Home All What to Give? Holiday Gift Ideas from PPND 2013

What to Give? Holiday Gift Ideas from PPND 2013

written by Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton 16 December 2013
Scrabble tiles

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.

Editors’ Note: We’ve had a tradition for several years now of presenting ideas for gifts for the holiday season. We’re a little late this year, but many of the gifts below don’t require anything more than a card or piece of paper to make a promise, so we hope they are still useful for Christmas – albeit too late for Hanukkah since it was so early this year. The ideas are useful around the year for birthdays and other celebrations.

This tradition has been going on for several years. If you’d like to see some of ideas from earlier years, start with the 2012 holiday gift article, which has a link to the 2011 article, and so on. Last year, most suggestions were books. There’s still time to order some of the great selections mentioned there.

Amanda Horne: We are asking our friends and family to either donate to charity, or take us out for breakfast, or to make something for us. We also like to do the same for others. We are buying swimming lessons for some friends. They love the water, and swimming skills will last them a life time. The internet is fantastic for finding new and creative ideas for making little gifts. There is so much food at this time of year, so I’m looking for gifts that can be enjoyed weeks or months later. For example, flavored salts, herb-infused honey, cake mixes in a jar (just add wet ingredients), frozen sweet or savory cookie dough (just cut and bake a couple at a time when you need them).

Thomas Heffner: The gift of a European holiday. One year my wife and I gave each other the gift of visiting her family in Europe. No other gifts. But the experience of sharing the holidays, including the annual holiday dinner with her grandfather and all of her cousins, was priceless. For me, it was also a series of new experiences, for example, drinking Glüaut;hwein in the marketplace while trying not to fall ice skating around the make-shift ice rink.

Kathryn Britton: Do you know people that love to learn and feel that college was wasted on their 18-year-old selves? Find courses in Coursera that might interest them. Coursera is an online university that offers free courses from leading professors from around the world. Does a friend enjoy poetry? Send links to favorite poets reading their poetry out loud from the PennSound collection. Offer some of your time and your knowledge about technology to people who feel that their phones are smarter than they are. An hour of showing them around might make all the difference. My brother one year gave me lessons and advice about using Quickbooks for my business. Running out of ideas for movies to watch together? Get Ryan Niemiec and Danny Wedding’s Positive Psychology at the Movies. Finally, my daughter had the idea last year of asking people to write her letters for her birthday about what they were doing when they were her age. She collected a priceless box of memories from friends and family. Perhaps there is someone that would be interested in what you remember, if you could just get it written down.

Shannon Polly: An original song. I had two friends of mine (also Grammy winning songwriters/lyricists) write a song for both of my daughters’ first birthdays. Then I recorded the song in a studio and played it for the grandparents and my husband on their birthday. It made the tears flow. So it was a gift to my kids for when they get older, my husband, the grandparents and a gift to me in being able to sing it and savor their first year. Check out Tom Kochan’s site.

Elaine O’Brien: I grew up in a big extended Italian family with lots of delicious food and cooking. To honor that experience, this year I’m giving my adult friends bottles of beautiful, healthy extra virgin olive oil. My husband Sean has been preparing broccoli rabe (and spinach) with garlic for us; it’s simple, quick to make, and is immediately fortifying. So good. I’m also giving luxurious dark chocolate, lovely Chianti, books, including Profit from the Positive and poetry, and music to promote sensuality and savoring. I’m also checking out some of the new lifestyle medicine trackers like FitBit and Tractivity for family, and I hope Santa will put one in my stocking too.

Genevieve Douglass: A Best Reflected Self story. I actually organized this for a friend who was shipping off in the army, not for the holidays. I had a bunch of people who know her well write about a time when they saw her out her best. Lots of happy tears. I was thinking this would be good for the holidays, particularly for someone who’s had a rough year. It’s a way for them to re-envision themselves for the new year.

Aren Cohen: Homemade gifts are the best…. I bake cookies from my grandmother’s recipe and give them to my uncle. They are his favorite and it gives us both a chance to savor warm memories. (Note, this is really an item and an experience gift, both for giver and receiver. A quadruple whammy!)

Bridget Grenville-Cleave: I have three ideas:

  1. Chris Peterson’s book, Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology. No-one says it better than Chris. This book is warm, funny, full of great insights and easy to dip into if you’re rushed for time over the festive season. It’s an ideal book to give or receive. A book to be treasured.
  2. Kate Hefferon’s new book Positive Psychology and the Body: The Somato-Psychic Side to Flourishing. A highly original look at the body/mind interaction, which has been seriously neglected in positive psychology so far. Packed with new insights and research from the leader of the University of East London MAPP and essential reading for all students and practitioners. Watch this space for a review.
  3. A book of love checks or promises, such as Perfect Love Cheques (Cheque Book). Buy one for yourself and use it in 2014 to show the special person in your life how much you care. Each book contains ready-made promises as well as some blank checks so you can have fun and be creative making up your own. Although it’s a book, it’s also an experience! They make similar cheque books for kids too.

Emily vanSonnenberg: This gift is for anybody who wants to laugh for hours upon hours with others–increasing the character strengths of Humor, Social Intelligence, Creativity, and Modesty. Cards Against Humanity is a gift that was given to me a few months ago and has proven to be a repeated hit at social gatherings (when appropriate). With friends and family members, we have stayed up until 4am laughing our heads off! Get the game online by making a donation or for free. This experience is one that won’t disappoint!

