Jim Carrey, Kelsey Grammer, Susan Lucci, Beavis, James Earl Jones, Fred Flintstone, Albert Finney, and Tori Spelling are just a few of the actors and characters to have portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in variations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I just watched the George C. Scott version the other night and am still hoping to see the Muppet adaptation and Bill Murray’s comedic modern-day revision before Christmas.
What’s the appeal? There is something about an old, miserly curmudgeon obsessed with money and power acknowledging the depths of his misery and awakening to a lost sense of generosity that melts the heart. What can I say?
If you count them all there have been over 200 different undertakings to share the classic story of the transformation of a miserable old soul into a giddy and happy benefactor. It is a story that resonates in our culture and speaks to every heart regardless of age or nationality.
During that fateful Christmas Eve night when confronted by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, Scrooge remembers to love. And his love is embodied in giving. And his generosity changes his whole demeanor for the better.
An infestation of bah-humbug thinking pesters all of us from time to time. Helplessness, hopelessness, poverty, despair, and a host of pesky doubts can swarm us and even compromise our health.
It turns out generosity can snap us out of the humbug funk and improve our well-being. And more Americans are figuring that out.
“Beneath our culture’s obsession with wealth and power, status and celebrity, millions of Americans are quietly engaged in a deeply religious struggle to wake up from petty selfishness and to embrace a life of benevolence and compassion,” according to Stephen Post, researcher, author and Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics in the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University (SUNY). He began his research career at Case Western Reserve.
Post and two colleagues, Dr. Matthew T. Lee and Dr. Margaret M. Poloma, associated with the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love and the University of Akron, have collaborated on a new book, The Heart of Religion: Spiritual empowerment, benevolence, and the experience of God’s love.
The book focuses on a new national survey conducted to establish data about Americans experiencing God’s love and its impact. They found that over 80% of respondents acknowledge they “experience God’s love as the greatest power in the universe.” A similar number report to feeling “God’s love increasing their compassion for others.”
I will attest to that! I think one of the most profound statements in the Bible is “anyone who does not love others does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:8) There have been so many instances where reaching out to others has enriched me.
Once, I was driving on a cold, rainy day and happened to notice a woman standing by an uncovered bus stop. She was drenched. I wanted to get home. It wasn’t until the next block or two that it dawned on me that I should help her in some way. But the bah-humbug excuses began infesting my reasoning. What could I do? I needed to get home. I was busy. She might be fearful I if approached her. So I went on.
By the time I reached the next stop sign, my conscience was in overdrive. GO HELP! This time I listened and acted. After driving around the block a couple of times, I found the woman still waiting for the bus and looking pretty pathetic. I stopped, got out of my car and went up to her and asked if I could take her somewhere. She declined. I offered my umbrella and she accepted with much gratitude and a big smile. Driving away I was happy that something as simple as an umbrella could bring about such a change in demeanor…hers and mine.
Generosity is more than a fuzzy, warm feeling. Bigheartedness has a health component. Participants in the Do Good Live Well Survey, released by United Healthcare, reportthat “volunteering made them feel physically healthier”. Other findings include:
• 89% report that “volunteering has improved my sense of well-bring”
• 73% agree that “volunteering lowered my stress levels”
• 92% agree that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life
“Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us,” writes Mary Baker Eddy, a religious leader who studied the measurable effects of God’s love on health and well-being. And while the concept of giving to enhance life might seem counterintuitive to a Scrooge-like mentality, evidence supports the notion that a generous lifestyle has healthy benefits.
Dickens sums up his Christmas tale this way. When referring to Scrooge he writes, “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”
May your holiday be humbug free.