A few years ago I happened upon a TV interview featuring a Hollywood actor, a man known for his hard drinking and decadent lifestyle.

He talked about how he'd spent a third of his life drunk, a third of it sober and a third of it asleep.

When the interviewer asked him if he'd do any differently if he could live his life over again, the actor responded, "No, I wouldn't change a thing."

He must have been in one of his drunken phases.

Since then I've seen different celebrities whose lives resemble a train wreck say the same thing, that they wouldn't change a thing, if they were given the opportunity to relive their lives.

I don't understand that sentiment.

I'd change a lot of things if I could relive my life. I'd be a lot kinder to my parents. They really did have my best interests at heart. I wouldn't join those at school who make fun of people because of their mannerisms or handicaps. I'd be a friend to those in need the second time around, not one of their tormentors.

I'd be a lot more helpful to my wife in the early years of our marriage.

We can't go back and change the past, of course. But we can change the way we do things in the present, which will therefore affect the future.

This is the time of year when we focus on giving. Most of the emphasis is on material things — televisions, stereo systems, computers, various appliances, articles of clothing, even cars. We scurry about, buying gifts for people who have had an impact on our lives.

Some, because of the pressure of trying to find time to go shopping between the demands at work and at home, dislike or even loathe the holidays. To them it's commercialism run amok. Those who put up their lights the day after Thanksgiving serve as a painful reminder to this group as to what's ahead.

But that which is of most worth costs nothing. The gift that keeps on giving is ourselves.

That is a gift we have complete control over. If we want to lift someone's spirit we can with some kind words or a benevolent act. Conversely, it's simple for us to make someone feel miserable via harsh words or unkind acts.

There are people who are wonderful to be around. They're like the O-positive blood donors. What they give helps everybody. Through small and simple acts of kindness they lift people up. They make those who come in contact with them feel better about themselves.

There also are people who have just the opposite effect on others — some label them as toxic. These are people who constantly dwell on the negative. The ones who point out the thorns on the rose. Regardless of subject matter, they are always critical about something. They tear down rather than build up.

The phrase "the only person you can change is yourself" is as true as it is trite. Positive changes can have lasting influences not only on ourselves but on those around us. Negative attitudes can change into positive ones just as sugar transforms a sour lemon into sweet nectar.

To really gain an appreciation of what the spirit of the holidays and all days can entail, we simply need to focus on the person who is the reason for the celebration of Christmas in the first place — Christ.

He is the one person who when asked the question, "If you could live your life over again would you do anything differently?" could legitimately answer, "No."

He spent his life giving, but it wasn't in the form of material gifts. What he gave was far more valuable than anything money can buy. He gave people hope. He gave the blind sight. He cleansed lepers. He even raised people from the dead.

And then, despite our many imperfections, he gave us all immortality.

That is something worth pondering this holiday season.

Deseret News editorial writer John Robinson can be reached by e-mail at jrob@desnews.com.