We recently watched the movie Groundhog Day. In the 1993 comedy, a weatherman gets trapped in an endless cycle of reliving February 2nd – and he’s the only person who realizes what’s going on. While Bill Murray’s character can fill each iteration of the Groundhog holiday with different events, interactions, and activities, he struggles with creating a meaningful life in his trapped state.
It’s a fun movie based on a novel concept, but it also teaches some great life lessons. Phil Connors (Bill Murray’s character) naturally feels despair when he realizes what’s happening. He tries all kinds of approaches to break the cycle. On some February seconds, he gets angry, chases after women for satisfaction, and feels aimless. On others, he dives into new hobbies like ice sculpting and playing the piano.
[SPOILER ALERT] Connors doesn’t escape the cycle until he starts doing good for others around him. He knows when an old man is about to choke on his dinner and when a young boy is going to fall out of a tree — so he plans and saves those people. The weatherman spends an entire day doing good for people and building a genuine connection with Rita, his coworker. He wakes up the next day to discover that it’s finally February 3rd.
Life Lessons from the Movie
Cute plotline, right? Of course, but there’s also a lot of lessons to learn from it, too.
Most of us normal folk live some variation of February 2nd every day. We swim through a sea of monotonous, predictable days that are occasionally punctuated with novel or special moments.
Of course, there are exceptions, like National Geographic explorer (jealous), those who jet off to new places constantly, or creative people who create variety every day – but even those people have some anchor points to their routines. I know my days are pretty predictable; I wake up, get work done for most of the day, care for my daughter, spend my evenings working on hobbies, and finish up the day with a family movie.
Routines are common, but creating a meaningful life amidst your daily activities can be a challenge. Phil Connors seemed to figure it out – so what can we learn from his example?
4 Elements for Creating a Meaningful Life
Service was the theme of Connor’s cycle-breaking February 2nd. When he stopped thinking about himself and focusing on others, his day became meaningful – even though it could have been painfully predictable.
His actions lifted the people around him and brought him joy, too. And the things he did weren’t all extreme; he managed to save lives because he could essentially predict the future. But even simple gestures, like playing the piano at a party, made people happy.
Connor’s meaningful February 2nd also included lots of creativity and self-expression. He played the piano, carved ice sculptures, and had lively interactions with all the people he met.
Creating something each day, whether it’s a piece of art, a special item for someone else, or even a simple social media post, can boost your spirits and help you feel accomplished. There’s something about pouring time and energy into an external project that revives the human spirit, even during low times.
Interacting with others during a pandemic is challenging – there’s no doubt about that. Zoom meetings and texts don’t provide the same satisfaction as grabbing lunch with a friend or shooting the breeze with a co-worker.
But most of us, even introverts, crave some level of human interaction. We feel invigorated by a stimulating conversation or excited about a memorable shared event.
On Connor’s cycle-breaking February 2nd, he interacted with people he’d ignored in the past. He was engaged and outgoing all day long. While we don’t all want or need to be that way, connecting with friends, family, and new people breathes life back into boring days.
You need a “why” to get by. Without some motivating force, it’s easy to feel adrift. Your why can be anything, from your family to your business to your pet cat. It doesn’t matter, as long as it keeps you going each day.
It’s worth noting that your whys can evolve over time and morph to fit the seasons of your life. For example, if you’re a student with lofty goals, you might be motivated now by the prospect of a great job or a prestigious grad school program. But 20 years from now, your career or family might become your why. Embrace what motivates you in the moment and make the best of it.
A Final Note on Creating a Meaningful Life
Creating a meaningful life is like assembling a house of bricks. Each day builds upon itself, and while the project may stand idle when the weather’s bad or your supplies run out, the progress eventually picks up again.
Some days you’ll lay several bricks, and on others, you’ll place none. But at the end of your life, when you stand back to admire the structure you built, you won’t see blank spaces from wasted days. Instead, you’ll see an incredible structure crafted through day-by-day persistence and patience. And you’ll find reasons to be proud, no matter the size of the house.