Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pursuit of Happyness

"It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  And I remember thinking how did he know to put the "pursuit" part in there?  That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it.  No matter what.  How did he know that?...Chris Gardner, movie Pursuit of Happyness.

I hope all of you had a very enjoyable holiday!  My favourite moment so far...drinking hot chocolate with my family while watching Polar Express on Christmas night.  I know it sounds simple, but it sure was cozy!

My boxing day was not as great, as my mother took another spill and this time fractured her shoulder.  Some of my long time readers here may remember that earlier in the year she broke her foot and then her hip.  She is eighty-two.  Let's hope and pray that this will be her last broken bone in her lifetime. 

This week I planned to write about our favourite "happy" movies and thank you all for sending me your selections.  I will start today, and we'll carry on into 2012.  Many of your choices are also mine, and the others I'm very much looking forward to watching in the future.

The Pursuit of Happyness is a wonderfully touching and meaningful movie that I've enjoyed more than once.   I'm going to offer some of my interpretations of the messages drawn from the movie, and of course, I'd love to hear your own.

This movie was inspired by the true life events of Chris Gardner and is set in the early 1980's.  He offers bits of narration throughout the film.  In the opening scenes, we see him accompanying his five year old son, Christopher to daycare.  As they chat and joke, we see he is clearly a father who is both caring and engaged with his son and his life.  In the first line of the movie, he introduces himself by sharing that "he didn't meet his own father until he was twenty-eight and made up his mind as a young kid that when he had children, they were going to know who their father was."  I think this opening bit sets the tone of the movie, that it was going to mostly be about their relationship, and his wanting to not only be a responsible father but also a role model, something he didn't have growing up.  Almost immediately I found myself rooting for the these two.

We also see from start of the movie that they are living in poverty.  We learn that he put all his life's savings into expensive medical equipment that he struggles to sell.  He's also way behind in paying the basic bills: rent, taxes, parking tickets etc.  He has to ride the bus around town.  His son's daycare is sub-par and has graffiti and misspelled words on the window, and this in particular really troubles Chris.  Shortly into the movie, just as they are about to be evicted from their apartment, his wife and son's mother, abandons the family, fed up she states "I'm not happy, goodbye".

His wife was only ever negative. She complained, argued, felt hopeless, blamed, criticized, nagged etc.etc. and then she left without her own son, knowing the dire situation that was soon to follow.  Chris on the other hand, while experiencing the same life as his wife, remained positive and happy and never blamed anyone else for his troubles.  He remained optimistic and hopeful that the future would work out and this opened his mind and heart to new and creative solutions.  One day he saw a young man parking an expensive sports car and asked, half jokingly, what he did for a living.  He was a stock broker. Chris noticed everyone around that building looked so happy, and he yearned to feel the same.  As the viewer, I didn't feel this moment was about him wishing to be rich, or feeling like only the rich were happy, but what he saw was another option, an alternative and sharp contrast to how he was currently living.  He saw a different possibility, one that could lead to a fulfilling life.  Even though he had not attended university, he had confidence in himself, in his intelligence, and just needed a chance to prove it.  This self trust inspired him to take that chance and apply for an internship at Dean Witter, and in spite of numerous obstacles, his persistence with the recruiter paid off as he was granted an interview and ultimately was given the opportunity he so desired.

By the way, he was granted the interview in the first place not because of his paper application, which was probably filed in the trash can due to lack of perceived qualifications, but because his persistence lead him into sharing a cab ride with the recruiter which he then used the time well by impressing him by solving the immensely popular Rubik cube, (a feat nobody could ever do at the time) leaving the guy virtually in awe and speechless.  He got his break because he is a man who epitomizes the triumphs of perseverence over adversity.

He incredibly was accepted into the internship program, even though he arrived at the interview in a mess (long story, but watch here, it's one of my favourite scenes in the movie!)...

This movie displays many of the messages I regularly write about on my blog.  No matter your circumstances, you can still access positive emotions each day and be happy each day.  We are all going to face our fair share of triumphs and misfortune in life, but our own happiness does not have to fluctuate with them.  In fact, it's during those struggles and hardships that you should be most careful not to turn on the negative tap and wallow in self pity, but rather do all you can to remain hopeful and positive.  And when you do, you will be far more resilient and will bounce back quicker when setbacks happen.  You can even flourish, just as Chris Gardner did.  Just as his wife was leaving, he picked up his son from daycare and told him that "he was happy, and they would stay together."  His wife was a person looking to "pursue" happiness somewhere else, as in a destination.  She never saw any goodness in her own life, only the despair, even though she had plenty in her husband and especially in her beautiful boy.  They never mentioned her again.  Goodbye and good riddance.    

During the six month internship at Dean Witter, which was full-time, without compensation and extremely competitive, he also had to take care of his son (without help) and sell his scanners part-time to pay for rent, food and daycare.  The IRS cleared out his bank account.  Pretty much everything that could go wrong for him, did.  Yet he remained upbeat and stood out as a talented professional whose diligence, tenacity and personality impressed both the owners and clients alike.  He was also an outstanding father throughout this entire transition period.

