How can a man such as Scrooge, so shrivelled up inside, so angry, frustrated and narrow in how he saw his neighbours, have such a change of heart that it brings health and healing, not just for him but also to others? Is ‘A Christmas Carol’ just a “feel good” fairy tale, or does it have a much deeper significance that makes this classic Christmas story important today?
Dickens well understood human nature, and wrote about it in all its various forms, but he also saw the capacity we each have for a change of heart. In the story, three spirits show Scrooge his past, present and future. How many of us would be willing to revisit the past to confront our mistakes, as Scrooge was made to do? Perhaps we would be willing if we could see how our past and present actions may influence our future health outcomes. For example, we are told that if we quit smoking today, our health will improve in the future and reduce our risk of dying early. We are also advised that exercise and certain foods are good for our health. But in Scrooge’s case, it was his thoughts that needed a change – a shift from taking to giving…
What if the doctors of his day had told Scrooge that changing his attitude toward those he barely even acknowledged, would give him and others a healthier life? That is what health professionals are increasingly discovering.
Health is not just about changing what we eat or taking the right amount of exercise, helpful though these may be. It is only part of the health equation; the other is taking care of our thoughts. Rather than thinking we have to undergo a wholesale character makeover to be healthier, why not just start with three changes to how we live and work with others?In many of his novels Dickens included three gifts that we can give to ourselves that will also bless others. All have health benefits such as lowering stress and blood pressure, reducing heart disease and recovering more quickly from illness.
1. Forgiveness – is a notoriously difficult, but important activity when one is feeling angry and deeply wounded. But holding onto bitterness and anger is debilitating. Honestly addressing the reasons why we find forgiveness difficult is a start at finding a more compassionate way of living. When we forgive, stress is relieved and anxiety declines.
2. Patience – does not so much involve time as it does an attitude of thought that brings a healthy peace to frustrating situations – in traffic, a bank line up or in the family. Figuring out what makes us impatient and then being willing to address those reactions in a calmer way requires a change in the way we see our life. Patience means being willing to wait.
3. Caring about others – Moving away from the “selfie” view of life to caring about our neighbour and the needs of our community brings with it a sense of being included and involved. Social connection is good for our health.
One man recently made that same discovery, and wrote about it in his book, “How Starbucks Saved My Life.” A self-described old white guy – a bit of a modern day Scrooge – from a privileged background, Michael Gates Guy suddenly found that he had lost everything he thought was important. Unwell, and needing a job, he found himself working in a Starbucks. Where before he had casually treated such a place as an office space, never considering the people who worked there, he now discovered new relationships with people he would never have noticed before, never mind talking with. By becoming involved, a whole new world opened up to him and a revolutionary way of thinking came with it. He now saw his community and himself differently – with more humility, greater compassion, kindness and patience.
Instead of worrying about how we look or feel, or how others make us feel, we can take a few pointers from Michael Guy who discovered that the world needed his contribution. With a change of heart, he felt deeper, spiritual connections that made a difference for him and those around him.
In our own lives, we may sometimes feel that we can make no difference to alleviating the world’s problems, or even those in our own community. But the Christian message in its purest form says that we can contribute, and in doing so become healthier while also helping others to be so.
As Scrooge said after his change of heart:-
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol