Home All Looking for Some Last-Minute Holiday Gift Ideas?

Looking for Some Last-Minute Holiday Gift Ideas?

written by Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton 19 December 2014

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.

The holiday gift giving scene is upon us. Perhaps some of the suggestions here will give fresh ideas about giving gifts that show love and build well-being. We add the following ideas to the collections built up in prior years. If you want to see more, start with 2013’s list, which links to 2012’s list, and so on going back to 2008.



Senia Maymin:
Give a friend you don’t see so often a note on real paper – not just email – that you want to do a specific activity with this person in 2015.

For a book, give Profit from the Positive.

Giselle Nicholson Timmerman:

Give a Positive Memory Album. Instead of giving a traditional photo album (childhood, wedding, etc), create a digital photo album about a special memory or event. For instance, my father is a great storyteller, so to preserve his stories I created an album of photos related to the stories and included an audio file of him telling his best stories. This is something my siblings and I will be able to share with our families in years to come. There are many good providers of digital photo albums, so the toughest part is figuring out what to include!

Jan Stanley:
Give the gift of a personalized self-administered home retreat. Pull together items that might help the person unwind at the time of the retreat, and that may help to establish patterns or habits of well being in the future.

Possible items to include:

  • An outline of suggested activities for a 2-4 hour home retreat
  • A mindfulness cd, app or podcast recommendations
  • A candle
  • Herbal tea for relaxation
  • A journal personalized with questions for self-exploration
  • A book of poetry or other contemplative wisdom fitting the person receiving the gift
  • A coupon for a conversation about the retreat experience once completed to help them savor the experience!

If you wanted to include items with a higher price tag, consider adding a coupon for a massage, a coaching session or a mindfulness or yoga class to the gift.

Emily Larson:

For Christmas this year save your loved ones the hassle of waiting in long return lines and give them a non-material gift like a trip somewhere, a night away, a memory book filled with pictures. Be creative! Research shows that experiential gifts increase well-being more than materialistic ones.

Christmas morning

Christmas morning

Lisa Sansom:

Give someone the gift of time and/or friendship. Giving to a new parent? Give them the gift of babysitting. Giving to someone who is grieving? Give them the gift of your time and visit them. Giving to someone who is far away? Give them the gift of a phone call. Giving to a busy person who looks after everyone else first? Consider a day at the spa, tickets to an event or another self-indulgence that you can do together. Giving doesn’t have to be a tangible. Time with you is possibly the most precious gift of all.

Here’s something to do together. I recently saw the movie My Old Lady which is set in Paris (which I love) and stars Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline and Kristen Scott-Thomas. It’s a quiet movie about relationships and people and families and how to appreciate what we have. It’s about making peace with old relationships and forging new ones in order to create a better life. I found it enormously hopeful, though not falsely buoyant. I can’t say that it’s for everyone, but it was enjoyable for me. (And it got me a date afternoon with my husband, which is a total rarity!)

Amanda Horne:
We are fortunate that we, and our friends, have no need for much ‘stuff’. Instead we prefer spending time together than spending time shopping. Where there are gifts, they are minimal and I tailor the gifts to suit our friends and family. Many love that we donate money to charity in lieu of gifts, or that we simply enjoy a meal together. I like matching my joy of being in the kitchen to my friends’ joy in receiving edible gifts on non-edible gifts from the kitchen. Overall, our theme is bringing peace and friendship to the festive season, not stress.

Focus (by Heidi Grant Halvorson and Tori Higgins) is an excellent read at this time of year when we might be considering how we will be motivating ourselves in 2015. It leaves the reader with an understanding of how they have a preferred motivational focus. Armed with this knowledge, it’s much easier to ward off other people’s advice about how we should pursue our goals, and to find our own path which suits our energy.

Angus Skinner:
1) A Yo-yo. They went out of fashion but what a reminder of resilience! Brings out the best child in grumpy middle-aged men.
2) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. An inspiring blend of feng shui, positive psychology and the upsides of OCD. Best read in January: will make spring cleaning a walk-through.

Orin Davis:
I recommend Stephen McCranie’s Brick by Brick. It’s a wonderful and inspirational series of comics about how to build a better life.

Shannon Polly:
I recommending giving something that encourages savoring. I surprised my mom with a trip to NYC to see The Bridges of Madison County on Broadway (she was born in Madison County, IA). I’m putting together a frame of photos and the ticket from the show and giving her a CD of the music. I hope it will elongate her positive emotion, and undo the fact that she was not so happy the set was impressionistic, i.e. no real bridge!

Bridget Grenville-Cleave:

The best kind of gift has to be your attention! It’s free to give and needn’t even take up much time of your time, but it’ll be really valued by whoever you give it to! So next time someone rings you or calls by your house, stop what you’re doing, turn away from the phone/TV/PC and focus 100% on them.

I also recommend Paul Dolan’s new book Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think. It’s a unique take on happiness, and full of practical ideas which will really make a difference.

Tom Heffner:
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by David and Tom Kelley. It’s a book focused on helping everyone gain back their creative confidence that came so natural to them as children when they would play and create without inhibition. The authors are also the founders of IDEO, the iconic design firm from Palo Alto.

Christmas tree ornament

Christmas tree ornament

Sherri Fisher :
Give a shared experience that’s really worthy of a selfie. You might be part of the gift. Last year my gift was two tickets to an ice skating exhibition by the US Olympic team. Not only was it great entertainment, I got to share it with my daughter who gifted me. These experiences need not be expensive. Give a picnic and a hike that you will share with a friend. Make an e-photo album of good times you’ve had with a friend or family member.

