December 19, 2012
Real Life Scrooges: From Curmudgeon To Saint
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
One of the most iconic lines of Christmas is "Bah, humbug!" uttered by Ebenezer Scrooge, the famous miser in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
BYU psychology professor Sam Hardy and former graduate student Jon Skalski performed an in-depth study of 14 participants who have experienced profound, sudden and lasting life changes. The researchers say that Scrooge, though fictional, would be a perfect fit for their study.
“Like our participants, Scrooge was suffering,” Skalski said. “There was disintegration. There was a world that was ripe for change because of suffering going on.”
Though Scrooge was wealthy in material goods and money, he was poor in relationships, having suffered many traumatic losses in his life. Scrooge was orphaned as a child, had his heart broken by a failed engagement, and each Christmas Eve, on the anniversary of his only friend's death, his suffering deepened.
Jacob Marley, Scrooge's departed friend, appears seven years after his death to warn Scrooge of his future should he continue down his chosen path. Marley is a ghost in the novel, but his character is true to life. Most participants in the study, which will appear in January's issue of The Humanistic Psychologist, described the presence of a trusted person during their life-changing experience.
“Just by their presence, a trusted friend can open up possibilities and a sense of faith in what´s possible that one can´t see,” Skalski said.
The research team employed Craigslist in both Utah and Illinois to find participants for the study, as finding people who fit the criteria was difficult.
None of the life-changing events in the participants' lives was recent, with the average between the transformational event and study participation being nine years. Most participants reported that they could remember the exact time of day when the turning point in their lives happened.
“I´ve often thought about this, whether these transformations are really sudden or gradual,” Skalski said. “It´s like water boiling — you can look at that as a discontinuous change from not boiling to boiling, but there are certain elements going on beneath the surface that allow for the dramatic change to take place.”
For one participant, an entrepreneur referred to as Kevin, the turmoil arose because of his failed business ventures. As his businesses crashed so did his personality as a successful businessman. Much like Scrooge, Kevin had neglected close relationships and said his mind was “in a very dark place.”
Kevin reports that in his breakthrough moment, however, his life instantly took on a whole new meaning.
“I say it´s the best thing that could´ve happened, because my life is so much more rewarding than it once was. You can´t put a price tag on certain“¦events that I maybe missed before — certain events, and a marriage, and a family, birthdays, you know? Certain things that are just really fun to be a part of are more meaningful, and it is happiness — the kind that lasts. I know these truths have been around forever. But for me they´re new.”
Another participant reported her world crumbling because she based her self-worth on her success in school. She emerged from this transformational event with a focus on other people, much like Scrooge and Kevin.
“Now I measure success by my — how much time I spend serving and doing those things, because those — serving and being with people — are really what bring me satisfaction now.”
Each of the 14 participants reported experiencing overwhelming stress prior to their breakthrough moment. As an expert in human development, Hardy wondered whether hitting rock bottom is necessary for such a positive transformation to take place.
“That led me to think, well, is there a way that people can capitalize on these mechanisms of change and initiate them themselves instead of bottoming out,” Hardy said. “Can you self-initiate this kind of change?”
In addition to Scrooge, Skalski examined another fictional holiday parallel by researching the film "It's A Wonderful Life." The lead character, George Bailey is planning to end his life when he realizes that other people depend on him in Bedford Falls. This prompts another iconic Christmas line, "I want to live again!"
“Those stories are stuck within our culture,” Skalski said. “We all know deep down inside that human beings can and do change in profound and significant ways.”