Everyone has heard the story about the old, lonely, stingy man who hated Christmas. Despite his extreme wealth, he was unwilling to give anything to anyone unless it was likely to somehow benefit him—a trait that contributed significantly to his dislike of the holiday season. He refused to give donations to worthy charities. He was a terrible boss, known to overwork and underpay his staff. Only reluctantly did he allow Christmas Day as a paid holiday, and even then, it was just to avoid social ridicule that might have hurt his business. He had no meaningful connections with family and no living person who would voluntarily call him a friend.
One fateful Christmas Eve night, the man who hated Christmas was visited by his former business partner, which was unexpected since he had been dead for seven years. Apparently, the former business partner of the man who hated Christmas cared enough to return from the grave to warn him of what was to come if he didn’t change his life and remedy his selfish ways.
This visit alone was not enough to change the life of the man who hated Christmas, but it was followed that night by three other ghostly encounters that had a lasting impact. In the first encounter, the man was reminded of a time in the past when he had friends, family, and an employer who loved him. He was also reminded of some bad decisions that set his lonely course in life. In the second encounter, the man saw what he was missing in the present: a pleasant family Christmas party he declined to attend. He was also exposed to people currently in desperate need of help that he previously chose to ignore. In the third encounter, the man received a terrifying warning as to what he would soon become if he didn’t dramatically change his life immediately: a dead man who was missed by no one.
When the man who (formerly) hated Christmas woke the next day, he was a new man! He reconnected with family. He became a better employer, granting his staff a significant raise in pay. He became a generous friend to those in need. The result: he was happy! There is no doubt that from a strictly financial standpoint, the man was a little less rich after the change than he had been before. But the man now viewed the world through a different lens, and through that lens, he was far richer than he had ever been.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you or I will receive such an impactful wakeup call this holiday season. But fortunately, we have an opportunity learn from another man’s mistakes before we make them ourselves or at least before we make them as bad as he did.
All too often I meet families who have been torn apart by difficult circumstances. My hope for those families this season is that they might find a way to reconnect before it is too late. I am a big believer in how proper planning can help to minimize family disputes. Nothing brings out the worst in families like discussions on money and property. If you have ever said, “My family knows my wishes,” as an excuse to avoid putting those wishes into writing, I strongly encourage you to think again.
I’ve also seen the joy created by generosity, both in the recipient and in the giver. And you don’t have to be rich to be generous. As Charles Dickens said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Whether you help others by giving your time, your talents, your energy, or your money, do so generously and do so often.
I would also encourage you to consider charitable giving as you prepare your estate plan. Take the time to learn about the tax benefits that could result, for example, by leaving an IRA to a church or a charitable organization. But don’t reserve all your charitable giving for after your death. Many times, the giver winds up getting the most out of the exchange, so why wait? The foundation of a successful life and a lasting legacy is what we give back.