Plan ahead and be ready to get tickets to the upcoming Pixar film Inside Out. This is super exciting and shows resilience skills in action.

A book I love is Seth Godin’s V Is for Vulnerable: Life Outside the Comfort Zone. Fun artwork and a great message on every page.

Merche Ovejero:
Do you want to increase your vitality? Your bravery? A good gift could be skate or longboard lessons. This idea was one of the best gifts and experiences I’ve ever had. For kids and for adults! You will learn about persistence, resilience, self-determination, and also meet people!

Dan Collinson:
I recommend the gift of actively listening to people. You’ll find out so much more about them and in turn they will feel good about having someone take the time to attentively listen to what they have to say. Win-win!

Love Actually is a great Christmas film and has an underlying theme of finding love and happiness.

Homaira Kabir:

Scott Crabtree:
Mine is a general tip rather than a specific gift recommendation. The tip is:

If you are thinking of adding a little something extra to a big gift you are giving, think twice! The Presenter’s Paradox means that while the giver thinks that the little something extra adds to the gift, research suggests that in many cases, the recipient averages the value of the two gifts, reducing the overall perceived value of the gift. For more information, see my blog posting about this.

Spend on an event in the future with other people. According to research, spending your money this way likely leads to more happiness for both of you.

Elaine O’Brien:

I’m giving my husband Sean (and me) a holiday hiking vacation to the Azores. We’ve both been working a lot, so it is exciting to anticipate an adventure and spending time together in nature.

I’m taking my mom to a Broadway show, and giving my daughter, Lianna, and her boyfriend, Ryan, a gift certificate to their favorite pub, Krug’s. I love the idea of giving experiences.

I would highly recommend the new book by Dr. Marsha Snyder, MD, MAPP, titled Positive Health: Flourishing Lives, Well-Being in Doctors. This amazing and revolutionary text will be published in 2-4 weeks. Positive Health addresses well-being for physicians and by virtue of that (and the elaboration likelihood model), this will impact positively patients, and health care.

Aren Cohen:

Homemade baked good and hugs

Marta Velázquez Gil:
I have always loved TED Talks. I find in them insights that I don’t get from classes. They provide me a different way to approximate to Psychology and what I am studying. These stories on people overcoming challenges may be an exceptional gift: they can provide a different way to see adversities as opportunities, something important to overcome and face the obstacles that the New Year could bring. Specially, I like these ones:

  • Listening to shame by Brené Brown. () From my point of view, this TED is a masterpiece. Brené explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Also, she explores authenticity, courage and connection.
  • How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are by Andrew Solomon. Andrew tells us his overcoming story folding the worst events of his life in a narrative of triumph.
  • Sisu: Transforming barriers into frontiers by Emilia Lahti. Emilia talks about Sisu, which is a Finnish construct. Sisu is explained as the power that helps us transform barriers into frontiers and overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds.

Kathryn Britton:
Last year, my son asked us for our memories of him at different ages. I went through old letters and journals and emails and pulled together several pages of on-the-spot at-the-time observations about him. For me, the experience brought back to mind many of the ways he is so much who he is and always has been. For him, it’s a way to look back at the past. I wish my mother had done it for me.

I read Ruth Reichl’s book Delicious!: A Novel out loud to my husband to our mutual enjoyment. What a storyteller! What a story! What insights into food! My husband is going to make her gingerbread recipe for our Christmas dinner.


Photo Credit: via Compfight cc
Menora courtesy of Avital Pinnick
Homemade courtesy of jazzijava

The other two pictures are used courtesy of Kathryn Britton

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like


Sean Doyle 19 December 2014 - 2:26 pm

For years I just asked that my kids write me a poem (for each holiday). I now have a binder full of wonderful memories.

Margaret Greenberg 19 December 2014 - 5:18 pm

I love all of these ideas! I am a big fan of memory books and baked goods, too. I love Snapfish for creating memory books, calendars, mouse pads, etc. for family and friends. The best part is watching the person open them up. I also enjoy calling my far-away friends and playing a Christmas carole on the piano. Happy Holidays everyone!

Judy Krings 20 December 2014 - 5:02 am

Senia and Kathryn, I look forward to this blog all year. It is your gift that happily keeps on giving with cool ideas that make my heart soar with joy and new learning. Love and blessings to you as well as your contributors.

Last year for our 25th anniversary, I wrote my husband, Ken, a short story about a memorable event for each of the years of our marriage. Like you, I love the new digital world offering cool creative sentimental wonders.

I am with Sean and Margaret, too, re: saving and savoring mementos. I have boxes for each grand child (shhhh, don’t tell!) to give to them when they graduate from high school.

Several kind folks have given me digital memory frames that are precious.

Thanks again for your loving ideas. Also, I am grateful for your dedication in delivering the gift of cutting edge PPND news all year. I look forward to reading each post.

Love to you all this holiday season!

Amanda Horne 21 December 2014 - 11:26 pm

I love reading everyone’s ideas. I could have used this list about 6 weeks ago to allow me to prepare for some of the great gift ideas 😉 Have a very happy Christmas and New Year. Amanda

Editor K.H.B. 23 December 2014 - 10:39 am

Yes, Amanda, we need to put this on the calendar to do earlier in the year. The only thing I can say is that we’ve been doing this since 2008, so you could always look for last year’s list! Many of the ideas are timeless.

2013’s list links to 2012’s, which links to 2011’s….


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com