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Huffington This Week: Reinventing the Art of Giving

11/13/2012 06:06 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2013

In this double issue of Huffington magazine, I'm delighted to present our first-ever Huffington gift guide. Our editors have drawn up a list of their favorite gift ideas for everyone: from travelers, sports fans and gadget lovers to environmentalists, culture buffs and kids. But as special issue editors Kate Palmer and Theresa D'Angelo write, our guide is more than just a list of stuff to buy; it's about "seeing the holiday season as a time of reinvention."

To honor that spirit of reinvention, we're spotlighting some of the most creative thinkers in the holiday realm -- from entrepreneurs launching holiday-themed startups to retailers redefining the brick-and-mortar experience. Our holiday road trip features affordable local gifts in cities across America. And beyond the practical questions of what gifts to buy and how to buy (and wrap) them, we ask some larger questions: Why do we give? Why is it important to give back? And John Poisson, CEO of Wantful.com, brings in a theme we've long been focusing on at HuffPost: stress. "We have so much stress around buying gifts," he says. "It has become transactional, and we've lost the emotional aspects, the ritual."

So, we hope the Huffington gift guide will be a stress-reducing way to shop for the ones you love. Part of the joy of browsing the guide is its mix of familiar items and new discoveries. I gravitated to the ostrich pillow (don't worry, it's not made of ostrich feathers!), the "library-scented" reading candle, and the online yoga classes. And I learned about "Story," a concept store in my own neighborhood, Chelsea, which changes its merchandise and decor every four-to-eight weeks in order to tell a different story -- "a magazine that comes to life," as owner Rachel Schectman puts it.

Most of all, we hope our gift guide will provide perspective -- something we can all use, especially at this time of year. As part of our commitment to going beyond the frenzy of gift-giving and understanding where those gifts come from, we feature the voice of Sushila Ashok, an artisan from western India whose crafts are sold by fair trade companies each year. "I start working at 9:30, doing embroidery work until 5:30, and then I go back home with the children and cook food, wash clothes, and do household work," says Ashok, who works for a nonprofit devoted to paying artisans a livable wage. And those who want to give back this holiday season will find a variety of charities and funds, from relief for veterans and victims of Hurricane Sandy to abandoned pets and hospitalized children in need of toys and books.

Of course, giving back doesn't have to include physical gifts. My mother had no money, and making ends meet was a struggle for most of her life. But her generosity of spirit was infectious. She approached life by liking everybody, and because this feeling of trust and connection is contagious, everybody liked her right back. She also had absolutely no sense of hierarchy. One night, while I was living in London, a friend happened to bring Prime Minister Edward Heath to dinner. After he came in, my mother was in the kitchen, where she could be found most of the time, talking to the plumber, who had come to fix a last-minute problem. As I was leaving the kitchen, I overheard my mother asking the plumber what he thought of the prime minister. The plumber complained that the Prime Minister didn't understand the working class. So my mother proceeded to go in the dining room and ask the prime minister if he could please come into the kitchen to talk to the plumber. And talk things out they did! Her generosity of spirit touched everyone she came into contact with -- and as a result it was impossible for her to have impersonal relations.

It's all about tapping into one of our most powerful qualities, generosity, and widening the circle of our concern. Since my hip replacement surgery, when I received a two-pint blood transfusion, I've had a lot of time to reflect on this particular quality (it's a very humbling experience having someone else's generosity literally being pumped into your veins).

And when we give, it can transform the giver as much as the receiver. Years ago, for example, one of my daughters had problems with an eating disorder. When she started volunteering at A Place Called Home in South Central Los Angeles that helps take care of at-risk children, it began to change her own sense of her problems, of how she saw herself. There's nothing like reaching out to help others to put our own problems in perspective. By helping to change the world, we can help change ourselves.

So, happy holidays from all of us at Huffington. Growing up in Athens, I looked forward each year to the holidays, when my mother would bake melomakarona, the traditional Greek Christmas cookies. I hope the Huffington gift guide will become a holiday tradition, too.

This story appears in the Holiday Gift Guide issue of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store.