommend the gift of your time. Get something that you can share with someone else. Sports equipment (especially if you live in a snowy climate – skis, snowshoes, good boots, and so on) are all important to living a flourishing life, no matter WHAT the weather!

I found a blog, The Happiness Experiment bookshelf, with 20 great books on happiness. Any of them look good to me. I am just learning about Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time by Rick Hanson. His website has very short videos about the steps and topics to help you get a “Buddha brain” (as opposed to a Buddha belly, I suppose…)


Louis Alloro: Give experiences over material things. Research shows how sense memories of these types of gifts go much further than a widget or gadget or scarf.

One idea I used for my sister last year was to make her a playlist of songs that I collected from some of her closest friends when I asked them, “What song reminds you of Lisa?” I made her a CD with not only the songs but the stories I collected.

Genna Douglass


Genevieve Douglass: My ideas for gifts:

  • Gift certificate for dance lessons
  • A plant (succulents are good low-maintainance nature)
  • A soprano ukelele (it’s only got 4 strings and is so easy to learn) and a starter book
  • Write a letter to a family member who doesn’t often come around, recalling times that they had been there, and thanking them for being who they are.


MJ Shaar


Marie-Josee Shaar: I have two books to recommend:

  • Tom Rath and Jim Harter’s book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, is a powerful book, packed with shocking information on how our everyday decisions affect our well-being. Explaining what creates high career, social, financial, physical and community well-being, it also shares highly usable advice on how to concretely improve our lives.
  • Stephen Post’s book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, helps us understand the full power of giving and the role it plays in a life well lived. It identifies 10 ways of giving to 4 different groups of people. Of the 40 possible combinations, it helps us identify our favorites and invites us to use these “giving strengths” to make the world a better place.


Kirsten Cronlund:

For music, one of my favorite CD’s of the year is Love Is a Four Letter Word by Jason Mraz. His music promotes mindfulness, perhaps best exemplified by his song, Living in the Moment.

For books, I recommend:

  • Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, although not necessarily “positive” in nature, is an account of stereotype and identity by social psychologist Claude Steele. It’s thought-provoking and raises important questions. Possibly one of the most important books I’ve read this year.
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates is an intriguing true story told by the author, Wes Moore, about the path of his life in contrast to the life of another man named Wes Moore. The two Weses are about the same age, grew up in the same city, and had many of the same life circumstances. Yet one ended up winning a Rhodes scholarship, while the other ended up in jail.
  • The Pocket Pema Chodron is a go-to for me in times of sadness or stress. This small book is filled with mindfulness gems that remind me about what is truly important.
  • Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion is one of my favorite books on leadership, this work reminds me that the best leadership rests on mindfulness, hope, and compassion. Authors Boyatzis and McKee make a strong case for the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership and the need for rejuvenation to avoid what they call “”sacrifice syndrome,”” a trap that many leaders fall into.


Elaine O’Brien: I’d like to offer three movies, 2 books, and a song.


Senia Maymin: I recommend a holiday gift book for children ages 5 to 11: Zak Maymin’s Truth: Ethics for Your Child (Color Edition).
My dad wrote this interactive book that creates a bond between child and parent because there are choices for the child to make and then talk over with parents. I think it’s phenomenal in terms of the depth of discussion it can bring about.

One mom says, “My boy thinks about the vignettes over and over… we discuss at length! It’s his favorite book.”
A dad says that it’s great training for analytical thinking, and he wishes he’d had it as a kid.


Ryan Niemiec I recommend a movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012): Several individuals travel to India in search of something; each learns a unique life lesson. Excellent film for practicing strengths-spotting. Look for all 24 VIA character strengths!
Editor’s note: Ryan has recommended many films both in his book, Positive Psychology At The Movies: Using Films to Build Virtues and Character Strengths, and in his annual articles about the positive psychology Oscars.


Orin Davis: Let me start with four books:

Throughout the eight days of Hanuka, we remember the many miracles, great and small, that occur in our daily lives and that have enabled us to maintain our character and values. We remind ourselves of what is important to us and the values, causes, and aims to which we should dedicate our lives. Actually gift-giving has little-to-nothing to do with Hanuka, and is a later invention. Jews have other holidays when gift-giving is called for, especially Purim.


Bridget Grenville-Cleave: I have three suggestions this year:

