Lessons from the Movie Groundhog Day

by Mark on February 2, 2010 · 2 comments

In the movie Groundhog Day, a miserable, anti-social weatherman named Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) finds himself reliving Groundhog Day over and over again in the quiet little town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This surprise comedy hit forever changed the meaning of Groundhog Day to anyone who has seen the movie. Groundhog Day is now often used to refer to any situation that repeats itself, especially negative situations. Not surprisingly, we can draw some lessons from it. [I’ve tried to include enough details so that it will make sense even if you haven’t seen it, but not so many details that it will spoil the movie if you still want to see it. I personally thought it was a pretty funny movie and is worth seeing.]

After Phil Connors begins to realize that he is living the same day over and over again, he goes through three stages.

First, he figures out that there are no consequences to his actions. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you can probably guess the types of actions that he begins to take. He starts doing anything he wants, including getting drunk, driving recklessly, eating excessively, and even punching an insurance salesman in the face (you know that you want to give this one a try!).  Eventually he realizes that all of these activities are pretty unfulfilling. This is a common realization in real life as well, which is a major reason why we don’t live like college kids our entire lives.

Next, he begins to feel jaded by the constant repetition of living the same day over and over. Eventually he  becomes so depressed that he repeatedly tries to kill himself, but he is unsuccessful. He still ends up living the same day over and over again. Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever felt the frustration of living in a world that seems beyond your control, where the negative situations seem to repeat themselves no matter what you do? I know I have felt this way on occasion.

Lastly, he finally embraces his situation and really begins to live his life. The interesting thing is the way that this shift comes about. Without giving away the story, he is motivated to transform his life in order to achieve a very important goal. He learns to play piano, speak French, and ice sculpt. He begins to be nice and befriend everyone in sight, eventually becoming the most popular person in town. At first, his transformation seems to be motivated only by the thought of achieving his goal. Eventually, however, he begins to genuinely enjoy the changes he is making.

What Lesson Can We Draw from Groundhog Day?

Life doesn’t have to be a boring repetition of negative events. Our lives are boring and dreary to the extent that we let them become that way. Like Phil Connors, we can begin to take control of our lives. Initially, his new pursuits were a means to an end. Eventually he learned that engaging in these activities and enjoying the feeling of learning and mastering a subject are intrinsically rewarding. He changed his life when he began to challenge himself. This is a lesson we shouldn’t forget. We can create a rewarding life when we challenge ourselves and enjoy the intrinsic rewards that life has to offer, rather than waiting for some reward when (or if) we finally achieve our goal. The process is often more important than the goal.

What meaningful challenge could you begin that would be intrinsically rewarding?

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