As we move away from Thanksgiving and draw close to Christmas, I hope we don’t simply go from counting blessings to counting presents. This time of year is rich with possibilities when one takes the time to think about all of the good things God has given us.

A series of studies on the “George Bailey Effect” demonstrates how healthy it is to reflect on the good things we have, especially when one considers how things could have been.

You might remember George, the hero of Frank Capra’s film, It’s a Wonderful Life. When disaster strikes, George wishes he’d never been born. His guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, grants him his wish, and George Bailey experiences the life of his community as if he’d never existed.

“You’ve been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you,” says Clarence, Angel Second Class.

Researchers from Harvard, the University of Virginia, and the University of North Carolina measured different groups of people as they reflected on a variety of life experiences. One group was asked to mentally subtract a person or experience from their life. They then reflected on what their life might have been like without that person or experience. Subsequent testing showed that they were then more positive in their outlook on life than any other group tested; the “George Bailey Effect.”

Clarence makes a profound statement when he says, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

It might be beneficial this time of year for each of us to reflect on how our lives might be different if we didn’t have a loving family, caring friends, a wonderful church home, and a gracious Heavenly Father. An evening around the dinner table sharing what our world might have been like could prove an eye-opening and humbling experience. We could even end with the words of Clarence – “You see George, you’ve really had a wonderful life!”

Perhaps our greatest riches this Christmas will come from simply reflecting on the family, friends, and life God has given each of us – especially the life of His Son.