  • If the World Were a Village – Second Edition: A Book about the World’s People (CitizenKid) by David Smith & illustrated by S Armstrong. This fabulous children’s book is now in its 2nd edition. Because it’s hard for children to grasp how big the world is, the book talks about it as an imaginary village of 100 people and scales everything down. So for example, although there are more than 6000 language in the world, of the 100 people living in the global village, more than half speak the following 8 languages: Chinese (21 villagers), English (9), Hindi (9), Spanish (7), Arabic (4), Bengali (4), Portuguese (3) and Russian (3). The book looks at many aspects of life from what we eat and our religions, to school and work, money and possessions. I think it’s a great way for children to understand the vastness of the world and explore how different nations are, but at the same time to appreciate the similarities. Our son really loved this book.
  • Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss. I think I’m one of the few people who didn’t like Dr Seuss books as a child (it was the illustrations which put me off) but this one was given to me by a friend a couple of years ago, and I love its positive psychology messages! It is featured, quite rightly, in Toni Noble and Helen McGrath’s Bounce Back! Resilience curriculum for kids. I’ve heard it’s a popular graduation gift in the US, but why wait till then?
  • Ilona Boniwell’s Positive Psychology in a Nutshell: The Science of Happiness 3rd edition. This is a fabulous book which has been updated to include new material on mindsets, mindfulness and well-being at work. It covers all the main subject areas in the field and also contains some great tips and techniques so whether you’re curious to know what positive psychology is about or you want to increase your well-being, this is a great book to have on your bookshelf.


Amanda Horne: The best gift ideas are the ones that involve creating, organizing or being with friends and others. For example: a group of friends combine their creative talents to make things for their local charity. The act of being together and having fun – for others – is a way of giving to each other too.

Music? Meet together for a holiday drink and organize an activity in 2013 where you spend time together going to a music concert. Can’t be together to organize it? Meet by telephone or Skype.

Books? A family can make a book together to give to others.

Movies? Don’t give a movie voucher, make it into an event where you take your friends to the movies at a future date.

There are endless ways to think differently about how to give gifts which do not add to our piles of ‘stuff’ but which bring people together to give and share.


Kathryn Britton: I put Chris Peterson’s new book, Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology on my gift wish list. I haven’t read it yet, but I know it will be wise, and the experience will be poignant since it is the last we will get to read from Chris.


Spending time with my mother in Seattle after she broke her hip this fall, I found my spirits lifted by two short books by Erica Bauermeister. Both books are set in Seattle, and both are stories about every day people, people you might meet at work or church or in the public library. Every day people, yet bravely dealing with their own strange, funny, tragic, human every day lives. My kind of book!

  • The School of Essential Ingredients: About series of cooking classes at a classy restaurant. The first lesson is about how to kill a crab. The participants range from a life-drifting youngster to a mind-drifting elder. Each has a poignant story, which start unfolding together.
  • Joy For Beginners happens after one member of a group has emerged from breast cancer treatment. Each member of her support group agrees to do something she chooses — something that the supporter is afraid to do. From going on a trip alone to getting a tattoo in middle age, each challenge becomes a window into the protagonist’s ongoing story.


Nick Hall: I highly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

The next two contributors will be publishing their first articles for PPND in 2013. Welcome, Lucy and Tom.

Lucy Hone: “I’ve asked my son to give me a voucher providing me with monthly music updates on my ipod. This came from struggling to maintain my running routine, so I gave some thought as to how I could use the kids’ strengths to help my lack of strength! This is what I came up with:

  • Ed, 14yo, provides monthly running playlists for my ipod. He always finds good new tunes, and I find his music really uplifting to run to.
  • Paddy, 12yo, loves running so has pledged to come running with me next year “whenever i tell him I need a push.”
  • Abi, 10yo, loves swimming and needs to train for surf club, so I’ve given her swim credits, whereby she can say “NOW MUM,” and I have to join her in the water once a month.

Otherwise, I try to always record a story on my iphone at this time of year, and upload & download it to their ipods so they can have a story from me even when I’m too tired to read or not there to read.

Finally, I’ve made 2 printed photo albums this year: one for my 12 yo leaving primary school (did this for the other one two years ago) so he can look back and savor all the incredible experiences and friendships he’s had these last 7 years; one of our puppy dog for each of the kids, with ridiculous captions. These gifts make memories last longer.

Malcolm Gladwell

Tom Heffner: I recommend any book by Malcolm Gladwell. Malcolm Gladwell is a psychologist at heart and many of his books and topics encompass a diverse array of psychology domains (e.g. social psychology, neuropsychology, etc). Gladwell, however, is as good a writer as you will ever read. He writes about complex subjects in a way that is not only interesting to read, but also easy to read. Take your pick from the following:


We close with suggestions from Martin Seligman:


Reach for a book! courtesy of Patrick Feller

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Judy Krings 16 December 2012 - 10:14 am

My ipad2 is jumping for joy! THANK YOU!!! This is the best positive psychology gift wonderful YOU have given us. I am forever grateful. I can’t imagine the time and effort it took you to complete this, but thanks to you, Senia and Kathryn, and to all your graciously generous contributors. A+! Happy holidays to all and know you are loved and appreciated.

Senia 17 December 2012 - 1:55 pm

Oh, Judy,
How absolutely lovely to read your note!
Kathryn is the mastermind of compiling wonderful info for holiday ideas, this year and past years. I think then you’ll really like the PERMA gifts article coming soon.
Best of the holidays to you,

Judy Krings 22 December 2012 - 7:09 am

Thanks, Senia!

You are spot on! I LOVE the PERMA gift ideas! Right up my alley. I smiled the whole way reading trough it! JOY is sweetly seeping into my soul.

Happy Holidays and deep bows of gratitude.


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