The story of Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’s famous story A Christmas Carol, formed some of the foundation of the work that I’ve done in financial therapy. In fact, the first study in psychology around possibilities for changing disordered money issues and behaviors was done using A Christmas Carol as the treatment outline.
At the beginning of the story, Scrooge was a miserable miser who was in complete denial about having a problem. The ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley appeared and told him that he needed to change, or things were not going to end well for him. This intervention helped Scrooge become willing to consider change, and the formula for that change included visits from the Spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future.
Just as experiential therapy often does, the first Spirit showed Scrooge scenes of his past, which held a lot of unfinished business, trauma, and painful emotions that he had never processed. He experienced and worked through a whole range of emotions as he cried, laughed, and felt fear.
Next the Spirit of Christmas Present came to help Scrooge see reality and also to model the authenticity and abundance that Scrooge lacked in his life. It’s important that this was the second step, not the first. In the path to emotional and financial wellbeing, we often try to start with the present. Yet visiting the past first is crucial to helping us heal from trauma and to see and understand the truths—including hard truths—of the present.
The next guide, the Spirit of Christmas Future, pointed Scrooge to the dismal and frightening prospects that his life would become if he continued along his current path.
When he woke on Christmas Day, Scrooge was transformed. This is what he did: He ordered a huge turkey to be sent to the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit, and generously tipped the boy who ran the errand for him. He took a walk through the streets, warmly greeting people and shocking those who knew his mean-spirited reputation. He promised a generous gift to a charity whose representatives he had turned away harshly the previous day. He went to church. He went to the home of his nephew, Fred, whose invitation the day before he had rejected, humbly asking if he could come in. He received a warm welcome, and he participated fully in all the activities and festivities of the day. The next day at work, he increased Bob Cratchit’s salary and began to treat him as a respected employee and not a servant.
After his transformation, Scrooge began to spend more money than he had done before, both at Christmas and during the rest of the year. When I suggest celebrating Christmas like Scrooge, do I mean you should spend more? Not necessarily. As a successful man of business, the transformed Scrooge could certainly afford to spend more. In fact, he needed to spend more in order to change the miserliness that had caused such harm to himself and others and to live more comfortably and generously.
But the number one takeaway that I see in Scrooge’s transformation is what he added to his life: being charitable, thinking of others, spirituality, and connection with family and friends. Those essential elements of wellbeing were what his money supported. That’s why at the end of the book Dickens described Scrooge as being “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew”.
For Scrooge, and for us, observing the Christmas season doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with how much we spend on gifts. My wish is that you find this Christmas season meaningful and that your money can support the celebration and the joy of doing what nourishes you. Celebrating in the manner of the transformed Scrooge includes giving what we can to others by opening our hearts and our lives, sharing some vulnerabilities, and spending time with those that we care about the most.
Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.