LOS ALTOS, CA, December 7, 2012 – Last Sunday marked the first of at least five Christmas parties my wife and I have scheduled over the next few weeks – a happy gathering that included a delicious meal (gotta get that yam casserole recipe), carol singing, gift giving, and lots of catching up with friends old and new.
To be honest, though, I think I would have preferred spending at least part of the evening in the family room where all the kids were watching a video of Dr. Seuss’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” When I was their age seeing this popular TV program (before the days of Netflix when you had only one chance to watch it “live”) usually marked the official beginning of the holiday season. What can I say? I’m a sucker for nostalgia.
To this day I get a lump in my throat whenever I recall the moment when the Grinch discovers (spoiler alert) that despite his best efforts, Christmas still comes for all the Whos in Whoville.
He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!
And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!
(Anyone else need a tissue?)
Call me crazy, but the more I think about how this story ends, the more I wonder if it’s as much about how to care for our bodies as it is the true meaning of Christmas.
Think about it: A curmudgeonly creature witnesses an impressive, almost inexplicable, display of yuletide joy. Suddenly he finds himself overcome with an irresistible sense of generosity and – wham! – his heart triples in size.
Ask social psychologist, Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, for her take on this story and she’d probably say this sort of thing is to be expected.
A couple years ago Dr. Dunn just happened to have conducted a study to determine the mental and physical impact of generosity – on people, that is, not Grinches.
A game was played in which each participant was given ten dollars and told that they could either keep the money themselves or give any portion of it away.
“What we found, was that the more money people gave away, the happier they felt,” said Dr. Dunn in a podcast interview for Scientific American. “Conversely though, the more money people kept for themselves the more shame they experienced. And the more shame people felt, the more we saw their cortisol levels rise. This is important, because cortisol is thought to explain some of the links that we’ve seen between stress and disease.”
Of course it’s no secret that stress can lead to all sorts of problems, including heart disease. It stands to reason, then, that the more generous we are the less stress we’ll feel and the better and (at least in the Grinch’s case) bigger our heart.
Interestingly, even though our research methods have grown ever more sophisticated over the years, the results remain remarkably consistent.
“He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully,” observed St. Paul some 2000 years before Dr. Dunn’s study. In other words, what you give is what you get, not the least of which is a happier, healthier heart.
We can only assume this goes for Grinches as well as people.
Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner, whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
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