He was outstanding, but things were far from perfect.  They were again evicted and on the first night of homelessness, they were forced to sleep in a bus station washroom.  They moved into a homeless shelter, which was better as some days they attended church service and became uplifted and inspired by the messages.  But then there were days when they ran out of space, and they were forced to ride the bus or train all night long.  He hated the day-care centre Christopher was in, but he could not afford any better.  Chris made the best of the situation they had, all the while persevering toward a better future.  As a single parent, he remained attentive, loving and responsible and despite the hardships, somehow managed to still take care of his son's basic needs, in my opinion, better than many parents with far easier circumstances do.

Toward the end of the movie, in a very poignant sequence of scenes, we see Chris lending his last five dollars to one of the Dean Witter partners (for cab fare, the man had no idea the enormity of that gesture), and then Chris was forced to give blood to pay for a small replacement part for a scanner he needed to sell.  Having repaired and sold his last scanner, he treated Christopher to a fun evening together and a night at a hotel.  It was their reward for surviving through the six months stronger than they ever were before.

Overall, this movie touched my heart because it wasn't about greed, or about believing wealth, driving an expensive car or attaining a luxury lifestyle creates the "happy life".  Chris Gardner's pursuit was a dream for a better life for the two of them to share together. Above all else, being a good father was his idea of success.  His relationship with his son brought him joy and happiness.  This love made him not bow down to the hardships and challenges that life threw at him.  And in spite of the numerous setbacks that came his way, these did not dim his hopes of what he wanted to achieve in life.  It was a truly inspiring movie because our struggles seem so minor compared to what he had to endure, yet he accomplished far greater than most of us ever could. 

This is my favourite scene in the movie, the ending.  The best, ever.  The six months are over, and he's meeting with the bosses to hear the result of his internship: 

Oh I loved that scene!!  Two points in the message..I loved that he described that moment of happiness as this "little" part of his life, because we all know that these moments of euphoria don't last for long, even the best ones we can imagine.  And I loved the part when he ran to share his great news with his son and they embraced, but then almost immediately it was back to normal.  They were just walking home together as they always did, sharing trivia and knock knock jokes.  That's reality.   

By the way, some trivia of my own.  The man that passes by Chris and his son in the final moments of the movie is the real life Chris Gardner, in a cameo appearance.

This was truly a beautiful feel-good movie that is morally grounded, entertaining and full of happyness!!



Anonymous said...

Hi Linda - so sorry to hear of your mom's trouble. You are a great daughter as usual.
I absolutely loved this post today, slow day at work (yippee!) so I got to really take it all in. This movie was one of my favorites too and it was nice to re-visit it again.
Take care and Happy New Year

Terez said...

OMG I'm so sorry about your mum..hope all goes well for her and you.
You picked my movie!!! Thank you!
I felt about the same as you, it was mostly about being a good dad and wanted to provide a better life. Very inspiring how he did it with all those troubles appearing one after the other,
I also liked the part in the movie where he told his son to never let anyone say you can't do something, to take away your dreams.
Loved it!

Margaret said...

Hi Linda, I am too so sorry to hear about your mother's fall. I wish her a speedy recovery!
It was so nice to revisit this movie, I loved it. I agree that what he wanted was a better life, not the rich life (although he did become rich). He wante to be a good father. I felt that this movie did prove that remaining positive and continuing to be happy during setbacks is far better than being negative (like the mother). It's incredible what he achieved but more incredible how he managed it.
Looking forward to visiting here throughout the new year. Happy New Year!!

Deb said...

Hi Linda, I'm so too that your mom fell again. I wish her and you well over the remainder of the holidays.
I really enjoyed reading this blog today. That movie was so inspiring wasn't it? I like how you connected the positive psychology with the movie. You are correct that he accessed the positive emotions throughout..hopeful, optimistic, loving, courage, generosity, perseverance, the list goes on. We didn't hardly see him negative throughout out, tired at times frustrated but not long lasting. He was open to new solutions.
I loved the ending when he cried and then ran to his son. Getting through all that they did with success was a wonderful ending.
Happy New Year!

Josie said...

Hope your mom gets well soon!
I loved this movie and this blog was great! I think Chris mostly wanted to provide better for his son and deep down knew he could. In the end, he felt that satisfaction of proving it to himself, and the relief of the "nightmare" being over. No more sleeping in homeless shelters, better life. Much better. That made him happy.

Nazifa said...

I loved this blog. Great movie choice. I was so inspired by his courage and will to succeed for the sake of his son. Beautiful.

Hope your mom gets well soon!

Vicki said...

Hope your mother is on the mend.
I'm late reading this one, but it was great! Loved the movie. I agree with your interpretations about the message being about a man who wanted to be a responsible father and role model. He also believed in himself, knew he could accomplish more than what he was at the start. He had goals and dreams and reached them "during" the toughest times of his life. Incredible.


Anonymous said...

I liked your interpretation about it not being about wealth and greed and those things making you happy. A lot of people may interpret it as meaning his happiness was becoming a stock broker and becoming rich. That would be very shallow message.