Scott Asalone: Sometimes even the experience of opening the present is memorable. One Christmas my partner, Robert, give me a small purple cloth bag. In the bag were scrabble tiles. After working it out for a while I discovered that the tiles spelled “Bermuda.” My gift was a trip for the two of us to fly to Bermuda.

Merche Ovejero: A great way to connect with others is giving away a handmade gift. This year, I received from my friends a foam doll, completely customized. My friends built this doll, demonstrating the great knowledge they have about me, my strengths, and my hobbies. It is a unique and simple way of showing affection and strengths to family and friends.

Another good one gift for holidays is the new book by Barbara Fredrickson, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Is one of the best books about love I’ve ever read. This book adds a vision of what is so far known about love. The second part provides a practice guide for applying what is explained about love, through love and kindness meditation and shared positivity micro-moments.

Miriam Akhtar: I have a significant birthday coming up and as it competes with the festive celebrations, I’ve decided to take a different approach this year: the cupcake approach. So rather than having one big celebration, I’m asking friends to co-savor a year of small but perfectly-formed experiences – a meal, a walk, a night of dancing, an evening of discussion. This will hopefully make it a whole year of peak experiences and as we know with positivity, it is quantity rather than quality of positive emotion that helps you to flourish.

Marie-Josée Shaar: Positive psychology aficionados know that performing random acts of kindness is a great way to boost our own happiness. Fans of my work also know that boosting our happiness can benefit our sleep, food, and exercise habits. This cute journal, One Good Deed a Day, gives 365 simple ideas to make other people happy, and gives us a few lines to record how we felt doing it. Some of us may have seen in various media that chains of paying it forward have started to become more common, and often go unbroken for dozens of people. One Good Deed a Day is therefore a fun tool to become happier, healthier, and make a small but positive difference in the world.

Scott Crabtree: Buy an experience you will do with the recipient that’s in the future: a sporting event, play, concert, whatever you two will enjoy. Research indicates that if you want money to buy you happiness, buying a future experience with someone else is one of the best ways to do it!

Marsha Snyder: As a single parent of 2 autistic children since they were toddlers, my children and I are very close. Their father sees them only on major holidays. Because I have no other family, this has meant that on most holidays, including Christmas, I have been alone. The nicest gift I have received is when a friend has opened his/her heart and home to me on a holiday so that I can feel the warmth of family and love. It is a priceless treasure when friends are willing to share the warmth of their family circle with those who do not have the opportunity to experience that family love at holiday time.

Lisa Sansom: Give someone the gift of time. Your time and attention is what matters the most. Cultivating positive relationships with others is great for well-being and healthy longevity. Go out for a nice dinner. Offer to babysit the kids. Go for a visit. Just spend time with someone who is important to you. It will be the best thing you ever did.

Sherri Fisher: I love gifts that are a shared “other people matter” experience. A favorite gift I have given is Diva for a Day. For my mother in-law I invited everyone in her address book to her home. Many people could not come but they sent lovely cards, made phone calls, or sent email. The party itself was simple and inexpensive–an open house with finger food. Mom dressed up in her finest, and she did not have to do anything but greet her guests. I took loads of pictures. For the savoring part I created a photo album book. This is easily done online, or in software right in your computer. It is professionally produced so even if creativity isn’t your top strength your book will look fantastic. I’ve been married for 29 years and this party book is the favorite gift I have given Mom. She treated it like a yearbook and has had her friends sign it!

Margaret Greenberg: For the FAFFs (Far Way Friends & Family) in your life: If you play a musical instrument or love to sing, rather than sending a card or just calling or Skyping them, play and/or sing them a song instead. For the last 25+ years, I dial-up my dear friend on Christmas Day and then rested the phone on my piano. As soon as she picks up I begin playing We Wish You a Merry Christmas or White Christmas (minus the words because singing isn’t my thing). One year I got caught up in the hubbub of the day and by the time I remembered it was too late to call her. The next day she phoned me and shared how much she missed hearing me play a song for her. I hadn’t realized what a holiday tradition it had become.

Orin Davis: My favorite gift suggestion is always to get something that someone wants, but won’t actually buy for themselves. Bonus points if it involves something about your relationship. Nearly all of my favorite gifts (given and received) fit that category. I can think of several gifts that I received that really changed my life, and still have me thinking of the people who gave them to me every time I use them.

Senia Maymin: Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business. I suggest you give this to 3 close friends or colleagues who least expect it, and here’s the important part. I really suggest you write in the front “”Because you are already a positive leader….” It makes a difference to people that you care about their careers and that you’ve noticed their leadership.


Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press.

Hefferon, K. (2013). Positive Psychology and the Body: The Somato-Psychic Side to Flourishing. Open University Press.

Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2013). Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Character Strengths and Well-Being Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe.

Peterson, C. (2013). Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ross School of Business. Reflected Best Self Exercise, edition 2.

Photo Credits via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Writing letters courtesy of William Arthur Fine Stationery
Original song courtesy of linh.ngan
Scrabble tiles courtesy of Zoë Campbell
Holiday dinner courtesy of Lars Plougmann

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Amanda Horne 19 December 2013 - 9:28 pm

This is a fantastic list of suggestions. Thank you.
I could use this list a few weeks earlier. Why not put out a PPND article in late November 2014 with links to the 2013 and earlier PPND gift idea articles for those of us who would like more time for the creative thoughts to flow.
And then in December 2014 a new PPND with fresh ideas.

Editor K.H.B. 19 December 2013 - 11:11 pm

That’s a great suggestion, Amanda. After all, the old ideas don’t wear out. But we don’t tend to think of new ones until the holiday approaches. I’ll put that in my calendar.


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