Moodraising On Groundhog Day

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In the movie, Groundhog Day, Phil Conner (played by Bill Murray) is a weatherman who gets stuck in time, reliving the same day over and over, always waking up on the morning of Groundhog Day (February 2nd) until he finds happiness. Once he attains happiness, he makes it out of Groundhog Day into the next day.

When the movie starts, Phil is not a very nice guy. He is sarcastic and rude. He is egotistical and selfish. Later in the movie you discover Phil acts that way because he's not happy. He is busy trying to live up to the goals society or his parents have given him and the goals of his own self-centered ego — trying to be successful, well-known, and wealthy — rather than asking himself what would really improve his mood.

Phil's goals were the kind people have when they haven't taken the time to wonder what they really want with their life. They are the built-in, default kind of goals: Impress others and have lots of money.

When he discovers he is re-living the same day, his first response is to be unnerved. He loses his cockiness and some of his rudeness. He's uncertain.

Next he begins to revel in his freedom from the rules of society. He does whatever he feels like doing. The laws don't matter any more because even when he is thrown into jail, he wakes up the next morning back in his bed, and as far as anyone else is concerned, none of it happened.

He pretty much indulges his whims, using his unusual situation (being able to anticipate what's going to happen) to his personal, selfish advantage, but he's still unconnected to who he really is and what he really wants. He just tries to satisfy his appetites for food and sex and money. He steals. He takes advantage of women by lying and pretending. He buys expensive cars.

But it gets old. None of it is making him happy. Simply indulging his appetites, as many newly rich people discover, does not produce any real satisfaction. It is an empty gratification.

Every day he goes through the motions of doing his weather report, so he sees Rita (his producer, played by Andie MacDowell) every day and he begins to realize what a good person she is. He falls in love with her, but can't reach her. As far as she is concerned, up until today he has been an egotistical jerk, and she still thinks of him that way.

So he begins an elaborate seduction, getting farther and farther with her each day, pretending to like what he doesn't like as he learns more about her, pretending to be what he's not in order to win her over. He tries to be what he thinks she wants. But she always sees through his fake character at some point — no matter how cleverly and carefully he tries — and slaps him in the face, ending his romantic ambition for the rest of the night.

Eventually he gives up on this last attempt at happiness, feeling trapped in Groundhog Day forever, with no hope of love or happiness, and he decides to kill himself.

But he won't die. Every day he wakes up in his bed again. He tries electrocuting himself, jumping off a building, stepping in front of a bus, and driving off a cliff. But nothing works.

Finally he gives up on even that, and begins to just be himself. He starts being honest. He starts noticing what he likes and wants.

He walks by an ice carving contest and realizes it looks like fun to him. He never would have even thought of doing it before because he was so focused on becoming a rich and famous weatherman.

He hears a piano and thinks learning to play the piano might be something he would enjoy doing too. He sees people having trouble of one kind or another and finds pleasure in trying to help them, using his unusual situation (being able to anticipate what's going to happen) for good instead of evil, and he begins to relax and be himself. He finds he feels good when doing good.

He discovers he likes being himself.

Because he is stuck in Groundhog Day, he can't advance his career, which is what he was obsessively focused on before, so he is free to ask what else he might want. His mood rises to a state he has never felt before.

And he finds love — not by being a phony game-player, but by simply being his honest self. And he finds happiness. "No matter what happens tomorrow," Phil says, "I am happy now." The next morning is the day after Groundhog Day. He made it to the next day.

Every Groundhog Day, I think about this movie and the lessons it teaches: if you will bloom where you're planted, pursue what is deeply important to you, be yourself, and help other people, you will enjoy good moods more often.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

3 comments:

Fred Miller 7:06 PM  

It is a great movie for this time of year, especially when I tend to feel stuck in the same day for several weeks.

I resolve right now to be more creative. I have two video projects that I have to finish before the end of next week. I'm going to do it.

Adam Khan 1:28 AM  

All right, Fred! That's the spirit.

David 12:43 PM  

Great post! I've made a tradition of watching Groundhod Day every Feb 2nd for all the great reminders about life it contains. Murray's character tries every means of ego gratification with complete "success", only to find himself remaining completely unsatisfied and unhappy. Bill Murray's Scrooged contains similar lessons.

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