But Groundhog Day, a 1993 movie starring Bill Murray, weaves three of the most important lessons for contentment around the story of a cynical weather man trapped in a time warp in Punxsutawney, PA, on February 2.
Phil Connors (Bill Murray) travels from Pittsburg with his cameraman and his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) to report on what the groundhog says about the coming of spring. The problem is that every morning he wakes up and it’s still February 2. He’s the only one who realizes they’re trapped in a time loop.
In his attempt to keep his sanity, he—like most of us—learns the hard way the three things that will allow him to be content regardless of his circumstances.
Physical pleasures might be fun for the moment, but they often end in boredom and despair. A fulfilling life requires something more.
Once Phil’s confusion wears off, he realizes that no tomorrow means no consequences, and he can do whatever he wants. He smokes, gluts himself on coffee and pastries, steals money from the bank, and has a series of one-night stands.
And at first, he’s deliriously happy. If I’m being honest, I can relate. Imagine being able to eat all your favorite foods without gaining a pound.
Soon the thrill wears off for Phil. The pleasures aren’t enough, and despair takes over. He tries to kill the groundhog, thinking that might be the way out. When that fails, he tries to kill himself in every conceivable way. When that fails as well, Phil takes his first small step toward being a better person. He starts to think of others instead of just of himself.
You can’t save everyone.
One of Phil’s daily errands is trying to save an old homeless man who dies. The first night Phil finds the man collapsed, he rushes him to the hospital. The man dies anyway.
The nurse tells Phil, “Sometimes people just die.”
“Not today,” he says.
Saving the old man becomes an obsession. He feeds him, performs CPR, does everything he can think of. Nothing works. It was the man’s time to die.
It’s the saddest lesson of Groundhog Day, but one of the most important, especially for me. I take in strays. When I see someone hurting or with a problem, I want to fix it. I believe in second chances. I have a difficult time giving up on or letting go of anyone.
But sometimes you have no other choice. Sometimes you’re going to lose one. If you let that loss destroy your confidence, or cause you to stop trying, you’ll also give up the chance of helping many others. Never let losing one keep you from trying.
You can’t force or trick someone into loving you. What you can do is become the person your perfect mate would naturally fall in love with.
Early in the movie, Phil calls the woman he’s kissing by Rita’s name and figures out it’s Rita he really wants. That attraction quickly grows into love because Rita is a genuinely nice person.
Unfortunately, Phil isn’t the kind of man Rita wants. He’s the exact opposite. When the movie starts, he’s cruel and selfish and egocentric. But he doesn’t want to change, so he goes on a quest to learn everything he can about Rita in the hope of convincing her to fall in love with him (or at least sleep with him).
But no matter what tactics he tries, every evening ends with Rita slapping him. Phil eventually gives up, and not being able to win her over contributes to his depression and suicide attempts.
The turning point for him comes when he realizes he doesn’t deserve her. Instead of continuing to try to trick Rita into loving him, he works on becoming the kind of man she would fall in love with. He starts to read the classics, learns how to ice sculpt, and takes piano lessons. He spends his days running around Punxsutawney, trying to make this one day perfect for all the residents, from catching a boy who falls from a tree at the same time every day to fixing a flat tire for three old ladies. He learns to love the small town and its people.
By the end of the movie, Rita falls in love with him for who he’s become–and the time loop ends because he’s learned what it really means to love.
Have you discovered one of these lessons the hard way? The most difficult lesson of the three for me is admitting I can’t save everyone. Which is the biggest struggle for you?
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