Lessons From "It’s a Wonderful Life"

Lessons From “It’s a Wonderful Life”

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to offer some suggestions and lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

First a quick update:

 “Top 10 Celebrity Meltdowns of 2008”
My annual list of the worst behavior by celebrities for 2008 is out on foxnews.com. Read the article here.

“Greed and Success at Any Price”
A new study of 29,000 randomly selected high school students reveals that students lie, cheat, steal, but think they’re good kids. Is this simply a reflection of the examples of poor character, greed and, success & achievement at any price being displayed by leaders, celebrities and role-models such as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Rep. Tim Mahoney, Rep. Mark Foley, Senator John Edwards, Senator Ted Stevens, Barry Bonds, Plaxico Burres, Michael Vick or New York trader Bernard Madoff? Listen to the interview I give to Jim Peake

Now, let’s talk about the Holidays and lessons from  “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

One of my favorite movies is the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” James Stewart plays George Bailey who is deeply depressed and full of regrets. He is about to take his life when a guardian angel Clarence (played by Henry Travers) steps in to help George see his life from a new perspective and awaken to the realization that his life isn’t a waste after all.

This movie’s magnetic attraction is the message that no matter how bad things might be for us financially, as long as we have friends and people that love us and if we can recognize that we each make a contribution and difference to someone’s life and the world around us, then we can be grateful and recognize that yes, it’s a wonderful life.

However, few of us experience that. Why?

Although the word “holiday” refers to ‘Holy’ day or day of rest, for most of us, the Holidays have become more about stress than rest or holiness as we rush around trying to get ready: shopping, planning, cooking, cleaning, mailing out invitations & cards, decorating and lighting trees, buying gifts, etc.

The result is that we create so much stress and pressure for ourselves and family via our expectations that we take away the enjoyment and merriment of the occasion and its only meaning often becomes the exchange of gifts which leaves us feeling unfulfilled and empty.

In a 1946 interview, Capra described the film’s theme as “the individual’s belief in himself” and that he made it “to combat a modern trend toward atheism.”

The second key difference between the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” and our life is that we have changed as a society and as individuals. Accordingly, we cannot live up to those expectations portrayed in the film.

Recently, I pre-recorded an interview for Diana Falzone’s new radio show on Sirius -Cosmo radio “Cosmolicious” to suggest strategies and ways to enjoy the Holidays. I shared with Diana the key point that just like the fairy tale where the prince and princess live happily ever after, so too, have we created this fairy tale that everything will and must be perfect around the Holidays:

“It’s a Wonderful Life” was filmed in 1946 and although the movie’s themes are universal and inspirational, for many people it seems almost impossible to relate to. Based on the many messages of society, we have created expectations that we can no longer live up to such as all of the family will be together, everyone will get along, everyone will be perfectly happy and healthy, everyone will love their gifts, and everything will go without a glitch. Thus, even the closing scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” depicting the tight, loving, unified, perfect family unit is a fairy tale and myth for many people today as single parents, divorced families and blended families have become closer to the norm than the family from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Yes, society has changed but also we are all imperfect; we will make mistakes and things won’t go as smoothly as expected. Further, it is common that some of our own issues and hurts will also come up, right on the day and in the moment that we were expecting everything to be perfect or ideal: maybe, we are not in a relationship, we don’t like the relationship we are in, someone special is missing from the occasion, we have lost our job, we feel alone or we are not healthy.

Thus the image and expectation we have created, even in such magical movies as “It’s a Wonderful Life”, has left many people feeling like failures; feeling less than, incomplete, empty or missing something.

It is true that as the year comes to a close, just as George Bailey does in the film, we too, will tend to look back over the past year, evaluating our achievements and successes, our failures and disappointments, and also questioning the direction and very worth of our life.

George Bailey experiences an epiphany and has a renewed zest for life. We can do the same but we must first lower our expectations and let go of the myths that even the movie created while still seeing the beauty and magic that does exist. Yes, we all would love to have the perfect family and perfect life but we must accept that it simply doesn’t exist.

The two lessons from the movie are to learn to become grateful for whatever you have and to become aware of your significance.

While there may not be a Clarence (guardian angel) to hold your hand, you can stop and consider everything for which you can be thankful. If all you have is your health, be thankful for that; if it is cold outside, be grateful that you are warm and have shelter. If you are feeling alone, useless or invisible, write a list of the people whose life or lives you are impacting in a positive way. If you cannot come up with one name, then go out and donate one hour to serving at a soup kitchen or the like. You will realize how you can bring joy to others and you will realize that your life isn’t so bad after all. Finally, if you have children show them love and joy, receive their love, and encourage them to express their innate love and joy for life. It will lift your spirits.

May your Holidays be blessed and may you find love, joy and inner peace.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

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