Christmas giving can be a burden. It can also liberate us. We can stress over presents and donations, or... we can follow the example of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Dictionaries define a "scrooge" as a miserly person, a skinflint. Yet the main character of Dickens' classic book A Christmas Carol stands out as my favorite literary philanthropist.
When Scrooge casts off his mean and greedy persona, he embraces giving and turns his constrained life into a celebration.
Here's how he does it:
Scrooge's personal transformation comes after visits by four spirit guides, including his former business partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. They help deliver a profound epiphany in which Scrooge sees himself for the first time as he is -- miserable, friendless and missing out on obvious opportunities to create and share happiness.
However, this stark truth leaves room for hope: Scrooge experiences regret while he still has time to take action to address it. And so his soul-shaking revelation becomes a potent -- and joyous -- motivation for change.
We can find a similar motivation, too, if we take a few minutes and imagine we are giving our own eulogy.
It's not hard. Ask these questions:
- What is the meaning of your life?
- What do you care about most?
- What haven't you done that you wish you had done?
The answers can open our eyes and allow us to address our regrets and our dreams while we still have time.
Scrooge doesn't over-think his giving or let ego take over the gift selection process. On Christmas, he orders the prize turkey for the under-nourished Cratchit family, promises a donation to the fund for the poor (that he previously shunned) and visits his jovial nephew Fred to share Christmas dinner (he had spurned the invitation earlier).
In 2014, re-gifting is a nifty way to get rid of things you don't like -- but it doesn't deliver the fun of giving what someone -- or some worthy organization -- really could use.
Research helps here. The key takeaway:
Ask others what they want or need.
A Christmas surprise is nice, but Christmas satisfaction is nicer.
Scrooge personifies the benevolent circle that comes with heart-driven giving:
If we are grateful, we will want to give. And if we give, we will feel grateful (and happy).
Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning extremely thankful just to be alive. He quickly goes into action, opening his window and calling to a boy to go buy the turkey for the Crachit family. His gratefulness drives his behavior. He exclaims: "I will live in the Past, Present, Future. The Spirits of all three will strive in me. Oh, Jacob Marley! Heaven and Christmas Time be praised for this..."
Scrooge's giving also helps amplify his feeling of good will and connection to his community. He blesses others with his generosity and feels blessed to have the opportunity to give.
Dickens tells us that the former miser offers his employee Bob Crachit a raise and becomes "a second father" to Cratchit's son Tiny Tim.
[Scrooge] became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew ... Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them ... His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
So how can we be more like Scrooge? How can we find that kind of bulletproof joy and generosity?
I believe the best route is through an open heart and an inquiring mind. So why not ask ourselves:
- Is giving a duty or a privilege?
- If it's a duty, think about why -- do we give seeking approval from the recipient? From peers or friends? From the community or society at large?
- How could we change our approach to giving to tap into motivations deep within us?
What we learn could lead us to a kind of boisterous bliss -- as it did old Ebenezer Scrooge when he said:
I'm as light as a feather. I'm as happy as an angel. I'm as merry as a schoolboy. I'm as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everyone. A happy new year to the whole world. Hallo there! Whoop! Hallo!
Cross-posted on Thinking Philanthropy.