Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, tells the tale of one Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve. First, his dead partner Marley, wrapped in the eternal chains forged by a lifetime of venality.  Then, in quick succession, the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come, which show Scrooge why he is alone and miserable.  These insights terrify the old skinflint into reforming, and in the course of the night he transitions from, ‘Bah, humbug!” miserable, to a man made happy by a love-filled heart.  He generously buys a large Christmas goose for his long suffering and underpaid employee Bob Cratchit—who we now know will have a much better time of things—and becomes a man who thereafter “always kept Christmas well,” joyfully agreeing when Tiny Tim cries out, “God bless us everyone!”

I always liked A Christmas Carol.  But now “science” has supposedly proved the truth of old Ebenezer’s holiday happiness formula. From the San Francisco Chronicle story.

It turns out you don’t have to be miserable during the holidays. That’s now scientifically proven by studies, say UC Berkeley scientists who  do those studies. These wise men and women have come up with quantifiable, tested data showing  that with little more than an attitude boost, anyone can get through the  toughest of holiday times with not just a smile on his face, but real warmth in his heart.

Scrooge got it right:
It’s all about concentrating on the things in our lives that work well and  being thankful for them, then tossing in a heaping helping of compassion, say  the goodness-minded folks at the Greater Good Science Center. Carrying on nice family rituals, religious or not, that are comforting and  foster pleasant togetherness also goes a long way, they say. The center has a set of reports, self-administered online tests - the  Altruism Quiz is one - and graphics with good-attitude hints to reinforce all  this advice. Paying close attention can help grind the Grinch right out of  anyone, the center’s researchers say.

“The gist of it isn’t any more complicated than the fact that consumption and  materialism will not make us happy,” said Christine Carter, a sociologist whose  title at the center is the Santa-worthy one of happiness expert. “We confuse those things with happiness,” Carter said. “But we have found  that there are three main things that make you happier over the holidays, and  they have nothing to do with materialism.” Those three things consist of feeling grateful for the good things in your  life, taking time with your family and using every opportunity you can to help  others.

Duh.  You don’t need to be a Berkeley scientist to know that.

I am not sure why this required a “scientific” study or the taking up of taxpayer money to conduct it, much less was worthy of reporting on the front page of a major metropolitan newspaper. It’s old wisdom.  Dickens nailed the formula back in 1843 through one of English Letters’ most memorable characters. But it goes back much further than that: ”It is far better to give, than receive.”

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles