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The Ebenezer Scrooge Effect

Imagining our own mortality can help us appreciate what we have.

Classic studies in positive psychology show that expressing and experiencing gratitude bring peace of mind, satisfying personal relationships, and wellbeing.

So what stops us from being more grateful?

Research suggests that certain attitudes are incompatible with gratitude, such as an overemphasis on materialistic values. Rather than appreciating what we have in life we are focused on what we don’t have.

Imagining our own mortality can help us appreciate what we have and compel us to set new and less materialistic goals.

In a Christmas Carol , Charles Dickens tells us the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly man whose life has been devoted to accruing wealth. During the night of Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of “Christmas yet to come” and compelled to stare into the faces of lost loved ones, to contemplate future losses and to acknowledge his own mortality and witness life after his own death.

He watches strangers paw through his belongings and listens to people talking about him without love in their voices. He is taken by the ghost to visit his own grave—and, running fingers over the letters of his name engraved on the tombstone, he is transformed. Awakening on Christmas morning, Scrooge is now appreciative of his relationship with his nephew. He experiences compassion for others and decides to give his employee a huge rise in salary. He buys a turkey for his employee’s family and, for the first time, embraces life with pleasure.

Inspired by Scrooge’s story, imagine what your own headstone would say if you were to die tomorrow?

Are these the words you would like to see on your headstone? If not, write down the words you would like to read.

Imagining loss helps us to focus on what really matters and to set new goals that are more true to our values.

If that seems helpful, take this exercise further and write out your own obituary as you would like it to read. What would you like that to say about you?

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