A Christmas Carol and Happy Christmas From Me!

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas as I write this post and I'm getting used to the daily updates from my kids about how many sleeps are left until Santa comes. 

Apart from the traditional watching of 'It's a Wonderful Life', most of the other Christmas activities (apart from the bootcamp Christmas jumper workout) have already taken place and been a lot of fun. In my last post I wrote about the Ely Festive 5k I ran with my daughter (along with writing about all the research about why you should get running and exercising). We've been up to Birmingham for their Christmas market, Santa has called around our street in his sleigh (pulled by a car because the reindeer are resting) and the other night my wife and I went to watch 'A Christmas Carol' being performed at Ely Cathedral. It's a fun and busy time of year!

The main purpose of this post is to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I'm grateful to all of you who have supported me and worked with me this year and I wish you all the very happiest for 2020. 

And, with the performance fresh in my mind, and always liking a bit of atmospheric Dickens at this time of year, I thought I'd also mention a few things we can all be mindful of from good old Mr Scrooge and company.

Happy Christmas Fun

For those of you who like to get updated on what I've been up to in recent weeks here are a few of the highlights:

I've already mentioned the Ely Festive 5k where I don my big white beard and jog around the streets of Ely with my daughter in support of the Arthur Rank Hospice charity (and I wrote a bit more about all this here: Ely Festive 5k 2019 and Why You Should Get Running For Your Mental Health):

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And we also headed up to Birmingham to the Christmas Market (it was freezing!) and while at the train station we caught a glimpse of the Polar Express starting its journey. As you can tell my daughter gave the trip a thumbs up!

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 And the other night the big man himself (Father Christmas!) came past our house in his sleigh ( a nice grainy image so that you can't tell whether it is the real Santa or not...!!):

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And, perhaps the highlight of the lot, a trip to Ely Cathedral to watch a performance of A Christmas Carol.

A Christmas Carol

Now, as it's been around since 1843, I'm going to take the risk and assume that you know the storyline of the novel (or novella as my wife keeps pointing out to me). If somehow you don't know the story then this better be your spoiler alert right here!

Mean, miserable, miser Scrooge is visited by four ghosts who force him to reflect on his past, acknowledge the present and contemplate his future should he continue living in his life in the same old way. 

He certainly cuts a charming figure at the start of the story before everything changes. “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol). Probably not how most of us would like to be described that!

And whilst others consider Christmas to be a time of cheer, good will and happiness, Scrooge considers it all a waste of money and time and as nothing but 'humbug'. As Scrooge put it, "If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” A right old barrel of laughs that one!

Yet having been taken on a journey through his past, present and future, Scrooge changes his ways, adopts a more joyous mindset and finds happiness for himself and those around him. And having faced up to his life, Scrooge vows that “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

So why am I telling you all about this? Because I think there are some useful insights and thought provoking lessons that we can all take from the tale.

And it certainly was a wonderful atmosphere at the Cathedral to watch, enjoy and contemplate the story. A great story, great performers and a super atmospheric setting.

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The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present

Everything we have experienced and been through in our past can shape who we are right now. Scrooge is forced to consider some pretty painful stuff he would rather forget that outlined his journey towards misery, lonliless and greed. 

Many people try to forget about their past and spend little time considering it, whilst others maybe spend too much time ruminating and looking back. 

We learn, adapt and change through the years, sometimes we make deliberate changes and sometimes we just pick up stuff or absorb stuff without noticing that we may have done so. There can be some benefit in briefly contemplating things you have experienced and been through and actions we've taken, decisions we've made and moments we've experienced. Many of these have made us who we are today -the bits we like and those we may not.

We can think back on good times and those happy times and memories and allow them to warm our hearts. And we can think back on some of the more painful moments and choose to leave some things back in the past. Or we can aim to release any negative emotions that belong back there or choose to forgive ourselves or others, if such forgiveness brings us relief.

And certainly, no matter what you may have been through in your past, the fact that you have made it to now should remind you that you have strength, courage and resilience that can bring you fortitude for the future. You can also reflect on the types of things that you used to enjoy.  

You may also remember aspects of yourself that you may have forgotten in your daily businesses. Perhaps there were things you used to do and enjoy or that brought you happiness and, having noticed these, you could make the decision to seek these things out now that they may be joyful once more.

As Scrooge is informed, we can no more change the present than we can the past. Yet being present can also bring many benefits. You get to notice where your life is at. There will be many good things - people, possessions, things, places and so forth - that you can truly feel grateful for. By being in the present you get to notice and appreciate these things around you (and many of us are often too busy to do so). Rather than only focussing on the negative, we can deliberately and consciously pay attention to the good stuff too.

I've written about the many upsides of expressing gratitude in these articles:

The Impact of Gratitude on Anxiety, Depression, Self-Esteem and Well-being

Gratitude and Well-Being: How To Improve Your Well-Being and Self-Esteem

And, of course, in a mindfulness kind of way, if we are paying attention to the here and now then we can't be ruminating about the past or using our imagination to create future worse case scenarios that make us anxious. 

Being present also allows us to acknowledge and take stock of our life. If there are things that we want to change in our lives then noticing these and being honest about them can mean we do something about them, rather than putting it off or ignoring those things that need action.

The Ghost of Christmas Future

Of all the ghosts in A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Christmas Future is perhaps the one that forces Scrooge to confront the consequences if he continues living in his life in the same old way. He foresees people being pleased at his death, mocking him and a bleak, unloved end to a life that nobody mourns. 

And whereas the past and present cannot be altered, Scrooge begs to know “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?

Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

Whatever your assessment of your past and present, where ever your life is at right now, there is always scope for change for the better. Just because you've done things in one way up until now does not mean you are fated to do so forevermore.

One way to do this is to think about how your life will be if you carry on for the next year, five years, even ten years from now. In the same way Scrooge was forced to, you can start to think about the likely consequences if you keep doing the same things in the same way and getting similar results. You can then contrast it with your perceived future if you start making changes and doing things differently from today. How will your life be different if you take action and get things done on your goals or in ways that will cause you to live the life you want to live?  

I've written more about this in these articles: 

Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Future and Increasing Motivation

Dickens, Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future

No matter what you contemplate, it's very likely the case that, like Scrooge, anything that involves worrying less, laughing more, being more positive in your mindset and connecting with others will bring benefits to your mental health, well-being and happiness. Get out there and do things that increase your levels of joy and happiness!

Merry Christmas! And a Happy New Year!

All of which leads me to the last point of this article, which is to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I wish you and your loved ones a truly lovely festive period and a happy and healthy 2020! 

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And I hope that for many of us, this sentiment really does hold true: 

And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol). 

Merry Christmas!

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket