Holiday Gift Ideas toward Making a Significant Difference

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 14, Issue No. 8b
December 15, 2015

By Dan Coughlin


While you’re buying holiday gifts for your friends and family, take some time to buy yourself a gift that can help you make a significant difference in 2016. Here is a list of books, movies, documentaries, and other ideas that you can buy for yourself.


Here are books I’ve read over the past year that I recommend in terms of finding ideas on how to make a significant difference:

A Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis and Robert Harper; Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders by Aaron Beck; and Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness, and Flourish by Martin Seligman. I think of these five books as a complete set of ideas on both why it’s important to control your thoughts in order to affect your emotions and how to do it effectively. Any one of these is powerful, but together they are extraordinary.

The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. This is an incredibly valuable book for parents of young athletes, and I’m defining “young” as being from three years to eighteen years old. His best advice: a parent’s primary job at a youth sporting event is to stay quiet. Just clap. Nothing else. Let the kids have the experience. It’s their turn to have the experience, not your turn. Don’t become part of the game.

I Can See Clearly Now, Wishes Fulfilled, The Power of Intention, and The Shift by Wayne Dyer. I’ve had an on-again, offffff-again, on-again relationship with Wayne Dyer’s books. In the early 1990s I read six books by Wayne Dyer. They were really good, and then I just stopped reading his work. Then for some reason I started reading him again this year in March. And his books were great. And then in August he passed away. I’m so glad I got back to reading his work. He’s a little like a modern-day Henry David Thoreau.

I Can See Clearly Now was a look back at each stage of his life and what he got out of it. It’s a great exercise for all of us to do. Wishes Fulfilled is a great book on leveraging the power of our imagination. The Power of Intention is a really meaningful book on spirituality and allowing our purpose in life to come from a higher being than just our own desires. The Shift has the subtitle: taking your life from ambition to meaning. It has four chapters called “From,” “Ambition,” “To,” and “Meaning.” So simple and so significant.

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. This is a loooong book, but it is incredibly powerful. It most definitely shows how one person can make a significant difference in the history of the world.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown are my two favorite books that I read this year. And they both came from my brother, Kevin, who was the first person to guide me to great books back in 1974. Beautiful stories about grit, resilience, discipline, focus, effort, and teamwork. They explain many of the elements we all need to make a significant difference with our lives.

Becoming Steve Jobs is a great book about the importance of maturity in becoming a great leader.

Working With Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and Humans are Underrated by Geoff Colvin both did a great job of emphasizing the importance of empathy. Empathy may very well be the single most important skill that a business leader needs to cultivate within himself or herself.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. This is a great book on why it’s so important for each person to choose his or her own beliefs about life. As much as we might admire our parents or other influential people in our lives, we still have to choose our own beliefs.


Here are some films that have impacted my life:

Field of Dreams is my favorite film about listening to our inner voice and trusting our gut.

Dead Poets Society is my favorite film on the importance of being a nonconformist and seizing each and every day to make the difference that we are capable of making in the world.

Awakenings is another one of my favorite Robin Williams’ movies. It’s about the importance of reigniting the human spirit in all of us.

Lorenzo’s Oil is an amazing film about the power of parents’ love for their children. I first saw it about six years before our first child, Sarah, was born. It touched me then back in 1993, and it still does today.

Hoosiers is a great film on the idea that the only way for a team to succeed is when everyone is doing their best to help every other member of the team to succeed.

Miracle on 34th Street is a great film on how to build a brand. Be positive when you talk about your competition and add value to your customers by telling them where they can get what they want even if it’s not from your organization.

It’s A Wonderful Life is a great film on the importance of appreciating our lives and the impact we have had on other people’s lives.


The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell is offered as a DVD and as a book on Amazon. Get both. It is so interesting to listen to Campbell on the DVD and to read his thoughts on the hero’s journey. It’s a journey that any person can take on the road to making a difference in the world.

Other Ideas

A blank journal. The best book you might get this year is a blank book. Barnes and Noble has these beautiful leather-bound blank books. Take the time to fill it with your ideas as the year moves along. And periodically go back and reread it. Your ideas can change the world. Okay, here’s one more book recommendation. It’s called What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom. It will take you fifteen minutes to read the book, and it might just change your life.

A 90-minute massage. Give yourself a break. Let someone else work on you from time to time.

A long walk in the woods. That’s a great free gift to give yourself. Get away and walk in nature. Do it often.

A wonderful dinner at a quiet classy restaurant. Allow yourself to recharge for the next climb up the mountain.

A game of Catch Phrase. Some of my favorite family memories involve playing Catch Phrase. Family is ALWAYS more important than work. Enough said.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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