The Science Behind Not Being Scrooge
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the holiday tale "A Christmas Carol" offers a valuable lesson for us all. Ebenezer Scrooge, the protagonist of the story, undergoes a transformation from a miserly, unpleasant man to a generous, compassionate one following a series of ghost visitations. The lesson in short is that being miserable and mean to others is a long-term losing proposition. An abundance of research on gratefulness has shown being pleasant and thankful is better for your health and well-being than not.
My own research on human energy at work has found a very similar pattern of data. For over 20 years I have conducted short pulse surveys — on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, and most recently, daily basis — with people all over the world. I now have over 1 million data points on energy from all over the world. The findings from the daily work are particularly illuminating when it comes to the Scrooge story.
Daily Human Energy Research
The focus of the daily energy research is to help employees and students learn how to optimize their own energy in an effort to improve confidence, personal well-being and performance. We learned that the pattern of discovering what positively and negatively impacts one’s own energy was very consistent over time and within various samples. The overall results are depicted in the Energy Learning Cycle graphic below.
The research participants went through five different awareness cycles as they started recording their daily energy and what was affecting their energy positively and negatively. Our goal was to help them reflect on what they learned so they could create personal strategies to minimize the negative drivers and maximize the positive in order to stabilize their energy over time. My other research has shown that optimal energy leads to outcomes such as reduction in unwanted turnover, improved sales per salesperson, higher safety, improved customer and patient satisfaction, wellbeing and more.
The five rings of the energy learning cycle depicted above represent what people notice first, second, third, fourth and fifth. Keep in mind that all of the comments and discussions about each ring happened one after another. For example, people didn't start by talking about career — those comments came after reviewing the other information.
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The first ring shows very simple observations about what affects personal energy, including things like the weather, what they ate the day before, alcohol consumption and more, with patterns showing slight variations based on factors such as age, occupation, location. After noticing and making changes on the more obvious drivers of energy, the second area of reflection tended to be wellness, focusing on things like exercise habits and nutrition, for example. The third area moved on to what I call relational capital. At this step participants reach an overall awareness of how the quality and types of their relationships — including family, friends and people in social circles — affect their personal energy levels. The fourth ring focused on career and work, when people thought about how their jobs affected their energy. At this point they also reflected on career goals, progress and more.
The very last ring represents the Scrooge ring. After people go through the first four rings they think about not just these topics but people they engage with who are helping or hurting their energy when it comes to these various issues. When it comes to people, they discover who in their network is an energy vampire (depleting energy when meeting with these individuals) and who energizes them. The ultimate learning is that they don’t want to be a negative person or lower the energy of others.
At this most outer ring they learn that if they take all they learn about optimizing their own energy and point that learning toward themselves, they start to focus on energizing the people in their own lives. And by energizing others in a positive way, they experience anti-Scrooge moments. By giving out positive energy, they receive energy.
The Anti-Scrooge Pledge for 2023
It’s the end of 2022. It has been a difficult few years for many people who have dealt with a pandemic, been sick, helped sick relatives, tried to salvage their businesses in the face of lingering supply chain problems and overall, learned to live in a time of higher stress.
What we know from the science of NOT being Scrooge is that by helping energize others, by being grateful and positive, and by helping others learn to do the same, we can be shining lights of energy for others. If we all take the anti-Scrooge pledge for 2023, we can be more hopeful that 2023 will be the best possible year for all of us.
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About the Author
Dr. Theresa M. Welbourne is professor in Entrepreneurship at the University of Alabama, and executive director of the Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute.
To learn more about these data or to engage with fellow leaders in the Group and Innovation Leaders Forum, contact her at [email protected].