Scrooge's experience not stuff of fiction: Psychologists

By Indo Asian News Service | Wednesday, December 19, 2012 | 4:12:15 PM IST (+05:30 GMT) Comment 0 Comment

Washington, Dec 19 (IANS) "Bah, humbug!" The phrase would remind you of Ebenezer Scrooge, the notorious miser in Charles Dickens's 1843 novel "A Christmas Carol". The authors of a new psychological study on life-changing experiences say there is much truth in Charles Dickens's portrayal of Scrooge and his sudden switch to saintliness.

Washington, Dec 19 (IANS) "Bah, humbug!" The phrase would remind you of Ebenezer Scrooge, the notorious miser in Charles Dickens's 1843 novel "A Christmas Carol". The authors of a new psychological study on life-changing experiences say there is much truth in Charles Dickens's portrayal of Scrooge and his sudden switch to saintliness.

Former grad student Jon Skalski and Brigham Young University psychology professor Sam Hardy conducted an in-depth study of people who experienced profound, sudden and lasting change. They say the fictional Scrooge would fit right in, the journal The Humanistic Psychologist reports.

"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 had money, he hit rock bottom in terms of relationships. Orphaned as a child and broken-hearted from a failed engagement, Scrooge's pains intensify each Christmas Eve, the anniversary of the death of his only friend, Jacob Marley, according to a Brigham Young statement.

In the story, Marley appears seven years after his death as a voice of warning. Though a ghost, the role he plays is true to life. Most study participants described the presence of a trusted other person during their 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.

Finding people that fit the criteria was no easy task. They placed ads on Craigslist in Illinois and Utah. Notably, the experiences shared by the participants were not recent events. On average, nine years had passed between the transformation and their interview. Most of them could remember the exact time of day when the turning point occurred.

"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 an entrepreneur referred to as Kevin in the study, the preceding turmoil arose because his identity as a successful businessman crashed, along with his failed ventures. Like Scrooge, he had neglected relationships and said his psyche was "in a very dark place". But with his breakthrough moment, life instantly took on a whole new meaning for Kevin.

"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; they make life more meaningful, and make for happiness, the kind that lasts. I know these truths have been around forever. But for me they're new," said Kevin.

Similarly, another participant's world crumbled because she based her worth on how she did in school. Like Scrooge and Kevin, she emerged with a focus on other people.

"Now I measure success by - how much time I spend serving and doing those things, because those - serving and being with people - are really what bring me satisfaction now," she said.

Each of the study participants said they experienced overwhelming stress prior to their breakthrough.

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